Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020. Bonus recipe below:The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)
1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS
Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.
It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.
In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events. The Mai-Kai for sale:See the official statementNEW UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events
In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.” Listen:Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians
In honor of National Rum Month, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale has released a new batch of its first-ever signature rum for guests to enjoy in the restaurant or take home in limited-edition bottles. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend can be paired with new branded glasses also available for purchase.
The initial batch of the 92-proof rum, aged and blended by Richard Seale at Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, was quickly snapped up during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in April. But the closing of the historic restaurant for two months forced the release party and seminar by The Real McCoy’s founder to be canceled. That presentation will now be held virtually, and everyone who buys a bottle of the rum is invited.
Thursday, Aug. 13: Rum Runners of the Prohibition Era Virtual Seminar featuring Bailey Pryor of The Real McCoy Rum and hosted by The Mai-Kai. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. The Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker and founder of The Real McCoy Rum will discuss the history of rums during Prohibition along with the creation of The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend. Guests can ask questions at the end of the presentation. [Facebook event]
An invitation to the Zoom event will be sent to anyone buying a bottle of the newly released Batch 131. It’s available at the restaurant for $64.20 (including tax). To order and arrange for pick-up, call marketing director Pia Dahlquist at (954) 646-8975 or email Pia@MaiKai.com. Unfortunately, you must pick up the rum in person. Shipping is not available. Those who bought a bottle of Batch 130 in April can also reach out to Pia to attend the event, which will include tastings of the rum.
The limited-edition glassware can be purchased along with the rum. The square shot glass ($10.70, including tax) and double old-fashioned rocks glass ($13.85) are both etched with The Mai-Kai logo and artwork. After picking up the new rum and glasses and enjoying the seminar, guests are invited to The Mai-Kai for National Rum Day on Aug. 16. A updated rum menu is now available featuring 49 different choices from The Mai-Kai’s “cellar,” including The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend. Scroll down for more on the new rum choices.
The Mai-Kai’s first branded rum is touted on the menu as a “single-blended Barbados rum, exceptionally smooth with unmistakable notes of toasted pecan, vanilla and wood spice, with a long, elegant finish.” It’s The Real McCoy’s latest partnership with an acclaimed Tiki bar after working with Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco on a similar 92-proof, 12-year-old rum in 2017.
The Mai-Kai rum is a blend of rums from copper column and pot stills, aged in heavily charred American oak Bourbon barrels. As noted in our May blog post, it was produced at a higher proof than The Real McCoy’s 12-year-old single blended rum (92 vs. 80) and has more pot still rum in the blend. This “heavier” blend is a better fit with flavor profile of the rums used in The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktails, typically higher proof rums from Jamaica and Guyana.
But don’t expect The Mai-Kai blend to be used frequently in cocktails. It’s designed (and priced) as a “super premium” rum like its predecessors and presented that way on The Mai-Kai’s new menu (see below). But it would not be out of line to feature it in a Daiquiri or other simple and elegant cocktail that showcases the rum. We’ve featured a few of these below as well.
Lacking a bottle of The Real McCoy’s standard 12-year-old rum to compare – as our friends at The Rum Traveler blog did [see video] – I took a different approach. My mind jumped immediately to another 12-year-old rum that is highly regarded as both a sipping and mixing rum, a longtime favorite at The Mai-Kai that appears in several highly-regarded cocktails.
Essentially, I wanted to know how The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend held up, both neat and in cocktails, against Appleton Estate 12-year-old Rare Blend (soon to be known as Reserve Casks) rum from Jamaica. Both come from well-respected distilleries and acclaimed master blenders in the English-speaking Caribbean’s two islands with the richest history of rum production.
There are distinct differences when you compare Barbados and Jamaican rums more broadly, but these two particular premium rums are closer than you might think. At 86 proof, the masterfully blended juice in the Appleton Estate flagship product is also aged in American oak Bourbon barrels and is a combination of column and pot still rums. After extensive tastings, I have no problem declaring it a virtual tie in my own informal rum ratings (3.7 out of 5). They’re easily distinguishable from each other, but both display the unmistakable characteristics of 12-year-old blended rums made with care and precision.
The world’s hospitality community is experiencing an unprecedented shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with ramifications still undefined and the “new normal” still open to debate. As our favorite bars agonize over layoffs, and the lucky ones eke out a living via takeout and delivery, many of us have tried to help the best we can.
The Atomic Grog compiled a list of links to buy merchandise, donate to crowd-sourced fundraisers, and learn more about efforts to assist Tiki bars in need. This blog post focuses on the Tiki revival and adjacent rum bars, but we don’t want to forget all the others in the bar industry that also need assistance sooner rather than later. All deserve our support.
