‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

Updated June 2019

Thanks to a dedicated group of artists and supporters, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale has been blessed with the arrival of a new clan of Tiki carvings, most notably the 10-foot “King Kai” that now holds court in the outdoor garden. It’s believed to be the most extensive infusion of large stylized carvings since the 1960s.
See below: Exclusive photo gallery of King Kai, new trio of Tikis | What else is new

King Kai was carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from a 10-foot-tall Florida Black Olive tree trunk.
King Kai was carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from a 10-foot-tall Florida Black Olive tree trunk. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 22, 2016)

King Kai, a Hawaiian Ku design carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders, was installed May 21 and christened during a special ceremony the next day. Anders had lots of help in realizing the project, which was the vision of The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. She enlisted several key people to make the dream a reality: Securing two Florida Black Olive tree trunks and transporting them to South Florida, then erecting the finished carving at The Mai-Kai.
* See previous coverage

Those responsible are credited on a plaque that adorns King Kai’s base: White, Anders, Lonnie Dryden (who donated the heavy equipment used to transport the logs and helped install King Kai), Lee Cicchella of Paradise Found Landscaping (who donated the two trees), Pete Ginn (who also donated heavy equipment), plus Virginia Decker. That second giant log is sitting in Anders’ workshop, awaiting a future project. Stay tuned.

As if that weren’t enough, however, White also spearheaded a project to replace the three crumbling Tikis that greeted guests upon their arrival by car in the porte-cochère of the landmark restaurant, recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. In the first project of its kind at The Mai-Kai, three Florida artists joined forces to each carve a distinctive new Tiki.

Three new Tikis carved by Will Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29 and now greet guests in The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère.
Three new Tikis carved by Will Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29 and now greet guests in The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Tikis carved by Anders, Fort Lauderdale’s Tom Fowner and Tampa’s Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29, just in time for The Hukilau. The Hawaiian Lono (Anders), Marquesan (Chouinard) and Tangaroa-style (Fowner) Tikis were carved by the artists from Central Florida Cypress. The Tikis they replaced were historic, believed to date back to the restaurant’s inception in 1956, but were in a serious state of decay. We’re told that the remnants might find a place inside the restaurant amid the many other South Seas artifacts.

As Anders and Fowner installed the new Tiki trio on the morning of May 28, The Mai-Kai’s longtime owner Mireille Thornton (wife of late founder Bob Thornton and choreographer/costume designer of the beloved Polynesian Islander Revue, arrived to see the new additions. “You guys are doing a great job,” she exclaimed when she first saw the Tikis.

The Mai-Kai's owner, Dave Levy (third from left), is joined on May 22 by most of those responsible for making King Kai possible (from left): Pete Ginn, Lonnie Dryden, Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White, Will Anders, and Virginia Decker.
The Mai-Kai’s owner, Dave Levy (third from left), is joined on May 22 by most of those responsible for making King Kai possible (from left): Pete Ginn, Lonnie Dryden, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, Will Anders, and Virginia Decker. (Atomic Grog photo)

The addition of the Ku and Lono by Anders are distinctive at The Mai-Kai since there aren’t many Hawaiian-style Tikis on the property. Bob Thornton, who founded the restaurant with his brother Jack, preferred other styles, Mireille said. If Fowner’s Tangaroa-style Tiki seems familiar, it’s because it was based on the design of The Mai-Kai’s vintage decanter. Chouinard, known for his public “guerilla” Tikis in the Tampa Bay area, previously donated a Tiki to The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2014. You can find it behind the stage in the main dining room’s garden.

