More than 100 Tiki explorers took a trip through time, from 1956 to the present day, via the lavish tropical drink menus of the world famous Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale during The Hukilau on Sunday, June 11. “The Menus of The Mai-Kai: 60 Years of Tiki Cocktail History” was an interactive slideshow presentation that examined vintage menus and traced the chronology of the legendary cocktails at this acclaimed mid-century landmark.
This special event in The Mai-Kai’s main dining room took place at 1:30 p.m. as part of The Hukilau’s final day of festivities. The party started at noon in The Molokai bar with live surf music by Skinny Jimmy Stingray and three special “lost cocktails” from The Mai-Kai’s 1956 menu. The Hukilau’s villagers enjoyed drinks and classic pu-pu appetizers all day while Skinny Jimmy performed several high-energy sets, keeping the dance floor hopping. This rare daytime event at The Mai-Kai was exclusive for attendees of The Hukilau.
Despite what you may have read in a local business journal, South Florida’s Polynesian palace is not going anywhere. Owner Dave Levy assures us not to worry and that everything will be fine. There has been no change in the daily operations of this classic establishment that promises to entertain, fascinate and satisfy us for years to come. In a tribute to its widespread appeal, Levy was recently interviewed for a feature story in The New York Times.
As a reminder of what makes this Fort Lauderdale landmark special, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why we love The Mai-Kai:
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai in 1969 and today. (Photos from Tim “Swanky” Glazner / Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
1. The architecture and design. This was a big one that helped it gain historic status but may go unappreciated by many. It was state-of-the art Tiki in 1956 and remains so today. Designed by noted South Florida architect Charles McKirahan, it was “a futuristic Polynesian A-frame 40 feet tall with wings on either side for dining rooms and inside and outside transitioning together via waterways and an open room,” wrote Tim “Swanky” Glazner in the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September. Following several expansions over the years, the size and scope of the restaurant today is jaw-dropping, seating more than 600 in the bar and eight dining areas both indoors and outdoors amid lush gardens and waterfalls.
As The Hukilau’s organizers and villagers gear up for the 16th annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale on June 7-11, we have updated the schedule with a new late-night event and definitive band and DJ lineup. In addition, a special drawing and silent auction that will benefit two South Florida charities has just been announced.
The schedule now includes a late-night Blue Hawaii Party featuring DJ James Brown’s Sweat at the host Pier 66 hotel to give attendees another option on Thursday night. Also look for a showing of the classic Elvis movie of the same name near the pool on the hotel’s Royal Palm Lawn. The South Florida DJ, along with Tampa’s DJ Lounge Laura Taylor, have also been added to other events throughout the five days of festivities. Saturday’s final band lineup for The Mai-Kai is also posted.
We’ve also noted the sold-out events, which now include Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s Wednesday night swimshow, Will Anders’ craft symposium and the Three Dots and a Dash cocktail class on Saturday. UPDATEDCheck the daily schedule below | Official website
The Hukilau has also launched a new initiative to give back to the Florida hospitality community and aid endangered coral reefs . It’s called “See Aloha,” according to organizers, “because we believe that in life you find what you’re looking for, and we choose to see the aloha that is around us everywhere.” The Hukilau is making an initial donation of $2,000 and asking villagers to help the cause and at the same time enter a drawing for some outstanding prizes.
The prizes in the drawing include Mai-Kai gift certificates, bottles of sponsor rums, and passes to The Hukilau 2018. The grand prize is a collection of eight different Tiki mugs from some of The Hukilau’s guest pop-up bars, plus serial #1 of this year’s event mug from Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum.
In addition, Crazy Al Evans is contributing an amazing collection of art pieces from his Tiki artist friends that will be up for bid at a silent auction. You can also bid to win a Mystery Drink presentation at The Mai-Kai from none other than “Mystery Guy” Crazy Al himself.
The beneficiaries are the education foundation of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Miami Dade Reef Guard Association. The education foundation works with more than 200 Florida high schools to prepare students for a career in hospitality. Reef Guard’s mooring buoy plan has aided the installation and maintenance of 42 mooring buoys to date, allowing divers and fisherman to enjoy the reefs without risking damage to them with an anchor. Villagers at Pier 66 should check the daily schedule, on-site signage and official announcements for more on the drawing and silent auction.
Here’s another official glassware sneak preview fromm Tiki Tony:
Updated May 20, 2017: New band added, sneak peek at official mug and glassware
A new band has been added to the entertainment lineup: The Hula Girls from Southern California. A veteran of The Hukilau 2013 and a fixture on the Tiki event circuit, this up-tempo “hulabilly” band mashes up hapa-haole, Tiki and surf music and filters it through a late 1950s and early ’60s rockabilly and rock ‘n roll soundscape. Unfortunately The Dead Rocks will not be able to make the trip from Brazil due to travel and visa issues. Look for the acclaimed instrumental surf trio at The Hukilau 2018.
The official event mug by Tiki Tony is based on the infamous shrunken skulls in The Mai-Kai’s Samoa dining room. It’s being produced by John Mulder and Eekum Bookum. Tony is also working on glassware and T-shirt designs.