But we also need to blow off some steam and relax. In these days of social distancing (we prefer the term physical distancing) and stay-at-home orders, many are cranking up their home bars to 11, posting photos and recipes, hosting virtual happy hours, and more. While all of these are worthy pursuits, I’m focusing my efforts here on the bars and bartenders I most admire.
Rather than just repost their recipes, I thought it might be appropriate to pay tribute with something new … but also something old and comforting. So belly up to the home bar for Daiquiris of Hope (#daiquirisofhope), an attempt to put a small but loving spotlight on those influential establishments that are unfortunately dealing with a potential business disaster. Of course, this comes on top of all the personal toll the virus is taking.
But let’s focus on the positive: Those memorable and distinctive flavors that stay with us long after we’ve left the bar. The challenge is how to best translate that simply, with no fuss or muss. Not everyone is stocked to the gills in their home bar. But everyone at the very least should have access to rum, lime (or some other sour citrus) and a sweet ingredient of some sort. If you have bitters and other enhancements, all the better.
My hope is that others – enthusiasts and professionals alike – will join me in sharing photos and recipes on social media using the hashtag #daiquirisofhope in an effort to raise awareness for our friends in their time of need. Let them know we’re thinking of them as we spread the word via their great gift: A well-crafted cocktail.
The humble Daiquiri (rum, lime and sugar at its most basic) is a cocktail that transcends all eras, trends, styles, and social status. It’s the great equalizer behind the bar, often used as a litmus test to judge a bartender’s chops, but more often used as a stress-breaker and common denominator as perhaps the most ubiquitous “shift drink.”
For all those reasons and many more, we chose this classic Tiki template – embraced by both Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber and featured in some shape or form on every tropical cocktail menu over the past century – as the means to salute bartenders dealing with today’s state of affairs.
Of course, the history of this Caribbean standard goes back to the town of Daiquiri, Cuba, in the early 1900s, where it was reportedly invented by an American working there during the Spanish-American War. Others may beg to differ, and the drink’s origins are still hotly debated in Cuba’s prestigious cocktail bars.
Unlike the frozen, blended version (often flavored with fruit) that many mainstream drinkers may associate with the name, a classic Daiquiri is always shaken with ice and strained into a coupe or other small glass. Rum, lime and sugar are constants – though Victor Bergeron and Donn Beach kicked off an era of post-Prohibition experimentation that continues to this day.
The coronoavirus pandemic shows few signs of abating, bars and restaurants across the U.S. remain closed, and most events scheduled for the upcoming months continue to be canceled or postponed. Facing this bleak future, it was a forgone conclusion that The Hukilau would be forced to reschedule its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale.
Global ambassador Alexx Mouzouris chats about Don Q Rum, Gary Evans and Brian Crum of The Intoxicators share stories of the band and The Hukilau:
The Hukilau’s Richard Oneslager talks about the upcoming (MO)RE (ALO)HA Tour, Tim “Swanky Glazner shows off his Mai-Kai mug collection:
Indeed, the announcement sent to ticketholders does just that, but with a hugely ambitious twist. Rather than just regroup at some future date at the historic Mai-Kai restaurant and the beachside B Ocean Resort, organizers have announced The Hukilau “(MO)RE (ALO)HA Tour,” a series of events across the country this summer and fall aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by what have now become months-long shutdowns.
The tour will indeed include a return to The Mai-Kai for an 18th straight year, just without the hotel component. “Smaller local events can directly support our bars, and not require villagers to buy an airline ticket, or book a hotel,” The Hukilau announced in the email. “We believe this is the best opportunity to bring the ohana together, and support our community.”
The announcement said The Hukilau is planning “5 or more stops on the tour.” Besides Fort Lauderdale, other planned tour stops are Los Angeles and San Francisco. Potential events in additional cities are on the drawing board, among them Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Atlanta. The email confirmed that the tour will end Oct. 16 in London, site of the previously scheduled Hukilau London, presented in association with The UK RumFest.
All of the U.S. dates and locations are still to be determined, the email stressed, adding: “We cannot set a schedule until we see how the health crisis and government restrictions play out.” The tour is designed to be “responsive and flexible to changing conditions,” but the hope is for events to take place throughout August and September. “There’s nothing easy about the current conditions we are living in,” it said, adding: “We have all grown more comfortable with a greater amount of uncertainty.”
If you’re already booked for the June event, you can immediately cancel your B Ocean Resort reservation with no penalty. But event ticketholders are being encouraged to hang tight while The Hukilau works out details on multiple options for villagers to transfer some of their payments. “Our number one goal is to support our bars and artists,” according to the announcement from The Hukilau’s organizer, Richard Oneslager, and his crew. Ticket-holders can email Aloha@TheHukilau.com for more information on their options. Also look for updates at TheHukilau.com.
