The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022

The Mai-Kai's new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022

In the entertainment and hospitality industry, your biggest fans can also be your toughest critics. So when the new owner of South Florida’s beloved Mai-Kai sat down with more than 100 Tiki enthusiasts during The Hukilau on June 11 for an open discussion of his plans to renovate the 65-year-old landmark, their reaction was crucial.

Related blog posts
* The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video
* Beat the summer heat with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai

Bill Fuller, leader of the new ownership team that purchased The Mai-Kai in late 2021, speaks to attendees of The Hukilau 2022 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach on June 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Bill Fuller, leader of the new ownership team that purchased The Mai-Kai in late 2021, speaks to attendees of The Hukilau 2022 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach on June 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Judging by the many rousing ovations throughout the 50-minute presentation, veteran real estate developer and historic preservationist Bill Fuller passed the test with flying colors. The only murmurs of dissent came when the organizer of The Hukilau, Richard Oneslager, jokingly asked if it was true Fuller planned to replace the restaurant’s signature Chinese ovens with microwaves, and if The Molokai bar was being re-themed to Miami Vice.

Looming thunderstorms put a kibosh on the multimedia presentation planned for the open-air beachside gathering at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. But Fuller’s words were more than enough to win over the crowd who came from around the world to the 19th Tiki weekender that traditionally culminates with a climactic evening at The Mai-Kai.

Closed since October 2020 due to massive flooding that damaged the kitchen beyond repair, the historic property is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar refurbishment. Plans spearheaded by Fuller’s ownership group, which partnered with The Mai-Kai’s founding Thornton family, became public in April after a presentation to the city of Oakland Park, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.

The Mai-Kai's renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space
EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

Fuller elaborated on those plans during his talk at The Hukilau, divulging some new details. He was joined by two members of The Mai-Kai family, Kulani Thornton Gelardi and Kern Mattei, who also revealed some interesting new projects in the works.

After a spirited intro by event emcee King Kululele, Oneslager sat down with Fuller and led a question-and-answer session under the large thatched hut between the pool and beach at the quaint boutique hotel. The burning questions on everyone’s mind, Oneslager said to Fuller, were: “What’s going to stay? What’s going to change? And are you going to screw things up?”

Mireille Thornton on stage at The Mai-Kai in the early 1970s. (Mai-Kai photo)
Mireille Thornton on stage at The Mai-Kai in the early 1970s. (Mai-Kai photo)

Fuller said he was “lucky to be at the right place at the right time to be able to join forces with the family” in September 2021. The reason The Mai-Kai is being preserved is mainly due to the will of the Thornton family, he said. Gelardi’s mother, Mireille Thornton, inherited the ownership mantle from her late husband, Robert Thornton, in 1989.

The 85-year-old family matriarch will continue to choreograph and produce the restaurant’s authentic Polynesian show, which she joined as a dancer from Tahiti in the early 1960s. “She has her own nuances, which is what makes special experiences like this tick,” Fuller said. “You can’t just replicate it, you need to have that body of knowledge, that creativity and heritage. That’s what’s so rich within the walls of The Mai-Kai.”

The first question for Fuller from the audience echoed a common refrain on social media: Exactly when can we expect to be back within those walls?

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022”

The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video

The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video

Updated July 4

The Hukilau was back on the beach for 2022, hosting its many retro-themed Tiki festivities at a scenic hotel just north of Fort Lauderdale. The 19th Polynesian Pop weekender (the second longest-running in the world), featured four days of live music, educational seminars, cocktails and rum tastings, plus lots more. Click below for extensive photo/video recaps on social media.
Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

The Hukilau

The Beachcomber, a family-owned property in Pompano Beach, features lots of outdoor space just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. The Mai-Kai, the longtime host restaurant that remains closed for refurbishment, participated by serving cocktails and offering villagers drinks to go. The new ownership team also presented an exclusive symposium on the exciting new plans for the historic property.

The Hukilau 2022 – June 9-12 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras, King Kukulele, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums (Ian Burrell, David Wondrich, The Mai-Kai, Rocket Betty, Spike Marble, Headhunter Ray, Jeff Ballard), 15 guest bars, rum tastings, luau on the beach, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
Official website | Instagram | Facebook page and group


Continue reading “The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video”

The Hukilau countdown: 19th Tiki weekender blows into South Florida for beachfront bash June 9-12

The first weekend in June brought a blast of stormy weather to South Florida, but the second weekend promises an entirely different – and much more festive – tropical disturbance. The Hukilau will innundate the Fort Lauderdale area beachfront with four days of rum-soaked activities, rockin’ surf bands and special guests from across the worldwide Tiki revival.

The Hukilau

The 19th Polynesian Pop celebration is scheduled for Wednesday through Sunday, June 9-12, at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Highlights include Friday’s luau on the beach and Saturday’s giant Tiki marketplace. Pool parties will feature music by top underground bands (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras) and cocktails served up by 16 Tiki bar teams from near and far.