The work of Anders, though largely uncredited, is ubiquitous at the 59-year-old Polynesian palace. For years, he has re-cast many of the smaller Tikis that are found throughout the property. Bob Thornton was wise enough to have molds made for most of the original pieces, but they sat in storage for decades until Anders volunteered to put them to good use. [See photos of Anders’ work on Tiki Central] He also created a giant Tiki based on The Mai-Kai’s Mara-Amu mug that can be found in another prime sport the garden next to King Kai. [More info and photos, Mara-Amu recipe]

Lonnie Dryden helps a forklift operator position King Kai so the Tiki can be dropped into the garden at The Mai-Kai on May 21.
Lonnie Dryden helps a forklift operator position King Kai so the Tiki can be dropped into the garden at The Mai-Kai on May 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The hot, wet and humid Florida weather is not kind to outdoor Tikis, but luckily The Mai-Kai’s molds and the work of Anders will keep the restaurant’s many Tikis in good condition. His latest project, completed just before The Hukilau on June 7, was the replacement of the stylized Tiki ash trays that guard the main entrance. They were stolen, so Anders jokes that his new castings contain a GPS chip. They’re also fastidiously secured in place (as are all the new Tikis), and cast using Anders’ usual method. Known as Portland cement (also called 123), it’s 1 part cement, 2 parts coarse sand, and 3 parts rock. He also puts steel inside for strength.

The wooden Tikis are a different story, however. Anders says he and Fowner hope to maintain them so they don’t meet the same fate as many of the larger carvings that date back to the early days of the restaurant. Famed California carver Barney West created many massive Tikis that were added in the early 1960s. Only two remain, both on the exterior of the property facing Federal Highway: An imposing 20-foot Moai stands just outside the fence near King Kai on the south side, while a smaller though no less impressive carving stands guard north of the main entrance. After more than 50 years in the elements, some worry how long these historic carvings may last.

Continue reading “‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai”

The Hukilau guests to take a Tiki Road Trip; new Shag merchandise in the works

If the idea of a cross-country road trip to five Tiki bars in five different states seems daunting, The Hukilau will make it easy for you during the 15th annual gathering of Polynesian Pop enthusiasts June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale. During the event’s Friday afternoon festivities, guests will have the opportunity to sip cocktails and chat up the bar staff from five current and upcoming Tiki establishments spread across the Southeast, East and Midwest.
More below: New sponsor rums | Shag glassware, more merch

Tiki Road Trip Pool Party

The Tiki Road Trip Pool Party will include cocktails from four well-known tropical drink destinations: Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), Aku Aku (Orlando), plus The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley (New York City). Also joining the party will be Cooking Channel star Jim Stacy, who will be offering up a sneak preview of his upcoming Tiki bar in Atlanta, the Barnacled Mermaid.

Also on hand will be James Teitelbaum, whose seminal 2003 book, Tiki Road Trip, inspired the party (as well as many actual trips). The book chronicled Teitelbaum’s travels to Tiki bars across the world while he was a touring musician in the early days of the Tiki revival. Updated in 2007, the book also documents many legendary establishments from the past. Teitelbaum will be signing copies of both Tiki Road Trip and his latest book, Destination: Cocktails: The Traveler’s Guide to Superior Libations (2012), at a time to be announced in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar.

The Hukilau: June 8-12, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
* Buy tickets, passes | Book hotel | Schedule | Locations
* Recent Atomic Grog coverage: Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture symposium, new sponsors, Pier 66 hotel news

The Pier 66 pool will be transformed into a Route 66 of tropical cocktails during the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party on Friday, June 10, during The Hukilau.
The Pier 66 pool will be transformed into a Route 66 of tropical cocktails during the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party on Friday, June 10, during The Hukilau.

Tickets for the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party are available now for just $20 for weekend passholders, $49 for non-passholders. It will run from noon to 4 p.m. in the courtyard surrounding the main pool at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a good idea to snag a weekend pass before they sell out. The Aloha Pass ($155) includes Thursday through Sunday, while the Luau Pass ($135) covers Friday through Sunday.

The Hukilau’s co-founder/organizer, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, said a pool party has been a top guest request since the event moved to Pier 66 last year. The waterfront hotel includes what it calls a “three-pool tropical oasis” in its center courtyard, and White plans to put it to good use with what she’s calling an “epic pool party” featuring “five bars serving the best in exotic cocktails from around the U.S.”

Continue reading “The Hukilau guests to take a Tiki Road Trip; new Shag merchandise in the works”

The Hukilau 2016: Entertainment, music and symposiums announced, full website launches

Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White
Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 19

After 15 years of planning the East Coast’s premiere Tiki weekender, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White knows a thing or two about giving her guests, affectionately known as “villagers,” what they want. For the 15th anniversary of The Hukilau, scheduled for June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale, that means assembling the biggest names in the Polynesian Pop revival for an unforgettable experience unlike any other.

