UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022

There was much rejoicing after the announcement in September 2021 that after being closed for nearly a year, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale would reopen in 2022 under a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into an extensive refurbishment and renovations. A devastating roof collapse in the kitchen in October 2020 had shut down indoor service indefinitely. Click here for our full story on the announcement and the ownership transition.

Now, as we move forward in 2022, fans and supporters are eager to learn details on the plans and progress. While we follow The Mai-Kai’s social media pages for updates, we’ll keep a running list of news on this page for easy reference. Please bookmark and check back for the latest info on the refurbishment of the historic Polynesian restaurant.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022

The Mai-Kai official sites and social media
MaiKai.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

LATEST UPDATES

JAN. 19 – Potential reopening timeframe shared on social media

Mai-Kai reopening timeframe shared on social media

In response to a question about a reopening date, an answer from the official Mai-Kai page on Facebook provided some new information on the planned (or “hoped for”) timeframe:

“Hopefully the Molokai bar will reopen this summer and the restaurant later this year!”

We were also reminded to sign up for the newsletter to make sure we get all official announcements.

This is the first time we’ve seen a reference to specific time periods in comments about the refurbishment. It also reaffirms speculation that The Molokai lounge, which is located in the front of the building away from the damaged kitchen, would reopen before the remainder of the restaurant.

Continue reading “UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022”

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events

The Tiki Times

Although at times 2021 seemed like 2020 all over again, we made some great strides toward a return to normalcy amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Many live events returned, albeit in abbreviated or scaled-down formats. Regular virtual and online events continued, giving many a safe way to interact. The Tiki Times, The Atomic Grog’s ongoing event guide, documented many of these happenings over the past year. Check below for artwork and links to official sites, plus images and videos from social media. Stay safe and remember to follow all COVID guidance as we face further challenges in 2022.
THE WEEK IN TIKI 2022: Latest upcoming live and virtual events
Support Tiki bars: Visit their online stores, buy the latest merchandise
Social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

THE TIKI TIMES: 2021 EVENTS RECAP

ONGOING VIRTUAL EVENTS

Every Tuesday – Tiki Trail Live on Zoom.

Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe
Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe
It was a honor mixing up an original cocktail on the longest-running weekly online gathering of Tiki culture enthusiasts.

Fridays – Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour hosted by Matt “Spike” Marble of The Hula Girls. Pre-parties on Instagram Live, episodes on YouTube.



2021 LIVE EVENTS

Jan. 10 – Filipino Bartenders’ Influence on Tropical Drinks, hosted by Adrian Eustaquio of Inside the Desert Oasis Room for Tiki Oasis TV
Filipino Bartenders' Influence on Tropical Drinks

Jan. 17 – Tiki Music & Culture Vol. 2
Tiki Music & Culture Vol. 2

Jan. 22 – Tiki Fever Mug Release Party at Bahi Hut in Sarasota.

Feb. 28 – Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai

March 6-7 – Aloha Polynesian Culture & Seafood Festival in Oakland Park, Fla.

March 13 – Arizona Aloha Festival virtual performances.

March 13 – The Original Tiki Market Place 9th Anniversary in Garden Grove, Calif.
The Original Tiki Market Place 9th Anniversary

March 20 – Tiki Underground fourth anniversary celebration in Akron, Ohio.
Tiki Underground fourth anniversary celebration

March 22-27 – Jamaica Rum Festival in Kingston.
Press coverage: Virtual mix and mingling at the Jamaica Rum Festival

March 28 – Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai

It was great to be back at The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Sunday for the Cruise-In Classic Car Show. Cool…

Posted by The Atomic Grog on Monday, March 29, 2021

Continue reading “The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events”

Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

After 18 months of tasting rum in the privacy of our home bars, it’s about time that South Florida offers a small gathering where enthusiasts can sample dozens of new and long-standing products. Luckily for us, the Miami Rum Festival makes its return this weekend for its first event since May 2019.

Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
NEW: Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
Quick takes and highlights from the 2021 Rum Renaissance Tasting Event, including photos and our favorite sips of the day.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE RECAP AND PHOTO GALLERY

2021 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

More Miami Rum Festival features below
* 2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Rum festival returns to its roots
* EVENT HISTORY: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival year-by-year
* The Atomic Grog’s top nine Miami Rum Fest memories

Billed as the 2021 “Rum Renaissance Tasting Event,” it’s limited to one four-hour general session on Sunday at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, but that’s more than enough reason to celebrate the safe return of one of the rum world’s longest-running festivals.

Established in 2009, the Miami fest pre-dates the recent fascination among fans of craft spirits and the expansion of premium rum brands and events around the world. It presciently anticipated rum’s renaissance in the past decade and offered both enthusiasts and industry VIPs a high-quality gathering place every year, without fail.

The coronavirus pandemic put all that on hold in 2020, but founders Robert and Robin Burr are ready to welcome back their rum family for a scaled-down, one-day event that will continue to celebrate the ongoing renaissance. The general public is welcome from 2 to 6 p.m. Doors open for industry and trade at 12:30 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 14 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, 1001 East Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. Tickets $39 to $49 per person. Limited free parking. For safety reasons, attendance is limited. Tickets may sell out in advance, so be sure to get them now or by phone at 305-350-0764.
PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE

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ABOUT THE EVENT: Miami Rum Festival highlights

Lemon Hart Rum's Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)
Lemon Hart Rum’s Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)

The festival includes unlimited small samples of more than 150 products from dozens of brands, from Antelope Island to Zacapa. Participants include such well-known labels as Cockspur (Barbados), El Dorado (Guyana), Plantation (Caribbean and elsewhere), Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti), Ron Diplomatico (Venezuela), Saint James (Martinique), and Tanduay (Philippines).

But you’ll also spot up-and-coming products from craft distillers including Copalli (Belize) and Prichard’s (Tennessee), along with many other small brands. It’s a chance to taste many new releases just coming to market, along with older expressions that are often hard to find.

Hundreds of connoisseurs, collectors, judges and rum lovers are expected to flock to the historic venue, which first hosted the event in 2019. They’ll have the rare chance to mingle with a room full of rum producers, master distillers, importers, distributors, retailers and other members of the spirits trade. All attendees also receive a free tasting glass.

Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar.
Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club during the 2019 festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“We’re excited that Miami Rum Fest is celebrating its 12th anniversary of bringing the world of rum to South Florida,” organizer Robert Burr said in an announcement on his longtime resource, Rob’s Rum Guide. “We’ve been visiting rum producers to gather an incredible collection of fine rums to sample for this grand tasting event. It’s an opportunity for rum enthusiasts to enjoy their favorites and discover some delightful new expressions, gain a greater appreciation and share the enthusiasm of these fine spirits with friends.”

Beyond all the booths hosted by visiting rum brands, another highlight of the event is the VIP Tasting Bar, a selection of rare, collectable, and limited-edition rums from the Burrs’ own private stash. There’s an extra fee to sample these hard-to-find and expensive rums, but proceeds benefits a local non-profit organization. If you’ve seen the Burrs’ home collection in their Rum Wreck Dive Bar, you’ll know they have a wide assortment of spirits to choose from.

The venue is a charming historic building that dates back to 1935. With wood flooring and rustic touches, it’s unlike most modern event spaces. The surrounding downtown Coral Gables district features a half-dozen hotels within a short distance of the festival. There are also many restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in the area for mingling after the event.

Miami Rum Festival on social media
* Facebook page | Instagram | Twitter

Related websites
Rob’s Rum Guide: Expert reviews and news on cane spirits
Rum Minute: See Robert Burr’s video reviews
Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise: Set sail for distilleries in rum’s birthplace
Media coverage: Hear Robert Burr on the Drums and Rums podcast

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2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Smaller Miami Rum Festival offers quality, not quantity

Downsized to a smaller but classier venue after six years at massive convention centers, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival fit into its new environment like a classic cocktail in vintage glassware. Instead of an over-the-top Tiki drink, guests were treated to a rum Old Fashioned. But the end result was ultimately just as satisfying.