Updated April 28, 2017: New website launches, more bands and cocktail classes, full schedule released
The Hukilau’s all-new website went live last week with full details on the 16th annual gathering of the Tiki tribe in Fort Lauderdale. Highlights include more music and entertainment, more Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes, the full lineup of bands and pop-up bars participating in Friday night’s High Tide party, more bars added to the Rum Island Pool Party, a new symposium, and a detailed daily schedule.
Here’s a rundown on everything new that we gleaned from the totally redesigned and updated website. Keep an eye out for even more info to be announced in the coming weeks.
HIGH TIDE PARTY: The full lineup and details on the Friday night main event were officially annouced. The music will include a new addition, Slip and the Spinouts, along with an outstanding bill of previously announced bands:Stolen Idols (Tampa), The Mermers (Gainesville), Surfrajettes (Canada), and a new addition, The Hula Girls. Also performing will be burlesque queen Angie Pontani. And the icing on the cake is the announcement of eight guest pop-up bars, giving the party even more bang for your buck: Flask & Cannon (Jacksonville), Hidden Harbor (Pittsburgh), Pagan Idol (San Francisco), the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge (Great Falls, Mont.), Slowly Shirley (New York City), S.O.S. Tiki Bar (Atlanta), Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago), and UnderTow (Phoenix). All are also participating in the Tiki Tower Takeover and/or Rum Island Pool Party (see below). In addition to full access for multi-day passholders, the party is also now available for day guests for $99 (including one cocktail from each bar). There’s also a new Surf’s Up Friday/Saturday Combo pass ($129) that includes the party, plus Saturday’s Tiki Treasures Bazaar (including rum tastings) and main event at The Mai-Kai. The combo pass also includes passholder prices for symposiums and cocktail classes.
Updated preview: In a special 10-minute ceremony during a Dec. 13 public hearing, the Broward County Commission declared Dec. 28th to be “Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show Day” in the county. Owners, management and performers attended the signing of the proclamation at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale.
The proclamation reads: “Be it proclaimed by the board of county commissioners of Broward County, Florida: That the Board hereby designates Wednesday December 28, 2016 as “MAI-KAI RESTAURANT AND POLYNESIAN SHOW DAY” in Broward County, offers its gratitude for 60 years of historical hospitality.”
The proclamation was presented by Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who was then given a lei by owner Mireille Thornton. Mireille’s son, managing owner Dave Levy, was also on hand, along with director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist. Two Mai-Kai performers, guitarist Kainalu and dancer Hokulani, then serenaded Mayor Barbara Sharief and the commission in what may have been the county’s first traditional Polynesian performance during a public hearing. * See a photo of the proclamation * Watch the video of the public hearing (fast forward to the 4:00:00 mark)
It’s a testament to a restaurant’s historic status and popularity when not one, but two book authors are scheduled speak at an anniversary event produced by a longtime supporter. When The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale turns 60 on Dec. 28, the annual Customer Celebration Party will be enhanced to include two special presentations in the acclaimed Polynesian palace’s main showroom, home of the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
SPECIAL EVENT: The Mai-Kai’s 60th Anniversary Symposia Series & Customer Celebration Party – Wednesday, Dec. 28. Featuring presentations by authors Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner brought to you by Tiki Kiliki Productions. Plus enjoy dinner shows, live music, and food and drink specials all night. Doors open at 1:30, symposia begin at 2, happy hour at 3:30, signings at 4, live music at 6, dinner shows at 7 and 9:30. Symposia tickets are sold out. For dinner reservations, call (954) 563-3272. [Facebook event]
Named to the National Register of Historic Places two years ago, The Mai-Kai is the last remaining example of the classic mid-20th century Polynesian supper club. Indeed, the restaurant’s many fans consider it the Tiki mecca. Since the venerable Critiki website began compiling its user ratings into an annual list two years ago, The Mai-Kai has been honored as the No. 1 Tiki bar in the world two years straight. The Mai-Kai was also just voted the best Tiki bar by readers of SouthFlorida.com. [See video]
One of those fans, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, is producing a special Symposia Series for the 60th anniversary that features two authors who have written extensively about The Mai-Kai and Polynesian pop culture: Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner. It’s that kind of reverence that makes The Mai-Kai a special place for many.
History symposia kick off party in legendary showroom
“The origin story of The Mai-Kai – its architecture, decor, and its influence on Polynesian pop on the American East Coast and beyond – makes it one of the greatest Tiki temples of all time,” wrote noted pop culture historian and author Kirsten in the forward to Glazner’s book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September by Schiffer.
“Before the era of theme parks, this place showed the way,” Glazner wrote in his debut work. “It weaves its magic, if you let it. It is a place out of time: ancient, mysterious, lush, and relaxing.” The California-based Kirsten and Tennessee-based Glazner will make the pilgrimage to The Mai-Kai on Dec. 28 to host symposia on the restaurant’s unique and fascinating history.
The party starts early: Doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the presentations, which will include slideshows of vintage photos and artwork, plus a raffle for special giveaways. Your ticket also gets you early entry into The Mai-Kai for an unencumbered look at all the dining rooms and Tiki garden; plus appetizers and tropical drinks, including three special “lost cocktails” from the early days of the restaurant.