“Tiki culture is only growing stronger, and we are trying to provide the best show possible for anyone who wants to join us,” Tiki Kiliki said in an interview this week. She said she wants her guests to feel like “they’ve just stepped back in time into an era where Tiki was ever-present.”

See below: Signature events | Symposium previews | Music, entertainment, more
The Hukilau quick links: Buy tickets, passes | Book hotel | Schedule | Locations

The Hukilau 2016

Tickets went on sale Tuesday for an impressive array of symposiums and experiences that will make the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale the epicenter of the 21st century Tiki revival. Special guests and entertainers include some of the scene’s top artists (Shag, Tom Fowner, Will Anders, Jeff Chouinard), cocktail creators (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, Brian Miller, St. John Frizell), bands and musicians (The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, The Intoxicators, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Quiet Villagers, The Disasternauts), entertainers (Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Angie Pontani, Kitten de Ville, Lila Starlet), and pop culture historians (Otto von Stroheim, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Humuhumu, Paul Roe).

“The appearance of Shag has really stirred tons of excitement here on the East Coast,” Tiki Kiliki said. “We don’t see him often enough, so that will be a true treat for everyone.”

This year’s event celebrates not only The Hukilau’s 15th year, but also the 60th anniversary of The Mai-Kai, the legendary Tiki temple that was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Hukilau moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 after launching in 2002 in Atlanta, drawn by the restaurant’s legendary reputation that only continues to grow. Last year, it was named best Tiki bar in the world after a tally of ratings by Critiki.com users.

Crowds fill the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel's Crystal Ballroom on the last day of the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. (Atomic Grog photo)
Crowds fill the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel’s Crystal Ballroom for the Tiki Treasures Bazaar during The Hukilau 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau is returning for a second year to Pier 66, another historic property that dates back to 1956 and is beloved for its mid-century architecture and iconic rotating rooftop penthouse lounge. It’s a miraculous turnaround for The Hukilau, which nearly called it adieu in 2014. At the 11th hour, Tiki Kiliki was approached by new partners who have injected new life (and financing) into the event, enabling the move to Pier 66. She has also been able to concentrate on the creative end of things, putting together a perfect Polynesian Pop getaway for guests.

The Hukilau’s villagers last year voted Pier 66 “Best Hotel in The Hukilau’s History,” enamored by its modern amenities and hospitality provided by Hyatt, combined with its history and mid-century design. With only a few available rooms remaining during The Hukilau weekend, Tiki Kiliki urges potential guests to book sooner rather than later.

“The 66 provides a perfect backdrop to the classic era of Tiki with its roots perfectly planted the same year that The Mai-Kai first opened,” Tiki Kiliki said. Pier 66 guests are also the only villagers who will receive special welcome bags full of swag provided by sponsors. When Pier 66 sells out, she hopes to have another nearby hotel lined up for villagers to enjoy.

The 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 offers an unparalleled view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 offers an unparalleled view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Sales of 2016 event passes and tickets for special events have been selling at an unprecedented rate after going online in late October, much earlier than in past years. Demand is no doubt driven by the anniversaries and the unique experiences the 2016 event offers.

Tiki Kiliki said many things are driving interest this year. Villagers are “excited about celebrating the past and the future with the anniversaries, and Tiki culture is only growing stronger. … Also, Pier 66 has a lot to do with it too. The event grows ever stronger in the right venue.”

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2016: Entertainment, music and symposiums announced, full website launches”

The Week in Tiki (Jan. 12, 2015): The Hukilau ticket sales, Polynesian Village bungalows, Lost Lake coming to Chicago

The Week in TikiAloha, and welcome to a new feature on The Atomic Grog spotlighting the latest news and information on the Polynesian Pop revival and wide world of retro-themed entertainment. Every Monday, look for a new blog post that previews what’s coming up and looks back at the highlights of the previous week. The Week in Tiki will attempt to cover all the major happenings across the world, with a focus on our home base, Florida and the U.S. East Coast. In keeping with the theme of the blog, look for updates on events, music, art, cocktails and culture, along with our obsession with Disney World. We’ll also celebrate our favorite spirit, rum, and spotlight a different cocktail recipe every week. Sit back, relax … and enjoy!
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Website | Events

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS (Jan. 12-18, 2015)

The Hukilau to announce symposiums, ticket sales

A vintage photo of the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale
A vintage photo of the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale, site of The Hukilau in June 2015.