The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While “less is more” could be a cliché, it seems to work fine in the context of a rum-tasting festival. After all, how many rum samples can you really drink in one or two days? As long as the exhibitors and brands provide top-notch products, including a nice mix of new and classic offerings, attendees should find the festival fulfilling. This was certainly the case at Rum Renaissance Festival, circa 2019.
2019 event preview: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returns to its roots after 10 years

The Burrs held their first rum-tasting event in 2008 at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The return to the Miami suburb in 2019 brought the festival full-circle after a decade in large event spaces across South Florida.

The Coral Gables Woman’s Club may seem like an unlikely site for a rum fest, but it worked out nicely. The crowds taxed the air-conditioning system in the 100-year-old building during the peak afternoon hours and sweltering heat of mid-May, but that’s an issue that can easily be rectified. The charm of the building, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990, outweighs its faults.

Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand's latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.
Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand’s latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.  (Atomic Grog photo)

As for the event itself, our afternoon visit was marked by a deep dive into an array of spirits, a reunion with old friends and a general feel of an easy-going industry gathering. Sadly, it was our last time seeing the beloved Plantation Rum ambassador, Rocky Yeh, who passed away Dec. 1, 2019, at age 42. He left a huge mark on the industry during his short but vibrant life and will always be remembered.

While it’s technically not a rum, I was thrilled to pick up a bottle of Kronan Swedish Punsch. I had seen mentions of this classic rum liqueur in cocktail books for years, and it was great to finally have one in my arsenal. Another flavored rum product, Rum Java, wowed us with its distinctive flavors. Distilled from Florida sugarcane, it was the best of several coffee rums we sampled – definitely one of the top trends of the festival.

Lemon Hart & Sons made a rare festival appearance, touting its new Blackpool Spiced Rum and the long-awaited U.S. market return of Lemon Hart 1804, the classic Demerara rum from Guyana. Ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis also mixed up some of the tastiest cocktails of the day.

Continue reading “Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits”

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

Hulaween hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

The Halloween season is usually a special time at The Mai-Kai. The 62-year-old Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale has seen its fair share of wild and crazy parties over the years, but not many can come close to the annual Hulaween bash.

Following flooding and roof damage right before Hulaween 2020, last year’s party moved to the parking lot for the first Hulaween Drive-In Movie. The historic Tiki temple remains closed for renovations, and there will sadly be now Hulaween in 2021 after 12 straight years of hijinks.

Despite this apparent doom and gloom, spirits are high among the staff and longtime fans of the family-run operation after last month’s announcement of a new partnership that will not only pave the way for the reopening, but also pump money and energy into making The Mai-Kai better than ever.

Another parking lot party is just not in the cards this year, but we eagerly await the day in 2022 when those doors will swing open and we’ll be back in The Molokai bar for happy hour, followed by dinner and the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

It won’t be long after that before we’re ready for the lucky 13th Hulaween, featuring crazy costumes, live music, and those delicious Mai-Kai cocktails. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the past 12 years of Hulaween madness in The Molokai. Click on the links for full coverage and photos.

2020

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30
The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations

The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence.

2019

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

After 10 years, we know what to expect from The Mai-Kai’s infamous Hulaween party: Kooky costumes, rockin’ tunes and many cocktails consumed in The Molokai bar. The 2019 bash lived up to those standards.

2018

Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering
Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering

The Molokai bar and The Mai-Kai came alive with the living dead as another full house of more than 100 costume-clad revelers celebrated the 10th annual Hulaween.

2017

Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party
Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party

Living up to the theme “Monster Tiki Party,” Slip and the Spinouts rocked The Molokai bar for more than six hours at the ninth annual Hulaween party.

2016

A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party

More than 100 costumed revelers packed The Molokai lounge for an evening of deadly tropical drinks, live music from Slip and the Spinouts and creative costume contest.

Continue reading “Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai”

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening of The Mai-Kai

After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.

The Mai-Kai's official announcement on the sale and new partnership

It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.

The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.

“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”

The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.