Lost cocktails announced On Dec. 28 only, a special menu will feature three drinks that appeared on the original 1956 menu but were retired over the years. Guests can enjoy the spicy and deadly Last Rites, the sweet and sour Impatient Virgin and the rich and rummy Demerara Float.
Like many of the cocktails at The Mai-Kai, they can be traced back to topical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, who developed the faux Polynesian style in the 1930s in Hollywood, Calif. The Chicago location of the Beachcomber chain was a huge influence on The Mai-Kai, and many of its key employees came to Florida to work when the restaurant opened. The cocktail menu was spearheaded by bartender Mariano Licudine, a 17-year veteran who got his start at the flagship Hollywood location. He retired from The Mai-Kai in 1979, but his influence is still felt today.
At 2 p.m., Kirsten will present for the first time his research into the origins and history of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Tahitian cannibal carvings, which have served as the restaurant’s logo in one form or another since opening day. Founding owners Bob and Jack Thornton “showed themselves as standard-bearers of the coming Tiki generation by adopting these figures as The Mai-Kai’s trademark,” Kirsten wrote Tiki Pop (Taschen), his 2014 magnum opus.
In “The Tahitian Cannibal Carvings: The Logo Tikis of the Mai-Kai,” Kirsten will reveal how this specific Tiki design dates back to the early days of Polynesian pop, then marked the beginning of the Tiki period. This “cannibal trio” became the logo Tikis of important Polynesian restaurants across America, reproduced in a multitude of forms and materials. This will be a rare opportunity to see the influential Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki (2000) and Tiki Modern (2007), in South Florida. He last did a presentation at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in 2012.
A 3 p.m., it’s Glazner’s turn to take the stage in the showroom, home of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue and part of the original A-frame structure built in 1956. Glazner, a longtime Mai-Kai fan and Tiki enthusiast, has been collecting memorabilia and stories from longtime and current employees for more than a decade. The resulting labor of love, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, is a lavish 176-page hardcover book featuring 440 color and black-and-white images, many revealed for the first time.
He’ll treat guests with a new symposium, “The Mai-Kai: Then and Now,” a look at how the restaurant has changed since it opened in 1956. Just announced: Glazner will be joined by a special guest, former Florida state Representative Randy Avon Jr., who will share first-hand stories of growing up at The Mai-Kai. Avon’s mother, Pualani Mossman Avon, ran the The Mai-Kai’s gift shop in the 1960s after performing in her family’s pioneering cultural Lalani Village in Hawaii. The song Lovely Hula Hands was written about her. Family members included singers George Kainapau and Alfred Apaka. Randy was also Southeast manager for Rums of Puerto Rico, which had a close relationship with The Mai-Kai and the signature Derby Daiquiri cocktail.
Glazner has been doing unique presentations at events across the country, including The Hukilau in June, Tiki Oasis in August, and a book release party at The Mai-Kai in September. His talks have covered topics such as how Don the Beachcomber influenced the Thornton brothers; the mastery of mixologist Mariano Licudine; the stories behind the iconic Mystery Drink, including its appearance with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show; and the glamorous women who worked as Mystery Girls and Molokai Girls. His rare footage of Carson receiving the drink and meeting a Mystery Girl on national television is priceless.
All of the above – including Pualani Mossman Avon – are the focus of chapters in the book, which Glazner will be signing after the presentation at 4 p.m. in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, as the gift shop is known. Kirsten will also sign copies of his books, or any items that attendees may want to have autographed.
Tiki Kiliki says she’s producing these special symposia as her gift to The Mai-Kai. The co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer of The Hukilau has been one of the restaurant’s biggest supporters over the past 15 years. “I’m so excited about the 60th anniversary of my favorite place on earth,” Tiki Kiliki said. “This will be the first anniversary I’ve attended in person and although every visit is dear to me, I think this one will be a bit more special with all the Tikiphiles coming from all over the country.”
60th anniversary specials: Extended happy hour, dinner show deal
At 3:30, The Molokai bar will open 90 minutes earlier than normal for an extended happy hour, which runs until 7. If you miss out on tickets, or can’t attend the early symposia, you can still come to the book-signing and early happy hour starting at 3:30 and running until 7 in The Molokai bar. The lost cocktails will be included in the happy hour, along with The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and appetizer menus.
Like all Wednesdays, you can also enjoy two cocktails at 50 percent off all night: The Barrel O’ Rum and Planters Punch. Another regular feature in the bar, guitarist-vocalist Rose Marie will perform island and other classic music all night beginning at 6. Due to space limitations, however, there will be no regular Wednesday sushi buffet.
There will also be a $60 dinner-and-show special in honor of the anniversary. A special prix fixe menu will be available that includes the Polynesian Islander Revue (a $15 value), plus select appetizers and entrées. You can also see the show and order anything off the extensive menu ala carte. The dinner shows often sell out, so be sure to reserve you seat now by calling (954) 563-3272. Shows are scheduled for 7 and 9:30 p.m., with seating typically an hour beforehand.
Before dinner, there’s no better place to grab a cocktail than The Molokai, praised by such well-regarded Tiki bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco ). Both have written books that praise The Mai-Kai as the “mothership” of the current Tiki bar revival.