By Thursday, the hurricane season’s first potential tropical system will be long gone. Weekend forecasts call for rain chances around 30 to 40 percent with high temperatures near 90, a typical early summer weekend in balmy South Florida.

The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video
The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video UPDATED
The 19th Tiki weekender featured four days of live music, educational seminars, cocktails and rum tastings, plus lots more.
>>> FULL DAILY COVERAGE

The Hukilau 2022 – Quick Links
Tickets | Schedule | Vendors | Music | Symposiums
* Social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group

A bird's eye view of the Beachcomber resort's pool and beach area. (Official photo)
A bird’s eye view of the Beachcomber resort’s pool and beach area. (Official photo)

Most of The Hukilau’s events and social gatherings take place poolside and under shaded thatched huts at the beachside resort. Organizers are prepared in case of bad weather with back-up plans to move some events indoors, but coverings in the outdoor areas can shield guests during typical rainy days.

The event is not yet sold out, so check the tickets page at TheHukilau.com for pass availability. The best bet for locals and late arrivals is the one-day Palm Pass ($129), which includes Saturday’s Rum Island Pool Party and Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus the evening bungalow parties. Online sales will continue to be available, but walk-ups will also be accommodated on Saturday.

Other options include the multi-day Aloha (Friday-Saturday) and South Seas (Thursday-Saturday) passes. Many symposiums and special events are included in the price of the top-tier passes. All guests receive complimentary craft cocktails from some of the world’s best bartenders as well as tastings of sponsor rums.

Austin's Tiki Tatsu-Ya. (Photo by Jupiter Jones, April 2022)
Austin’s Tiki Tatsu-Ya. (Photo by Jupiter Jones, April 2022)

Two of the guest bars – Austin’s Tiki Tatsu-Ya (Best New U.S. Cocktail Bar) and Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash (World’s Best Spirits Selection for The Bamboo Room speakeasy) – were just named top 10 finalists for Spirited Awards at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Several others are past nominees.
Previous story: See our past coverage of the full bar lineup

If you’re still looking for a room, it’s worth checking the Beachcomber first. The resort is close to selling out, but a few rooms are often held back for last-minute release. There’s also the possibility of cancellations at any time. Call (954) 941-7830 for reservations, and be aware that you’ll need to show proof of an event pass at check-in.

Don’t fret if all of the 150-odd rooms at the Beachcomber are taken, however. The beachfront along scenic State Road A1A is loaded with options, including many small boutique hotels and motels. The official alternate hotel is the Ocean Beach Resort & Suites, a half-mile to the north. Call (954) 942-2030 and mention The Hukilau for a special rate.

Guests at The Hukilau 2021 enjoy the poolside cocktails at the Beachcomber Resort. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests at The Hukilau 2021 enjoy the poolside cocktails at the Beachcomber Resort. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The move last year to the Beachcomber was party due to necessity because of the pandemic. It provided much outdoor space, along with a smaller room count as well as fewer expenses. Past host hotels have included massive properties such as the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which closed for a multi-year refurbishment immediately after The Hukilau 2019.

But the change did not come without some sense of serendipity. The Hukilau, after all, is named for an oceanside gathering of family and friends for a giant fishing festival.

“This is what The Hukilau is meant to be,” organizer Richard Oneslager said in a recent interview. “We’re on the ocean, doing business with a family-run property.”

The entire hotel is reserved for The Hukilau, which both limits its size and makes for a more immersive event. It’s a “complete escape to a Tiki paradise,” Oneslager said, referring to the experience as “our own little world.” Because there are no outsiders, “everyone around you is part of the show,” he said. Very few events can offer that complete package.

The Beachcomber Resort bungalows and lawn, which are used during The Hukilau for parties and special activities. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort bungalows and lawn, which are used during The Hukilau for parties and special activities. (Official photo)

Oneslager said there are no plans to grow more than a modest 5 or 10 percent. He said he likes the current configuration, which gives villagers the opportunity to meet new friends, but still have an intimate experience.
Previous story: More on the hotel and event history

“Having the whole property to ourselves is a big thing,” he said. While he won’t give an exact number, Oneslager said the total number of passes sold this year will be less than 750. That aligns The Hukilau more with the many medium-sized multi-day events rather than the giant Tiki Oasis in San Diego.
The Tiki Times: The Atomic Grog’s exclusive events guide

Tropical cocktails are abundant at The Hukilau. (Official photo)
Tropical cocktails are abundant at The Hukilau. (Official photo)

In addition to all the major highlights on the schedule and noted below, Oneslager continues to add fun, last-minute features. He mentioned the return of Tiki miniature golf as well as a series of outdoor “Ohana-Rama” games that you can play at your leisure or join a competition. There will also be a Tiki bingo event Saturday to benefit the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s educational foundation.

Continue reading “The Hukilau countdown: 19th Tiki weekender blows into South Florida for beachfront bash June 9-12”

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.

2022 UPDATES
* Latest news on the reopening plans
* The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
* The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

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”

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”