Past coverage: Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing

Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the "Save Paradise Party." (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the “Save Paradise Party.” (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’

While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”

The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”

We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”

Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.

The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.

More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”

>>> The official press release on MaiKai.com

New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”

Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.

Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”

The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.

The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today
The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today.

The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”

The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.

The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.

Mai-Kai cocktails: Authentic and tribute recipes, news on quarts and gallons to go

The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M

A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks
A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks.

The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.

This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening”

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Among the most loyal followers of The Mai-Kai are the thousands of guests who flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, an annual celebration of Polynesian Pop culture that established a foothold in the historic restaurant in 2003 and remains inextricably linked.

During it's closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)
During it’s closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)

The recent announcement of The Mai-Kai’s planned refurbishment and reopening sent joyous shockwaves throughout the Tiki community, but especially among The Hukilau’s longtime “villagers,” as they’re known. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic, but we were able to get a taste of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in September 2021 during a special event in the porte-cochère. It was comforting to sip authentic cocktails and enjoy the musicians performing outside the front entrance, but many still longed to be inside.

When it was announced during the event that a deal had been struck and The Mai-Kai would be reopening, it made the experience even sweeter. Full details were released the following week (see story below), and the rest is history.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
RELATED COVERAGE: The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

While the timeline is not clear on a reopening date, hopes are running high that the 20th anniversary of The Hukilau in 2022 will indeed include at least a partial return to indoor activities. The synergy is guaranteed to continue with the news that one of the investors in the new ownership team is The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager.

Beyond taking in all the activities – from the dinner show featuring the Polynesian Islander Revue to live bands in The Molokai bar – a ritual for many villagers during The Hukilau includes walking the sacred grounds and taking photos of their beloved Mai-Kai.

Below you’ll find a collection of those photos, shared with The Atomic Grog over the years. Many are appearing on the blog for the first time. Let’s enjoy the eye candy and look forward to once again returning in person for the grand reopening.

Continue reading “Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers”

The Hukilau 2021: Daily recap, photos and video

The Hukilau 2021 updates: Daily schedule and photos

Updated Sept. 30

The Hukilau returned to the picturesque Fort Lauderdale area oceanfront for an 18th time for four days of Polynesian Pop paradise in America’s vacationland. After missing in-person festivities in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of the event’s loyal “villagers” looked forward to getting back to The Mai-Kai and checking out the new host hotel.
UPDATED: See daily social media photos below:
Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

The Hukilau 2021

The Beachcomber on Pompano Beach is a throwback to earlier years, a smaller venue with lots of outdoor space that works perfectly in the current environment. And while The Mai-Kai has remained closed for extensive refurbishment and repairs since last October, the historic Polynesian restaurant once again hosted a Saturday evening gathering as it has since 2003, a year after The Hukilau made its debut in Atlanta.

The Hukilau 2021Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music (The Intoxicators, Aqualads, The Hilo Hi-Flyers), symposiums, rum sponsors and pop-up cocktail bars, luau on the beach, Tiki marketplace, plus more.
Social media: Facebook page and group | Instagram
More on The Atomic Grog
* Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
* Tickets still available, symposiums and schedule announced
* The Hukilau returns with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

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The Intoxicators, seen performing at The Hukilau 2013, made their 15th appearance at the event. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Intoxicators, seen performing at The Hukilau 2013, made their 15th appearance at the event. (Atomic Grog photo)

ENTERTAINMENT: Musical performances at various stages throughout the Beachcomber included:

The Intoxicators – Bombastic surf and instrumental rock from Tallahassee. Also appearing: the band’s alter ego, simian surf band The Disasternauts.
Aqualads – Reverential traditional instro surf from Charlotte, N.C.
The Hilo Hi-Flyers – Retro exotica-swing-jazz from Southern California.
* Past coverage: More info on the bands
* TheHukilau.com: Playlists from all the bands

GUEST BARS & BARTENDERS: Among the cocktail offerings were drinks from Ayme Harrison (Death or Glory, Delray Beach, Fla.), Luau Lads (Jacksonville, Fla.), Marie King and Ian Yarborough (Tonga Hut, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif.), Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick, Paris), Greg Schutt (Tropics, Cocoa Beach), and Kimberly Platt (Honu, Dunedin, Fla.).