New exclusive merchandise will be announced soon. Follow The Hukilau on Facebook and Instagram for info on special mugs and other Tiki treasures that highlight The Hukilau partner bars, as well as artists and vendors.
With many bars and restaurants across the country (and world) still closed due to coronavirus restrictions, many establishments near and dear to our hearts are going through rough times. Even with reopenings, business is often minimal as the pandemic continues to surge across the country. Some are even experiencing a second or third shutdown.
We feel strongly about supporting the owners, managers and employees as they face severe turbulence in their chosen profession. Please do all you can to help them out by whatever means possible. One easy way is to frequent their online stores, buy merchandise and gift cards, and put some cash back in their coffers.
Also note that many areas of the country have expanded rules to allow take-out and delivery of alcohol as well as food, so check with your local establishments for more info. It may be their lifeline. You can also visit this Facebook group for more info on Tiki bars offering to-go food and cocktails. We’ve also noted some of these services below.
We also remind you to continue to support the many artists and merchants who also depend on direct sales to customers to survive. You can find links to many of them in the right rail of this blog post. With marketplace events being canceled and postponed, they rely even more on a steady stream of online income. Some of the online events held around the world also include ways to make donations.
SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE
The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).
Archipelago, Washington, D.C. – The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed on Feb. 18.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark took a while to ramp up its merch, but in September finally launched an online shop. Shirts, pins and signature “Big Tim” mugs (created by Robo Tiki) are available. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, which recently set a new date for October 2021. The bar reopened on Oct. 3 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released, selling out quickly.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans – The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home while we wait for our favorite bars to reopen. After six months, Latitude 29 reopened Oct. 2 with reservation-only seating, including a new outdoor area. After closing in January 2021 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area, Latitude 29 reopened April 1 with restrictions. Indoor and outdoor dining are available, and reservations are required via Latitude29NOLA.com. To-go drinks will also be offered “in the tradition of our fine city,” management announced. Daiquiri of Hope: Beachbum’s Special Daiquiri
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Los Angeles – Closed since the early days of the pandemic, the Tiki bar inside the legendary Clifton’s complex is represented in its parent company’s vast online shop, Exposition Marketplace of The Neverlands. There are tons of exclusive items available, including artifacts to “create your own Tiki paradise” (nautical anchors and bells, mixology tools and books, rope buoys, and much more). Check back regularly for new items. Clifton’s is working with local and county agencies to determine when its venues can reopen.
Esotico Miami – In addition to a wide selection of “Tiki Away Cocktails,” this tropical hideaway in the Magic City led by noted Tiki mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola offers unique custom bar tools and mugs. Esotico also has a GoFundMe page that benefits its employees. The restaurant reopened indoor dining under social distancing restrictions in August after offering outdoor dining as well as takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery throughout the pandemic.
False Idol, San Diego – Consortium Holdings, one of the partners (along with Tiki bar guru Martin Cate) in this over-the-top throwback to classic Tiki hidden inside the Craft & Commerce bar, offers mugs and gift cards for sale online. False Idol has reopened at 25 percent capacity, serving cocktails and food via reservations only. In November, pioneering Tiki artist Bosko (who designed much of False Idol’s decor) released The Fog Cutter mug for False Idol, exclusively available at TikiBosko.com. The mug also comes with a 20 percent discount on the documentary Bosko and the Rebirth of Tiki on the early years of the Tiki revival.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, Calif. – You can buy apparel, mugs, and gift cards directly from one of the Tiki revivals’s first shining beacons. After being closed for more than four months, Forbidden Island opened a socially-distant Tiki garden and patio for limited hours in late July. New restrictions in December limited Forbidden Island to take-out service, but outdoor seating was fully open again in February. In March, Forbidden Island announced the arrival of their long-awaited Turquoise Kapu mug, the eighth glaze in 15 years. Also from Tiki Farm, a limited-edition version (in brown and green) of the Tamuaki mug designed by carver and artist Benzart Davis, embossed with the FI logo. Get them now in the online store as well as the bar. On March 15, interior seating returned at 25 percent capacity with many special precautions and features, including new air purifiers. Reservations are highly recommended.
Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas – A wide variety of mugs, glassware and apparel fill the online store of this beloved Tiki bastion in Sin City. You can also pick up gift certificates and a copy of the 2013 book, Liquid Vacation, which features recipes for 77 of the cocktails served at Frankie’s. Frankie’s is currently open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with 50 percent occupancy, requiring face masks and observing all COVID-19 safety protocols. The annual anniversary party and mug signing was canceled, but a 12th anniversary mug by Bosko was released in December and quickly sold out.