Aside from the tiny Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, “The Mai-Kai is the last place on Earth where you can still sample a Don the Beachcomber drink more or less as it was prepared 70 years ago,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari (2007). An updated 10th anniversary edition of the influential book, which includes an entire chapter on Mariano Licudine and The Mai-Kai, will be released in 2017.
In the epilogue of this year’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, Cate wrote: “The Mai-Kai will take you back to dining as event, experience, and escape. Today, you can still stand at the entrance, or during the show, and look at the faces of first-time visitors as their eyes widen, mouths agape at the spectacle.”
“It will come as no surprise that The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar, with its heavy emphasis on the nautical while remaining true to Tiki tradition, was an inspiration cornerstone for me,” Cate wrote. Even without the expansive restaurant and grounds that surround it, The Molokai is one of the most distinctive Tiki bars in the world. On Dec. 28, like every day, happy hour will run until 7, featuring 50 percent off nearly all of the 50 signature tropical cocktails that have as much history as the restaurant, perhaps more.
Historic cocktails, eclectic food to match the stunning decor
“While The Mai-Kai’s food menu has adapted to changing culinary tastes, its drink menu, including the quality ingredients, has not changed since 1956,” says the official page on the National Register of Historic Places Program website. “As a result, the restaurant is renowned for its expert tropical drinks. … The Mai-Kai has a permanent place in a holy trio of old-school holdouts dedicated to the careful construction of their libations.”
The robust food offerings are also half-price during the happy hour, which is annually rated among the best in South Florida. The appetizer menu of traditional pu-pus (egg rolls, crab rangoon, soups, salads and sushi) pair perfectly with the signature cocktails. And new chef Mark Rivera has added a creative menu of signature tapas (charred octopus; fish tacos; duck, wagyu beef and pork belly sliders) that takes finger food to the next level.
While it doesn’t date back to 1956, The Molokai fits perfectly into the The Mai-Kai’s richly detailed environment and has its own fascinating back-story. With water cascading down the windows to simulate a rainstorm and elaborate nautical decor, it’s designed to make you feel like you’re in an 1800s Pacific seaport. This is not by accident. The current Molokai was designed during a 1971 remodeling using much of the actual props from the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlin Brando.
The items were acquired at auction when the MGM prop department closed in 1970. This includes not only the large set pieces on the walls and ceilings, but also other details such as model ships. MGM’s longtime prop master was even hired to personally make sure the rigging and other elements were installed as authentically as possible. Much of the bar’s decor remains exactly the same to this day.
Family, loyalty are cornerstones of The Mai-Kai culture
After happy hour, don’t miss The Mai-Kai’s signature Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in 1961, it’s still designed and choreographed by owner Mireille Thornton, widow of founding owner Bob Thornton and a former dancer in the original show. Mireille takes annual trips to the Pacific islands to research and come up with costume and theming ideas for new shows each year.
On Dec. 28, you’ll be able to see one of the first performances of the 2017 show. An all new show will be rehearsed the week before and make its official debut that night, said Mireille’s son, Dave Levy, who has guided The Mai-Kai as managing owner since his stepfather’s death in 1989. It remains a true family affair, with Mireille’s daughter Kulani Gelardi serving as the third partner and CFO.
Key managers, such as director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist and general manager Kern Mattei, have been with The Mai-Kai for decades. Mattei followed in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr., working out of the same office. One employee has been around almost as long as The Mai-Kai itself. Angel Vega was supposed to slow down after he was honored for 50 years of service at the 2013 anniversary party, but you can still often find him behind the maître d’ stand.
On any given night, the more than 100 employees work their magic amid the controlled chaos, giving guests a sense of what true hospitality means. What other Tiki bar supplies you with hot towels to clean your hands in the most civilized manner? In another tradition from Don the Beachcomber and the early Tiki temples, both The Molokai and main bar that serves the dining rooms are behind closed doors. Bartenders work in secrecy, keeping their recipes close to the vest but also providing a total escape for guests who are immersed in the Polynesian paradise. Drinks are served by sarong-clad maidens in The Molokai, well-dressed servers in the dining rooms.
Take a tour of the lavish grounds, distinctive decor
Seats for the show include the main area in front of the stage, known as the Garden, along with four other distinct dining rooms named for South Seas islands (New Guinea, Tonga, Hawaii and Moorea). There are eight total dining areas, including the secluded Tahiti and Samoa rooms, plus the outdoor Lanai and tables scattered throughout the Tiki garden. The Mai-Kai seats 500 for dinner, half of those in the showroom, plus another 150 in The Molokai. To say it’s expansive is an understatement. * Related: Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen
If you’re there early or late, take the time to stroll through all the rooms and paths that wind through the waterfalls and lush foliage of the garden. The entire lighting system was recently upgraded to add LED bulbs, which provide more consistent and reliable performance. Nothing about the look was modernized, however. Look up in the main dining room to the giant A-frame and marvel at the floats and other vintage lighting. It’s one of many seamless modernizations The Mai-Kai has made over the years to stay vital and remain one of the area’s most popular destination dining experiences.
Chef Rivera has revitalized the dinner menu, modernizing the plating and adding new twists to the classics. But many traditions remain, including the Chinese ovens that you can spot on the walking path toward the back dining rooms and Lanai. Few other restaurants in the United States use these ancient high-temperate ovens to cook steak, ribs, duck and other meats.