THURSDAY, Sept. 16

3-9 p.m. – Registration (Beachcomber lobby)

5 p.m. – First Timer’s Reception (Bungalow Row)

6-7 p.m. – Welcome Reception (Pearl Diver Pool)

7-9 p.m. – Blue Hawaii Show with Dan Cunningham

9-11 p.m. – Bungalow Row Parties

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FRIDAY, Sept. 17

11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Symposiums

Michael Bloom and Kurt Rogers are Jacksonville-based bartenders and consultants known as the Luau Lads
Michael Bloom and Kurt Rogers are Jacksonville-based bartenders and consultants known as the Luau Lads.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Florida/East Coast Tiki vs Tropical hosted by Luau Lads.

2:30-3:30 p.m. – Typhoon Tommy’s Guide to Tiki and Oceanic Themeing hosted by Tom Allsmiller.

4-5 p.m. – There’s No Rum in it?: A Primer on the Unsung Spirits of Tiki hosted by Tiki Lindy.

5:30-6:30 p.m. – Tiki & Tattoo hosted by Jeff Kozan.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2021: Daily recap, photos and video”

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

Updated Sept. 18

A limited number of tickets are still available for The Hukilau 2021, scheduled for Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach, according to an email announcement. The 19th Tiki weekender will also include a special event at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

The longest-running Polynesian Pop celebration on the East Coast will feature live music (The Intoxicators, Aqualads, The Hilo Hi-Flyers), symposiums, rum sponsors and pop-up cocktail bars, luau on the beach, Tiki marketplace, plus more.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: BUY PASSES NOW | CHECK THE SCHEDULE
See below: News on symposiums, Marina the Mermaid, more
NEW: The Hukilau 2021 updates: Daily schedule and photos
NEW: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
Previous: The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

Regarding concerns over safety and COVID, the email announcement noted that “all signs still point to a fun, safe, outdoor event.” It added: “In the event that The Hukilau 2021 must be cancelled, or at any point you would prefer to hang back, we are offering full refunds for all passes and tickets, including service fees.” Have questions? Check out the online FAQ at TheHukilau.com or email organizer Richard Oneslager.

Ticket options range from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events. Here are the highlights:

Villagers enjoy The Hukilau's Rum Island Pool Party in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Heather McKean)
Villagers enjoy The Hukilau’s Rum Island Pool Party in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Heather McKean)

Beachcomber Pass ($269): Villagers buying the entry-level pass receive admission to Friday and Saturday’s Rum Island Pool Parties, Saturday’s Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus a “Bungalow Party Pass” at the Beachcomber. The pool parties and bungalows will feature complimentary drinks from top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the country, plus live entertainment and sponsor booths. Also included is Saturday’s Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai, which will feature a private seating in the outdoor porte-cochère and access to buy authentic Mai-Kai cocktails along with a special announcement on the future of the historic restaurant. Entertainment will be provided by Polynesian Islander Revue performers. Passholders can also add a rum tasting pass ($25) and symposiums ($10 each) à la carte. (Symposium tickets sold on a space-available basis.)

Aloha Pass ($299): This mid-level pass includes all of the Beachcomber perks, plus admission to Thursday’s kickoff party featuring live music and cocktails. Beachcomber passholders also receive a complimentary rum tasting pass and access to all symposiums, plus free transportation to The Mai-Kai. Both Beachcomber and Aloha passholders can also buy à la carte tickets to Friday’s luau on the beach ($49 cocktails only, $129 food and drinks) and Sunday’s Tiki brunch ($49).

The Beachcomber Resort & Club has a secluded oceanfront space on Pompano Beach.
The Beachcomber Resort & Club has a secluded oceanfront space on Pompano Beach.