Fuchsia Tiki Bar, New Paltz, N.Y. – This small tropical escape hidden away in Ulster County, around 70 miles north of the Big Apple, is plugging away with merchandise, gift cards and cocktails cocktails to go. On June 25, Fuchsia opened for indoor dining with limited seating capacity. On July 6, new T-shirts went on sale in the online store. After closing again Dec. 21 for a short hiatus, Fuchsia Tiki Bar reopened at the end of January with a new menu.
The Grass Skirt, San Diego – This fun Tiki hangout hidden inside Good Time Poke in the scenic Pacific Beach neighborhood has a plethora of merch: Mugs, bowls and glassware; plus a variety of shirts and pins. Also, a portion of gift card purchases go toward helping the staff. The Grass Skirt reopened in late May and hosted the annual Christmas-themed pop-up, Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa, at the end of 2020.
Hala Kahiki, Chicago – The historic Tiki bar and lounge, established in 1966 in the suburb of River Grove, has an extensive online menu available for pick-up. The family owned and operated establishment is open to guests with socially distant indoor seating plus a covered and heated “tropical patio.” There is also a vast array of food and drinks on the to-go menu for hungry guests, along with many items from the in-house gift shop (which is also open in a limited capacity). Locals can pick up Hawaiian shirts, glasses and mugs, even an assortment of spirits. Even more merchandise can be found on June 6, when the next Lowbrow Aloha art show and sale will be hosted by Hala Kahiki.
Hale Pele, Portland, Ore.– The Pacific Northwest’s long-running Tiki paradise has an array of merch in its new online store, from mugs to glassware to shirts to pins to gift cards. There’s also a virtual tip jar for the staff. While you’re there, sign up for the email blast to get news and updates. After initially offering cocktail mixes for pickup, Hale Pele was finally permitted to sell take-out cocktails (with food) in January.
Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh – The web store at this popular Tiki revival craft cocktail bar offers gift cards plus (when available) exclusive mugs and other merchandise. Sign up for their newsletter and be the first to know about new offerings. Hidden Harbor has managed to say open since June, using its limited outdoor seating and special events to keep its loyal customers engaged and also shopping via a robust take-out menu (including merchandise). Hidden Harbor also offers cocktail classes in its tented, heated back patio focused on Tiki history. In celebration of the bar’s fifth birthday on Feb. 6, a limited edition of the bar’s Keeper of the Mug by Crazy Al Evans was released to guests at the anniversary event. Keep an eye out for two more editions later this year.
Kowloon, Saugus, Mass. – This historic Asian restaurant with Tiki flair (est. 1950) has a full-blown online gift shop filled with mugs and bowls, shirts, hats and plushes. You can also buy gift certificates. Kowloon reopened with outdoor seating in June, then added drive-in movies and car-hop service for guests to enjoy from their cars along with an outdoor Tiki bar and live music. In January, it was announced that Kowloon would eventually be closed to make way for redevelopment of the property. On Facebook, the restaurant’s management said that they were “planning for the future,” but clarified that future would “be years not months away.”
Laki Kane, London – The acclaimed craft Tiki bar from mixologist and author Georgi Radev has an online shop featuring a nice selection of mugs, plus signed copies of Radev’s Let’s Get Tropical. Laki Kane reopened in July 4 by reservation only under strict new guidelines, but was forced to close again on Dec, 16. It will remain closed under the national lockdown until May 17.
Last Rites, San Francisco – Dubbed “Polynesian noir,” this unique and modern take on Tiki with a backstory revolving around a plane crash has had to battle its own takedown by coronavirus. While the bar remains closed, you can buy gift cards and make donations to help the staff via LastRitesBar.com.
Lost Lake, Chicago – Early in the pandemic, this award-winning craft cocktail bar created a GoFundMe page with 100 percent of the virtual tips going to the laid-off staff. Donors received a special newsletter containing food and drink recipes to make at home, plus other special features. In June, Lost Lake began offering takeout cocktails along with food. In October, the ambitious Lost Lake at Home program was launched, giving members access to unique and special rums, bottled cocktails, plus more.
Lost River, Detroit – The Web store of this rum-focused tropical neighborhood bar on Detroit’s Eastside features gift cards, plus an assortment of merchandise (mugs and glassware, plus shirts and pins). There’s also an option to “tip your bartender.” While indoor service is closed, Lost River features ambitious to-go cocktails, such as February’s Twilight Zone theme. In late January, a new limited edition lavender glaze of the bar’s house mug was released online. Lost River shut down in April to prepare for a May 1 grand reopening. Get updates on Facebook and Instagram.
Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced Despite its closure for renovations, The Mai-Kai is keeping busy with take-out cocktails, a parking lot car show, and its first Tiki marketplace. >>> COMPLETE EVENT INFO