There is eye candy in every room: The outrigger canoe hanging from the rafters in Moorea that Bob Thornton used to serenade Mireille on their honeymoon in her native Tahiti; the black velvet portrait of Mireille in the Tahiti room; the shrunken skulls and other vintage artifacts on display in the Samoa room; the mysterious velvet painting high on the wall in Tonga that dates back to 1956. Just like Disney World, there are intricately themed details every where you look, even the gift shop and ladies’ rest room, which both have an ornate Asian theme. (The gift shop was formerly a dining room named Bangkok.)
You can go behind the stage and see the indoor Tiki garden (featuring works of noted artists from yesterday and today). Most of the Tikis throughout the property were recast by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from their original molds, though several massive vintage pieces by mid-century artist Barney West still proudly stand out front on the edge of Federal Highway on opposite ends of the property. Another tip: Don’t forget to take a walk along the sidewalk from north to south, where furniture stores have encroached on the surrounding area that was desolate when The Mai-Kai was built in 1956.
And be sure to stop at the porte-cochère to see three new Tikis carved in 2016 by contemporary Florida artists: Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard. Anders also contributed a 10-foot-tall Tiki dubbed King Kai to the outdoor garden, making the recent infusion of large stylized carvings the biggest since the 1960s. More evidence of today’s enthusiasts working hard to keep the traditions of The Mai-Kai alive for another 60 years. * Related: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
Authors dig deep into the The Mai-Kai’s history, mystery
It will be fascinating to learn more about the three cannibal icons, which have been depicted over the years in artwork on everything from menus, to coasters to advertising to the streetside sign. The three cannibal Tikis from The Mai-Kai’s original outdoor sign were brought out of storage and displayed at The Hukilau in 2008. They’re a direct link to Don the Beachcomber, which featured the Cannibal Room bar and trio of Tikis in the Chicago location in the 1940s and ’50s. This restaurant was a major inspiration for the Thornton brothers, who were Chicago natives.
Glazner’s symposium should be just as enlightening and entertaining. Beyond everything in his book, he has a wealth of information to share though his contacts with current and past employees, many of whom should be in attendance. It’s always great to see past performers, such as Toti Terorotua, who was part of the original revue and only recently retired. He performed in The Molokai during the book release party in September.
Glazner’s vast research also gives us insight into the first 15 years of The Mai-Kai, before a 1971 renovation that expanded the dining areas, added The Molokai in its current form and defined what the restaurant looks like today. “In the 1950s, Bob and Jack Thornton went on a buying trip all over the islands, and they bought literally tons of Oceanic art to decorate The Mai-Kai,” Glazner said during a walking tour at the September book release event. Up until the 1970s, a great deal of that artwork was in the restaurant. But after the renovations in 1971, they had to change their insurance policy, Glazner said.
When the insurance adjusters came into The Mai-Kai, Glazner said, they couldn’t believe the million dollars worth of Oceanic art, some of it in the open-air garden getting rained on. The cost of insurance went so high, most of the authentic decor was removed in 1974 and donated to Stanford University, the alma mater of the Thornton brothers. Some of it is also housed at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. It was last shown as a full exhibit there in 2010.
The Mai-Kai remains a priceless experience, a commodity whose value is beyond the comprehension of insurance adjusters. Glazner sums it up succinctly in his book: The Mai-Kai is “a place that opened over 60 years ago, built on an idea that started more than 80 years ago from a dream that is eternal … paradise.”
Approaching its 60th anniversary, Fort Lauderdale’s hallowed Mai-Kai got into the Halloween spirit with its eighth annual Hulaween party on Friday, Oct. 28. More than 100 costumed revelers packed The Molokai lounge for an evening of deadly tropical drinks and live music from Slip and the Spinouts. The highlight was the creepy and creative costume contest, a South Florida tradition. See below:Exclusive Atomic Grog photo gallery
The event’s theme, “Curse of the Cannibals,” honored The Mai-Kai’s rich history as one of the world’s top Tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants (Critiki website users rank it No. 1 in the world). The iconic “three cannibals” logo has been a mainstay since the Dec. 28, 1956, opening.
After eight years, Hulaween has become known for its laid-back party atmosphere amid the vintage nautical decor in The Molokai. This year, the weekly New Times newspaper ranked it as the No. 2 Halloween party in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Only the massive MoonFest ranked higher.
But Hulaween is still an intimate affair. Many guests arrived early, with special jungle exotica tunes (mahalo to Spyrate Radio) adding to the atmosphere of the fully-decorated bar. The Molokai girls were also in costume, though still wearing their signature sarongs (another Mai-Kai tradition that goes back to the mid-century era). Happy hour ran from 5 to 7, with most of the bar’s signature cocktails, from the Zombie to the Shrunken Skull, available at half-price. Just as popular were the bar’s classic Polynesian pupus, plus the new selection of sushi and signature tapas.
After happy hour, Slip and the Spinouts kicked out the jams, making their sixth Hulaween appearance. Partiers danced to the beat as the band covered everything from country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll to surf to blues. The band, which has been a fixture on the local scene for decades, is also known for its original tunes (Seven Nights to Rock, 13 Miles) that harken back to a vintage era.