South Seas Pass ($599): Villagers at the top tier receive all of the same benefits that the other passholders receive, with the cost of the Friday luau (cocktails and dinner) and Sunday brunch included in the pass. They will also get early admission to the luau and bazaar, plus priority seating at symposiums. South Seas villagers will also be treated to a small custom Tiki created by Tiki Tony, plus a special reception at Saturday’s Mai-Kai party.

Continue reading “The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida”

Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

As The Mai-Kai works behind the scenes on a potential reopening, locals continue to enjoy a taste of the historic Polynesian restaurant with regular to-go cocktail offerings as well as occasional Tiki marketplaces in the parking lot.

An announcement on the future of the 64-year-old Tiki temple in Fort Lauderdale is expected to come during The Hukilau weekend in September, if not sooner. In social media posts, The Mai-Kai makes it clear that they do not currently have a reopening date, but “hope to announce one soon.” The owners urge fans to sign up for the newsletter at MaiKai.com to receive official word on future plans.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Guests arrive at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18, 2021.

In the meantime, here’s a look back at the most recent Tiki Marketplace in July, which proved to be just as successful as the first one in May. All photos are from The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog.

Preview story: The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Vendors fill the parking lot at The Mai-Kai at the second Tiki Marketplace.

More than 20 booths offered an array of goods and services, from the original art of Robert Jimenez (aka Tiki Tower) to the cold-pressed coffee and juices of the Impressed Juice Co.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
At The Mai-Kai’s booth, manager Kern Mattei shows off some of the restaurant’s many items available for sale while guests enjoy the restaurant’s authentic cocktails.

Many were just happy to be on the grounds of The Mai-Kai with like-minded fans. Tropical drinks were available to take home or imbibe under the shade of the porte-cochère. The Mai-Kai Trading Post booth was a highlight, offering new glassware and apparel along with a vast collection of collectibles and branded merchandise.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Mai-Kai’s entrance-exit area was turned into an oasis for tropical treats. Or just a cool place to relax.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Performers and musicians from The Mai-Kai’s long-running dinner show were part of the festivities.

Members of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue were on hand to entertain attendees, providing a much-needed taste of what makes the restaurant distinctive and historic. Until closing in October after flooding and kitchen damage caused by a vicious storm, it was considered to be the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Robert Korhonen shows off original artwork he created in tribute to the July 18 marketplace host.

Once again, the event was expertly organized by Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, who flawlessly took care of all the logistics so everything went off without a hitch. And although the usual South Florida summer heat made itself known, skies were clear and there was a constant flow of guests all day.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Quarts of The Mai-Kai’s most popular cocktails were available at the July 18 marketplace.

It was great to see members of the Thornton family and their small staff working behind the scenes and taking care of guests at the front entrance, where an array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available. The restaurant was founded in 1956 by brothers Robert and Jack Thornton, two young transplants from Chicago. Bob Thornton’s widow, Mireille Thornton, still serves as owner and choreographer of the Polynesian show while her children and other family fill other roles in the operation.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward picked up a Tiki mask from Tom Fowner (left) along with some cool artwork from the N! Satterfield booth.

The vendor marketplace opened at 11 a.m. (running until 4 p.m.), and we arrived early to get our first pick from the art booths. I was happy to snag a mask carved from palm wood by local artist Tom Fowner, a longtime contributor to The Mai-Kai perhaps best known for creating one of the three carvings in the porte-cochère that guests see when they arrive.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Luau Lads (left) and Sandbar Sauce booths featured a tasty collection of cocktail mixers and accessories. The Atomic Grog’s booty included a selection of these goods along with Mai-Kai glassware and art by South Florida’s Nik Satterfield and Tom Fowner.

It was also a priority to pick up some craft cocktail syrups from two highly recommended purveyors: Jacksonville’s Luau Lads and Miami’s Sandbar Sauce. It was nice to finally meet Jose Salcido and taste his fresh syrups. We hope to see Michael Bloom back in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau in September along with his fellow Lad, Kurt Rogers.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward and Skinny Jimmy Stingray hoist a few quarts of Mai-Kai cocktails.

