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.
Most bars and restaurants across the country (and world) have been embroiled in a long and painful process of returning to “normal” after nearly two years of dealing with coronavirus restrictions. Just when things were beginning to turn the corner, however, the omicron variant has thrown them another curveball. As a result, many establishments near and dear to us are still going through rough times.
We feel strongly about supporting the owners, managers and employees as they deal with this 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 in their coffers.
Also note that many areas of the country have made permanent the emergency rules that 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. We’ve noted some of these services below.
We also urge you to also support the artists and merchants who are key parts of the industry, designing and producing many of the products listed below. You can find links to our favorites in the right rail of this blog post. You can also support them at events that are making a comeback around the world.
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).
Aku Aku, Orlando – This small and inviting mid-mod Tiki oasis near downtown has an online shop featuring gift cards, T-shirts, stickers and mugs. Artist Doug Horne signed his newest mug release, Invisible Man, on Jan. 22, 2022. It quickly sold out, but more were released in early March. Follow the Aku Aku pages onInstagram and Facebook for updates.
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 2020 for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February 2021, followed by patio seating. In mid-June 2021, Archipelago resumed indoor seating after 452 days. Reservations are recommended. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa returned for the 2021 holidays with special themed merchandise.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark has shirts, pins and mugs available in its online shop. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, with version 2.5 held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 2021. The bar reopened in October 2020 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January 2021, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released. The mug was designed by RoboTiki crafted by Eekum Bookum.
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. Latitude 29 reopened in September 2021 after closing in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Before the storm, Latitude 29 had been open consistently since October 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. An exciting new mug release commemorated Spookilau 2021, when Oakwash produced 150 limited-edition Cursed Coconut mugs. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa also returned again for another winter holiday season. The bar closed after ringing in 2022 but returned on Jan. 6. Before you visit, reserve a seat via Latitude29Nola.com.
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Los Angeles – Closed since the early days of the pandemic, the Tiki bar inside the legendary Clifton’s complex was pouring drinks again in February 2022. While it was closed, the bar’s parent company opened a vast online shop, Exposition Marketplace of The Neverlands. It featured many exclusive items, including artifacts to “create your own Tiki paradise” (nautical anchors and bells, mixology tools and books, rope buoys, and much more).
Esotico Miami – This tropical hideaway in the Magic City, led by noted Tiki mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola, offers mugs and shirts in its online store. The restaurant reopened indoor dining under social distancing restrictions in August 2020 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. After closing durng the height of the pandemic, False Idol reopened at limited capacity, serving cocktails and food via reservations only. The bar got back up to speed during the annual Tiki Oasis in August 2021 with a full slate of events. These included a fifth anniversary mug release as well as the release of a a new limited-edition glaze of Bosko’s Maori mug.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, Calif. – You can buy apparel, mugs, and gift cards directly from one of the Tiki revival’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 2020. New restrictions in December limited Forbidden Island to take-out service, but outdoor seating was fully open again in February. Indoor dining returned in March, when 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. A new 15th anniversary limited edition mug designed by Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker and produced by Munktiki made its debut at a special event on May 23 before becoming available online in the official website merch store.
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. New mugs are released often, so check back. You can also pick up gift certificates and a copy of the 2013 book, Liquid Vacation, which features recipes for 77 of the bar’s famous cocktails. Frankie’s has returned to being the world’s only 24-hour Tiki bar, open seven days a week. On Dec. 4, 2021, Frankie’s celebrated its 13th anniversary with the release of the limited-edition Lady Luck anniversary mug designed by Bosko Hrnjak, who was on hand to sign mugs.
Fuchsia Tiki Bar, New Paltz, N.Y. – This small tropical escape hidden away in Ulster County, around 70 miles north of the Big Apple, survived the pandemic by offering merchandise, gift cards and cocktails to go. Fuchsia reopened in June 2020 with indoor dining and limited seating capacity. After closing in December for a short hiatus, the bar reopened at the end of January 2020 with a new menu and Squid’s Rum Barrel mug by Bauer Pottery.
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 “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. Locals can pick up Hawaiian shirts, glasses and mugs, even an assortment of spirits. The regular Lowbrow Aloha art shows also Hala Kahiki guests to pick up even more cool merch.