It’s that time of year again, when ghouls and ghosts haunt the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant The Mai-Kai, scaring up frightening fun at the eighth annual Hulaween on Friday, Oct. 28. The event takes a savage turn this year with the theme “Curse of the Cannibals” in honor of the famous Polynesian eatery’s upcoming 60th anniversary. UPDATE:See our annual recap and photos from the party
Featuring live music from South Florida’s long-running retro rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts, drink specials and a wild-and-wacky costume contest, Hulaween has become a South Florida favorite for those looking for a vintage Halloween experience. Happy hour begins at 5 p.m. and the party runs past midnight. The best part: There’s no cover charge or minimum. But The Molokai bar fills up fast, so get there early.
Hulaween is once again sponsored by Appleton Rum, which will provide special giveaways and drink specials. The official Hulaween cocktail is the Appleton Zula, based on the vintage Zula cocktail that has been featured on The Mai-Kai’s menu since 1956 and dates back to Tiki drink godfather Don the Beachcomber. [To find out why Zula is the Hulaween special, watch the video below] Appleton is the most popular rum on the extensive menu, featured in dozens of drinks.
Another Hulaween fixture is Slip Mahoney and his all-star band, a familiar face at South Florida events for decades and always a favorite at The Mai-Kai. The band will play three sets of classic covers and originals, keeping the party going past the witching hour. The band is adept at an incredibly eclectic variety of genres, from rockabilly to Western to swing, surf, blues and roots rock. Also look for Slip and company to get into the spirit of things with their own festive costumes. This will be the band’s sixth Hulaween appearance.
During happy hour, The Atomic Grog will serve up a special playlist of “jungle exotica” music courtesy of Spyrate Radio. Then, before and after the live music, a brand-new mix of Halloween and monster music will fill The Molokai, curated from Spyrate’s special Tiki Oasis Radio mixes broadcast live in August during Tiki Oasis 16: Party on Monster Island. The Appleton Girls will be on hand, as usual, offering up samples and giveaways. In past years, there were free Mai Tai samples, so keep an eye out.
Around 10 p.m., don’t miss the costume contest featuring cash and prizes for the winners. Hulaween attendees are always creative with their costumes, with past winners including a Headhunter and Head (2015), Evil Tiki (2014), and the Tiki Couple (2013). This year’s theme will allow guests to once again explore their primitive sides.
The Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White and spirits coordinator Dean Hurst visit the newly installed carving, King Kai, in The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens. (Photos by Go11Events.com)
The rains swept through South Florida, threatening a wet weekend but the skies suddenly cleared for the opening night festivities at The Mai-Kai. The hundreds of villagers, many coming straight from the airport, were swept up in the majesty of the Polynesian palace. Many made a pilgrimage to the garden to see King Kai, the new Tiki carved by South Florida artist Will Anders. Others made sure to check out the new Tiki trio in the porte-cochère.
Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate kick off their book tour at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
The first order of business was to meet Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate, the power duo behind the new book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki. The owners of the acclaimed San Francisco rum bar Smuggler’s Cove were signing copies of the book in The Mai-Kai gift shop, where they also had limited-edition mugs (a “Ports O’ Call” glaze on The Kuhiko) for sale that are exclusive for the book tour. And it’s indeed a tour. After two book signings at The Hukilau, the pair headed straight to Miami for a Sunday night event, then on to other events across the country.
Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate sign copies of their new book in The Mai-Kai gift shop. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Susan Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
Martin and Rebecca were thrilled to be at The Mai-Kai for the book’s release (it officially hit shelves and mailboxes the day before), and to meet their many friends and fans. As soon as you walked in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, you were greeted by a full display of the epic new book, which has the Tiki and cocktail scenes abuzz with its comprehensive look at the modern Polynesian Pop revival. I was one of the first in line to get my copy signed (and pick up a mug), and the authors made a special effort to personalize their signings and pose for photos. Their assistant, Peggy Williams, was also on hand to give out copies of the book’s accompanying trading cards, a novel way to promote the book and stir interest. Fans can collect the full set of 20 and discuss the recipes that appear on each on a special Facebook page.
Classic Beachbum Berry book to be re-imagined, new glassware available
Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, the underrated classic 2007 cocktail book that helped set the stage for today’s robust revival of Tiki bars across the country, will be re-released in the fall as a 10-year anniversary special edition, the author confirmed. Former screenwriter Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s fourth book was his first full-color, story-driven guide to the history of tropical mixology.
It includes not only dozens of vintage tropical drink recipes, but also the fascinating stories and exclusive photos of some of the genre’s most talented yet under-appreciated barmen from the early and mid-20th century. Berry, the owner of the acclaimed Latitude 29 restaurant and Tiki bar in New Orleans, gave us a sneak peek of what we can expect:
“This edition will feature a new afterward taking readers through the 10 years after Sippin’ first appeared: The explosive Tiki cocktail revolution that no one saw coming in 2007, which was aided and abetted by the craft cocktail renaissance that grew on parallel tracks, ending with the opening of amazing new Tiki cocktail bars.” The book will be published by Cocktail Kingdom, which released Berry’s award-winning Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them in late 2013.