Many old friends were spotted in the crowd. We met up with another old favorite from The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai, surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray. We look forward to the day when his band can again perform in The Molokai bar.

Continue reading “Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021”

The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

Updated Sept. 18

After a 27-month hiatus, The Hukilau is returning to the picturesque sands of Fort Lauderdale beach in September with a four-day takeover of an oceanfront boutique hotel, plus a main event at The Mai-Kai that could kick off a new beginning for the historic Polynesian restaurant.

The Hukilau 2021

“It will be a smaller, more intimate event. Almost everything is outdoors,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “We won’t be packed into a ballroom,” he noted, citing COVID concerns. All state and local guidelines will be followed, he added.

The Hukilau 2021Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music (The Intoxicators, Aqualads, The Hilo Hi-Flyers), symposiums, rum sponsors and pop-up cocktail bars, luau on the beach, Tiki marketplace, plus more.
* Tickets on sale now

THE HUKILAU SEPTEMBER UPDATES
* Daily schedule, news and photos from social media

* Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
* Tickets still available, symposiums and schedule announced

The Hukilau was last held in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which has since gone down for extensive renovations that could last several more years. Only the iconic tower and marina will remain when the resort reopens. The 2020 event, scheduled for the B Ocean Resort, was waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Intoxicators perform at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2014
The Intoxicators rock The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2014. The band will return for a 15th appearance in September 2021 to play the Tiki Treasures Bazaar in the restaurant’s parking lot as well as the oceanside Beachcomber resort. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

Luckily, Broward County’s famous highway A1A beachfront also contains many smaller and more appropriate venues for 2021. One of these is the Beachcomber Resort & Club, located just north of the Fort Lauderdale strip in Pompano Beach. The Hukilau has reserved the entire boutique hotel for the weekend, creating a complete Tiki takeover. With pandemic protocols still fresh in everyone’s mind, most of the activities will be held in various outdoor spaces on the resort’s grounds and private beach.

Of course, The Hukilau would not be complete without its heart and soul, the historic Mai-Kai in nearby Oakland Park. The restaurant remains closed after a massive flood caused extensive back-of-house damage in October 2020. But Saturday’s traditional main event will return to The Mai-Kai, taking place in the sprawling parking lot just a 15-minute drive from the Beachcomber.

Tickets, hotel rooms available soon

Previous 2020 passholders who rolled their tickets into 2021 were given priority and early access to confirm hotel rooms. Remaining rooms can be booked now only by phone by calling (954) 941-7830.

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, featuring 140 rooms, two pools and lots of outdoor activity space for attendees of The Hukilau 2021. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, featuring 140 rooms, two pools and lots of outdoor activity space for attendees of The Hukilau 2021. (Official photo)

Event tickets – from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events – are available now via TheHukilau.com website. Sign up for the email list to get future updates, which will also be posted on Facebook.

Tickets will be limited to keep the event safe and intimate. However, if space is available and the Beachcomber sells out, The Hukilau has arrangements with several nearby beachfront properties to offer special rates to spillover guests who are shut out of Beachcomber rooms. Locals can also pick up event tickets and not worry about accommodations.

In a change from past years, The Hukilau will offer all-inclusive tickets that encompass all events – including symposiums and special experiences. South Seas passes are the top-tier passes, giving Hukilau villagers access to all weekend events, including reserved seats at symposiums. Beachcomber and Aloha passes offer most of the experiences, with extra events available for an additional fee.

A new beachfront hotel near The Mai-Kai

The Beachcomber Resort has its own private beach, site of a luau and other activities during The Hukilau in September 2021. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort has its own private beach, site of a luau and other activities during The Hukilau in September 2021. (Official photo)

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is a family-owned hotel with 140 rooms, suites and villas that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The property also includes a cluster of apartments across A1A for event staff and participants. It’s roughly half the size of the B Ocean, so expect a more cozy event.

The resort offers “sweeping ocean views, two pools, tiki huts, full beach access, and more amenities, all reserved for our beloved villagers,” The Hukilau’s official announcement said. While many of the most popular activities will return to the schedule, organizers have made adjustments based on past feedback.