Hale Pele, Portland, Ore.– The Pacific Northwest’s long-running Tiki paradise has an array of merch in its 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 2021. Hale Pele re-opened with indoor dining in late May.
Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh – This popular Tiki revival craft cocktail bar celebrates its sixth anniversary in February 2022 with two weekends of fun (and mug releases). In advance of the events, check out the online shop for custom merch, including pendants and glassware. On Feb. 5, the bar’s first-ever Cobra’s Fang mug, designed and produced by Bosko, was released during a special return of the Cobra’s Fang pop-up. On Feb. 12, the official anniversary party featured the release of 100 new Suffering Banana mugs by VanTiki. The remaining 50 mugs were sold Feb. 14 in the Hidden Harbor online shop. Throughout the pandemic, Hidden Harbor has featured indoor and/or outdoor seating, whichever the current situation allows. Currently, guests must follow a new vaccination policy for indoor service.
Laki Kane, London – The acclaimed craft Tiki bar from mixologist and author Georgi Radev has taken its online store offline, but you can still help out by purchasing vouchers to spend on cocktails, food, experiences (including rum tastings and cocktails classes), plus merchandise sold in-house at Laki Kane. You can also support Radev by picking up a copy of his book, Let’s Get Tropical, at various booksellers, including Amazon. Laki Kane reopened in July 2020 by reservation only under strict new guidelines, but was forced to close again in December. It was allowed to reopen again for outdoor drinks, dining and takeaways in April 2021. Indoor seating eventual returned under the latest guidelines.
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. After being down for more than a year, the bar reopened in June 2021 under San Francisco’s strict vaccination and mask guidelines. You can buy gift cards at LastRitesBar.com.
Lono, Los Angeles – This Hollywood Boulevard haunt has a new online store offering several versions of its signature mug along with glassware, pins and hats. While Lono remains closed, a selection of cocktails are available for pickup and delivery via owners Umbrella Hospitality Group. The bar remains closed as of early December 2021.
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 was closed, Lost River featured ambitious to-go cocktail program. In January 2021, a new limited edition lavender glaze of the bar’s house mug was released online. Lost River fully reopened in May 2021.
UPDATED:The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale – After closing in late October 2020 due to a back-of-house flood, The Mai-Kai re-launched its online Trading Post. The digital version of the historic restaurant’s on-site gift shop features custom mugs, apparel, jewelry, tikis, artist prints, menus, and more. The site is temporarily closed, but it’s expected to return when it gets closer to the reopening. After closing in the early months of the pandemic, The Mai-Kai’s bar and dining rooms reopened to the public under social distancing rules in late May 2020, remaining open until a massive storm hit just before Halloween. But that didn’t stop The Mai-Kai from holding its annual Hulaween bash as a drive-in movie party in the parking lot. The restaurant’s 64th anniversary party was also held on the sprawling property in December 2020. After announcing in early 2021 that they’re looking for potential partners and buyers to help with the repairs, The Mai-Kai family continued to offer their popular tropical drinks to go, sell merchandise online and host ongoing events in the restaurant parking lot. A second Tiki Markertplace was held in July 2020 after the success of the initial event in April. In September, The Hukilau returned to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai for its 19th Tiki weekender at a nearby beachfront resort. Sept. 18 included a cocktail party in The Mai-Kai parking lot, where it was announced that a deal was in the works to reopen the restaurant. The founding Thornton family released details on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with the Barlington Group, a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company focused on growing unique and eclectic legacy businesses that give their communities character; and Mad Room Hospitality, the proprietors of iconic Miami establishments such as Ball and Chain, Los Altos and Taquerias El Mexicano. “Our search came to an end when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai,” the announcement said. Guests of The Hukilau will get a sneak preview of the plans when the event returns to the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach in June. The new ownership group will present a symposium on June 11 exclusively for passholders. The Mai-Kai will also operate a pop-up bar, treating the event’s villagers to some of its signature cocktails all weekend. In May and June, four to-go cocktails (by the quart and gallon) will be available on three holiday weekends for takeout at the restaurant. A soft launch that included three signature drinks was held over Easter weekend, much to fans’ delight. Follow The Mai-Kai on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.