“It also features a new preface talking about what led up to the writing of Sippin’, covering the years 1964 to 2006,” Berry said via e-mail. “I’ve also added footnotes to the main text, and a bunch of additional recipes, both old and unpublished, and new ones from the Tiki revival.” It’s a revival that Berry had a large hand in spurring, from his early books (Grog Log, Intoxica) to his symposiums at Tiki and cocktail events across the world.
Potions of the Caribbean, which won the Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014, was originally intended to be the final chapter in Sippin’ Safari, detailing Tiki’s links back to the Caribbean. Berry used that idea as a jumping off point for a full-blown history book as told through cocktails, following the template established in the groundbreaking Sippin’ Safari.
The book tells the story of the men who toiled behind the scenes for Don the Beachcomber, Steve Crane and other giants of the early days of Tiki. It reveals the intriguing back stories of such mixologists as Ray Buhen (Tiki-Ti), Bob Esmino (Kon-Tiki) and Mariano Licudine (The Mai-Kai). The final chapter includes a revealing peek behind the scenes at at The Mai-Kai, exploring the grand vision of original owners Bob and Jack Thornton and detailing the early years via stories from Licudine’s son, Ron. Sippin’ Safari is definitely a must-have in any Tiki cocktail book collection.
Meanwhile, some cool new glassware was added to the Beachbum Berry barware collection on the Cocktail Kingdom website. In late 2015, the premium barware company released its first custom mug for Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans: A 15-ounce coconut mug featuring the Latitude 29 logo that serves as a vessel for the bar’s Painkiller cocktail. It later was released online, along with a similar coconut mug featuring the Beachbum Berry logo. All of the coconut mugs, which harken back to classic vessels popularized by Trader Vic’s, are just $12.95 each, with steep discounts for bulk orders. Unlike the traditional Trader Vic’s coconut, the Cocktail Kingdom mugs developed in collaboration with Berry include a special hole for a straw.
More recently, Berry and Cocktail Kingdom scared up some new cocktailware that we’re dying to get our hands on: Beachbum Berry Zombie Glasses. These vintage-style 15-ounce glasses were uniquely designed for Don the Beachcomber’s original 1934 Zombie cocktail and the 1950 mid-century version, both unearthed after years of painstaking research by Berry. The 1934 recipe, especially, was considered one of the most significant classic recipe revelations of the modern Tiki era. First published in Sippin’ Safari., it shows off Donn Beach’s magic in creating one of the most popular and distinctive drinks in the early days of tropical mixology. The glasses come in a two-pack: One with the 1950 recipe, the other with the 1934 recipe. They’re $18.95 for the set, with discounts for larger orders.
Previous updates: The East Coast’s longest-running and largest Tiki-themed weekender continues to add special events, merchandise and rum sponsors with less than a month remaining before throngs of retro-loving Tikiphiles descend on Fort Lauderdale. The latest major addition is the The Hukilau’s High Tide, presented by Rhum Barbancourt and taking place during the Friday night festivities at the host Pier 66 hotel.
Existing Friday night passholders can buy wristbands for $35 giving them access to the special Barbancourt cocktails during High Tide (up to eight per person). Cocktails are also available for $10 each. Non-passholders can buy a Friday day pass that also includes the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party (noon-4 p.m.) and Tiki Treasures Bazaar (10 a.m.-8 p.m.) for $129. A Friday night pass is $99 (or $69 without drink bracelet). Stacy’s Polynesian tidbits will be sold à la carte. Hotel bars will also be selling cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages.
Miller, an accomplished Big Apple bartender and brand ambassador, is host of the city’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail event, Tiki Mondays With Miller. He’ll be bringing many of his motley crew with him to The Hukilau to help him with the Rhum Barbancourt pop-up bar, including Ryan “Corporal Captain” Liloia, Jelani “Swabble” Johnson, and Garret “Dr. Funk” Richard. They’ll be pouring four different Tiki cocktails featuring Rhum Barbancourt, a venerable spirit from Haiti that will have a high profile at this year’s event. Miller issued a missive from his pirate’s lair promising “an assortment of temptresses, rogues and scoundrels.” His captain’s orders: “Tortuga ain’t got nuthin on Tiki Mondays With Miller at The Hukilau.”
Miller and an all-star lineup of world-class bartenders (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, St. John Frizell) will also be mixing with Rhum Barbancourt at the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover on Thursday night. You can sample the distinctive rhums and see them mixed in cocktails Thursday through Saturday outside the Tiki Treasures Bazaar in the brand’s special tasting booth.
As a special treat, Friday’s High Tide event will also include The Hukilau debut of larger-than-life chef Jim Stacy, best known for his appearances on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Stacy is a renaissance man whose talents include butcher, bartender, chef, touring rock ‘n’ roller and tattoo artist. He cut his teeth in the Atlanta bar and restaurant scene at the Star Community Bar and Starlight Drive-In Theatre, then became a local and national TV food authority. He recently sold the Atlanta-area Pallookaville Fine Foods in preparation for a new concept sure to please fans of traditional Polynesian-themed food and cocktails.
Stacy will soon be opening MoaKai, a full-blown Polynesian/island restaurant spotlighting “classic resort dishes made with Southern soul food ingredients.” Expect the themed Atlanta eatery to include such creative, taste-tempting dishes as lau-lau with collards instead of taro leaves, and poi made with sweet potato. “We’ll be doing a traditional Hawaiian barrel smoked chicken as our specialty with additional emphasis on vegetarian and vegan menu items,” Stacy said in a recent interview. At the High Tide party, Stacy will be cooking up “Polynesian delights featuring Rhum Barbancourt expressions with a soul food twist,” according to the event announcement.
Of course, Stacy’s restaurant will include a Tiki bar, The Barnacled Mermaid. Guests can sample Stacy’s fresh take on tropical mixology on Friday afternoon during the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party along with other top bars from across the country: Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), Aku Aku (Orlando), and The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley (New York City). Stacy is a longtime supporter of The Hukilau who attended last year’s event (see photos). But this will be his first year as a participant. He also featured The Mai-Kai on an episode of Offbeat Eats in January 2015.
Some events sold out, but plenty remain on full weekend schedule
Interest is high in The Hukilau for its 15th anniversary gathering, which will also celebrate the upcoming 60th birthday of The Mai-Kai. The historic Pier 66, another 60-year-old landmark, is sold out of rooms. But event co-founder and organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White quickly lined up an overflow host hotel, the nearby Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel. See our previous report for all the details and book a room now.
Late March was punctuated by upheaval in the Tiki bar world, including a fire at Lost Lake in Chicago and the confirmed closing of Trader Vic’s in Portland. We also have updates on the upcoming Pacific Seas in Los Angeles and False Idol in San Diego, among others. Event previews include The Atomic Grog’s fifth anniversary party, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. We investigate the rumored return of Lemon Hart, the upcoming Midwest Rum Festival, plus more rum news. Quick sips include Thor joining the Tiki Farm team, a new bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a new Tiki-flavored pulp novella, and the aborted end of a re-creation of the voyage of the Kon-Tiki. Regular features spotlight legendary carver Milan Guanko; longtime Tiki entertainer King Kukulele; the historic Tiki bar La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu; and the video series Rum Minute. The rum the week, Sailor Jerry, is featured in the Wicked Wahine cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
TIKI BAR NEWS: Lost Lake hit by fire, Trader Vic’s Portland closing confirmed; changes coming to South Florida’s Kreepy Tiki, Psycho Suzi’s owner honored
A near tragedy struck acclaimed Tiki bar Lost Lake in Chicago on March 27, when what was originally thought to be a small electrical fire in the kitchen ended up causing extensive smoke damage that kept the year-old establishment closed for weeks. “The Chicago Fire Department put out a fire that was moments away from taking our beloved Tiki bar all the way down – not to mention two apartments upstairs,” Shelby Allison, who runs the bar with Paul McGee, posted on Facebook. “There are lots of very scientific cleaning methods happening at Lost Lake this week, but it could have been so much worse.” According to reports on a A GoFundMe page, the kitchen of the adjoining Thank You restaurant and the front entrance “were completely incinerated” while the bar suffered smoke damage that sadly forced the disposal of the bar’s vast rum collection. Lost Lake, which was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award, received an outpouring of support from the entire Chicago hospitality community in the wake of the fire, from bartenders and bar owners to chefs, distributors, and brands. Bars as far away as Los Angeles also held Lost Lake support events. Allison reported that every member of Lost Lake’s support staff received temporary positions, and many bars hosted special pop-ups to keep the tip-based employees afloat. Special T-shirts were printed, with all profits going to Lost Lake bartenders. The GoFundMe page campaign received 309 donations and raised $20,000 for Lost Lake employee aid. * More coverage online: Critiki | Time Out Chicago | DNAinfo * Lost Lake: Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram Don’t miss: McGee and Allison will return to The Hukilau in June, participating for the second year in a row in the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover at the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale. [2015 coverage]
A fire earlier in March had more devastating effects the Portland Trader Vic’s franchise, as reported in the previous edition of the Week in Tiki. The March 2 fire at the medical office above the 8,000-square-foot restaurant burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, causing damage that would have closed the restaurant for at least eight weeks for repairs, according to reports. Instead, the owner decided that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, he would close permanently. Weeks went by without an official statement from the franchise owner, but on March 21, J. Clayton Hering posted this on Facebook: “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the decision to close Trader Vic’s in Portland after four and a half years. This is effective immediately. We can be proud that we provided an excellent entertainment venue to our customers, families, and private parties. Our menu for appetizers, food and drink as well as our atmosphere were a unique addition to the Portland restaurant scene. Our customers enjoyed Trader Vic’s return to Portland because of the fun environment we created which was unique to the city and well received. We thank you for your support over the last four and a half years.” There was no word on what became of the extensive Tiki-themed decor, though in past Trader Vic’s closings most of the major art pieces were returned to the Trader Vic’s corporation. A dozen black walnut dining room tables later turned up on Craigslist. Of the 20 remaining Trader Vic’s locations, only two are in the United States while 18 are overseas. The Atlanta franchise is still going strong after 40 years, while the corporate-owned flagship location has been in Emeryville, Calif., for 44 years. The original Trader Vic’s was opened by Victor Bergeron in Oakland in 1937. * Why Trader Vic’s closed its Portland location (The Oregonian)