A conscious effort is being made to allow for more beach and social time with friends, a top request from villagers. The resort “is custom-made for us,” Oneslager said in a recent phone interview. He noted that the Beachcomber is blocked out for event attendees only, including the private beach.

The main event space is an open-air thatched hut where symposiums and performances will be held. The space is often used for weddings and other special events. Bands, solo musicians and DJs will be disbursed in outdoor areas around the resort. Performers will include musicians who lost their gig at The Mai-Kai when storm damage forced the restaurant’s closure in October.

Bungalows surrounding a large outdoor space just steps from the beach that will host rum companies and other sponsors during The Hukilau 2021 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)
Bungalows surrounding a large outdoor space just steps from the beach that will host rum companies and other sponsors during The Hukilau 2021 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)

Rum companies and other sponsors will host parties in a cluster of bungalows around a grassy area ideal for comfortable mingling. Pop-up cocktail bars and live performers will be spread out around the property, including poolside, Oneslager said.

On Thursday, The Hukilau’s opening day, guests “can expect welcome cocktails and cabanas filled with boozy libations from our roster of guest bars,” according to the official website. “Friday will be stacked with symposiums, pool parties, a grand luau, and guest bars.”

Catered by the Beachcomber and guest bartenders, the Friday night luau will be held in a private area just off the beach from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost of the feast is included in South Seas passes, while other ticketholders can add it for an extra fee.

For other meals, the hotel’s Deep seafood restaurant and bar feature ocean views as well as outdoor dining. Many rooms also look out onto the picturesque Atlantic.

The Hukilau's 2021 symposiums and other entertainment will take place under cover in a large oceanfront event space at Beachcomber Resort & Club. (Official photo)
The Hukilau’s 2021 symposiums and other entertainment will take place under cover in a large oceanfront event space at Beachcomber Resort & Club. (Official photo)

In a change from years past, there will be no additional charge for symposiums (except for the lowest level passholders, who can pay $10 for tickets). There may be capacity limitations, but the top-tier South Seas passholders will receive priority seating. Most of these events will be outdoors under the large tiki hut, which can be modified to protect guests from gusty wind and rain, Oneslager said.

The Beachcomber will host the Tiki Treasures Bazaar as well as a pool party on Saturday. On Sunday, The Hukilau bids farewell with a beachside Tiki brunch and themed cocktails from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a festive sendoff with pop-up bars and live music.

While most of the weekend everts are scheduled to be outdoors, contingency plans are in place in the event of inclement weather. The Beachcomber has enough indoor restaurant and lobby space to host the luau if necessary. And the tiki hut area can shield guests during typical rainy days. Plans also call for a tent to be installed over the resort’s croquet lawn, Oneslager said.

If a severe storm hits, there are guarantees from the hotel that all reservations are 100 percent refundable. Event passes are also refundable if a named tropical storm sparks watches or warnings in the area within seven days of The Hukilau. Regardless of the weather, all rooms come with a cancellation window up to 10 days before the event. For more detailed information, check the online FAQ.

Official website: More photos of the Beachcomber| Live beach cam

UPDATED: Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai

Guests enjoy cocktails in a new outdoor dining area during the recent Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Mai-Kai photo)
Guests enjoy cocktails in a new outdoor dining area during the recent Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Mai-Kai photo)

Like past years, The Hukilau will celebrate its Saturday main event at the historic Polynesian restaurant that has been part of every event since the move to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. Unfortunately, the closing for renovations has forced the owners to adapt since ceasing dinner service in October.

The Mai-Kai has remained active, offering cocktails to go and many outdoor special events. The latest Tiki Marketplace was held July 18 on the heels of car shows and sold-out events commemorating the 64th anniversary in December and Hulaween in October.

So what’s in store for The Hukilau? Passholders are invited to an exclusive “Save Paradise Party” on Saturday in the restaurant’s thatched outdoor porte-cochères space where guests has previously entered the restaurant. Free transportation will be provided for South Seas and Aloha passholders. The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails will be available for purchase.

Continue reading “The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai”