Polynesian Pop enthusiasts from around the world will gather Wednesday through Sunday (June 10-14) in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and longest-running celebration of all things Tiki. The event reaches new heights in its 14th year at the towering Pier 66 hotel with marquee events that include the country’s top Tiki cocktail barmen and actress Dawn Wells, aka Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.
The Hukilau: June 10-14, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Special guest: Dawn Wells. Musical guests and performers: Alika Lyman Group, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Pablus, Slip and the Spinouts, Kinky Waikiki, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, King Kukulele, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Lila Starlet, DJ James Brown’s Sweat. Symposium presenters: Arthur Dong, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily, Domenic Priore, Jeff Chenault, Jon Bortles and Tiki Gardener. Guest bartenders: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Brian Miller, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, Dean Hurst, the Straw Hat Barmen. * Buy tickets, get more info at TheHukilau.com * Latest updates:The Hukilau on Facebook | Twitter * The Atomic Grog:The Week in Tiki
For a so-called fad that started in the 1930s and peaked in the mid-20th century, Polynesian Pop seems to be doing quite well 15 years into the 21st century. So what makes Tiki culture so enduring, and endearing?
“It’s really all about the escape,” said Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, an Alabama native who co-founded The Hukilau in 2002 in Atlanta and sagely moved it to Fort Lauderdale and its historic Polynesian palace, The Mai-Kai, in 2003. “Some of us live the lifestyle, but for so many others, they get to dress in island prints, make tropical cocktails and create an instant vacation. Tiki gives all of us a release from the hustle of everyday life.”
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.
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.
“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.
With just over a week before The Hukilau invades South Florida for its 12th annual vintage Polynesian Pop extravaganza, attendees can look forward to a great assortment of recently announced goodies from sponsors and the event organizers.
Angostura Rum and Bitters has not only joined The Hukilau as a sponsor, the venerable spirits company is sending brand ambassador David Delaney to the event to mix up some special tropical cocktails. Look for Delaney at the Angostura booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at the Yankee Clipper on Friday, June 7, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Also joining as a sponsor in 2013 is Barritt’s Ginger Beer, a classic Caribbean brand that will be featured in cocktails Thursday evening in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. While you’re in the bazaar, keep an eye out for these cocktails and other special events, such as Saturday’s 1 p.m. memorabilia signing by classic pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager and mid-century Polynesian dancer and actress Nani Maka.
Organizers of The Hukilau have shifted plans for the 12th annual Polynesian Pop weekender into overdrive over the past several weeks, announcing a new cocktail contest, art show, additional entertainment plus the sellout of the host hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
But even though all the specially-discounted rooms at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (aka the Yankee Clipper) have been booked, you still can make reservations at the neighboring Best Western Oceanside. This hotel also offers a special rate for festivalgoers, but you must call to get the discount. Check the accommodations page on the official website for details.
Also, be aware that this just means that the host hotel’s rooms are sold out, not The Hukilau itself. There are plenty of event tickets available, though it’s a good idea to buy sooner rather than later … particularly for the popular symposiums that can sell out. Click here to see all the different pricing levels, ranging from a four-day all-access pass ($187) to individual symposiums for ($20).
The Hukilau is an all-encompassing celebration of Polynesian Pop culture: Art and architecture, food and drinks, music and fashion. It’s a trip back in time with hundreds of like-minded Tiki disciples to an era when kitsch was king. The entire event is an orgiastic fest of the senses – from the outrageous lowbrow art and Tiki carvings to the exotic music to the decadent drinks and food. Fort Lauderdale’s beachside locale and historic Mai-Kai restaurant are the perfect backdrop for the revelry.
To warm up for this month’s 11th annual Hukilau, let’s take a trip back to 2009, when lucha-masked surf and rockabilly band Los Straitjackets headlined the event. Click here or on the image below to see a special audio slideshow of all the festivities. Be sure to turn up your speakers! Below that is a recap of the schedule for reference. This year’s event promises the same experience, plus much more. Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets is back with his new band, The Martian Denny Orchestra. We hope to see you there!
The mysterious Zula #1 is easily one of the most curious (and deliciously distinctive) cocktails on The Mai-Kai’s 56-year-old tropical drink menu. And, as usual, it has a fascinating back-story.
The cocktail’s flavors are just as exotic as its origins, which both took us years to figure out. The pineapple-forward taste is unlike any other you’ll find at The Mai-Kai.
But there’s another secret about Zula #1 that not many guests may be aware of: It shares its name (and flavor profile) with a secret off-menu sister drink, the smaller and sweeter Zula #2. But it wasn’t always that mysterious.
Long-stemmed glassware was extremely popular in the 1950s. You’ll find a dozen cocktails on early menus using the elegant coupe glass, which faded from use at The Mai-Kai but made a big comeback at craft cocktail bars in the early 21st century.
By 1979, when the menu had been arranged in its now-familiar “mild,” “medium” and “strong” groupings, the names had changed slightly to Zula #1 (strong) and Zula #2 (mild), but the coupe glass endured. It’s now served in a short rocks glass similar to the Shark Bite, Oh So Deadly and Mai-Kai Special.
We’ve seen menus from the ’80s that still feature Zula #2. But by the 1990s it was gone, never to be seen on a menu again. What many didn’t realize as the years went by, however, is that you could still order the milder Zula. By the time I started bellying up to the bar in the 2000s, it was a distant memory. I only discovered it while researching the history of Zula #1 for this cocktail guide.
I give credit to Tiki Central friends for helping track down the drink’s origins. As we know now, a majority of the vintage cocktails served at the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace (32 at last count) can be traced back to drinks created by tropical drink godfather Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber).
However, nothing in Beach’s vast repertoire seemed to resemble the Zula. But there it was in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari (2007), right under our nose: Penang Afrididi. Don’t ask us how the names relate, but the flavor profile is indeed remarkably similar. The clincher: There are two versions of both cocktails, known as Penang Afrididi #1 and Penang Afrididi #2.
Now entering its 10th year, The Hukilau has become not only the largest Tiki-themed event on the East Coast, but also a museum of Polynesian Pop and mid-century modern art, culture, music and much more.
Most of the weekend’s events celebrate and honor the history of the original Tiki movement, which began in the 1930s and was fueled by vets returning from the Pacific after World War II in the 1940s, the statehood of Hawaii in the 1950s, and the boom of cocktail culture in the 1960s.
What had once been a vibrant culture lay dormant for several decades until it was rediscovered in the 1990s by the retro-loving underground art, music and cocktail scenes. By the turn of the century, a revival was in full swing and events such at The Hukilau were launched.
Now, 10 years down the road, the word “revival” may no longer be relevant as a whole new generation of artists, musicians and mixologists has evolved. With much due respect to the past, they’ve put their own modern spin on Tiki culture and will be showing off their talents at The Hukilau.