Expect a major announcement this week from The Hukilau, the annual Tiki event in Fort Lauderdale that draws enthusiasts from around the world. Passes and tickets will be going on sale for the June 10-14 festivities, which for the first time will take place at the iconic Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel along with the historic Mai-Kai restaurant. [See previous story] The impressive entertainment lineup will include six symposiums on Tiki and Polynesian Pop history. More details will also be released on author and fledgling bar owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s special event in the hotel’s signature Pier Top Lounge. The musical lineup will include an array of exotica, jazz, surf and rockabilly bands. For updates, check TheHukilau.com and the Facebook page. The Atomic Grog will also have full coverage.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Jan. 12, 2015): The Hukilau ticket sales, Polynesian Village bungalows, Lost Lake coming to Chicago”

Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau in 2015 and beyond

After coming precariously close to saying aloha and goodbye to The Hukilau, the long-running Tiki event she has organized since 2002, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White is sure glad things turned out differently. “For me, it was the best event in the history of The Hukilau,” she said of the five-day festival in June that not only marked the 13th annual gathering of vintage culture devotees from around the world, but also a new beginning.

The Hukilau's Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White introduces her new partners, Richard Oneslager (left) and Mike Zielinski, during Saturday night's Main Event at The Mai-Kai.
The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White introduces her new partners, Richard Oneslager (left) and Mike Zielinski, during Saturday night’s Main Event at The Mai-Kai.

Just months before she planned to close the books on The Hukilau for good, White was approached by two fans of the event who also happened to be experienced businessmen and event organizers who were eager to strike up a partnership. “I consider myself a very lucky person,” she said of the serendipity of the happenstance that led to The Hukilau not only surviving to see 2015, but becoming poised to thrive and reach new audiences across the country.

I sat down with Tiki Kiliki recently at The Mai-Kai, the beloved 57-year-old Polynesian restaurant that serves as the inspiration for the event, to get the lowdown on what she and her new partners, Richard Oneslager and Mike Zielinski, have in the works for The Hukilau and how their mutually beneficial partnership came about. But first, a look back at that memorable event in June that was expanded to five days in anticipation of a last hurrah. Instead, it turned into a celebration of what’s to come.

The Hukilau 2014 was held June 11-15 at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
See below: Gallery of 62 photos from The Atomic Grog. Click on bold links below for galleries by the official photographers at Go11 Media.
Related: The Hukilau offers a deep dive into the history of porthole cocktail lounges
The Hukilau 2015 will be held June 10-14. Get updates at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.

In the waning hours of The Hukilau on Sunday, artist Crazy Al Evans and author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry get one last chance to savor The Mai-Kai, its cocktails and its tropical garden.
In the waning hours of The Hukilau on Sunday, artist Crazy Al Evans and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry get one last chance to savor The Mai-Kai, its cocktails and its tropical garden.

“This is going to sound really strange, but sort of like Disney, it was kind of like magic this year,” Tiki Kiliki told me. “You can’t really explain it, but everything just fell into place in a magical way. We talked about it afterwards. We don’t really know what the magic formula was, it just happened.”

The magic started on Wednesday, June 11, when what was formerly an informal night at The Mai-Kai became the Unofficial Official Pre-Party. South Florida roots/rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts jammed in the sold-out Molokai bar while other attendees enjoyed many of the bar’s 47 classic Tiki cocktails and the restaurant’s extensive appetizer and dinner menu in the more sedate dining rooms. Logistical problems at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper forced the cancellation of Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s scheduled midnight swim show, but that just gave some attendees the opportunity to begin their room parties early. Disappointed guests were heartened by the fact that there was much more Marina to come.

Continue reading “Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau in 2015 and beyond”