The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

After the suffering bastard of a year that was 2020, we were primed and ready for some relief and positive Tiki vibes. If 2020 was a house of horrors, then 2021 was a roller-coaster ride. But while we’re still mired in pandemic-related disruptions, many things achieved a “new normal” over the past 12 months.
RELATED: The Year in Tiki 2021 – A look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021.
Bonus recipe below: The Tiki Lover

1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS

Oceanic Arts closing after 65 years

As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.

While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.

PeekabooGallery.com: Pre-order the book now
Get social media updates: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
News: Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing
Online tribute: Quiet Village podcast dedicated to Oceanic Arts

Past coverage
* Video: Inside the Desert Oasis Room | A Moment of Tiki
Randomland | Huel Howser
* Van Oosting and Schmaltz on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
* The enchanting tikis of Oceanic Arts (Disney History 101)

2. PARADISE SAVED: NEW OWNERS REVIVE THE MAI-KAI

The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
When will the historic Polynesian restaurant be welcoming back guests? We’ll keep you updated with the latest news.

3. LET’S TIKI! THE RETURN OF LIVE EVENTS

The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events
The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events
Recap the year’s top happenings, including official artwork and links plus photos and video.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021”

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening of The Mai-Kai

After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.

The Mai-Kai's official announcement on the sale and new partnership

It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.

The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.

“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”

The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.

MAY 2022 UPDATE: The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

Past coverage: Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing

Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the "Save Paradise Party." (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the “Save Paradise Party.” (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’

While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”

The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”

We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”

Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.

The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.

More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”

>>> The official press release on MaiKai.com

New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”

Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.

Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”

The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.

The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today
The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today.

The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”

The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.

The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.

Mai-Kai cocktails: Authentic and tribute recipes, news on quarts and gallons to go

The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M

A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks
A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks.

The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.

This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening”

The Tiki Times – 2017 Events Calendar: August means Tiki Oasis, surf guitar and hot summer events

Tiki Oasis 2017

The Tiki Times

From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. The biggest will get extended coverage as “spotlight events.”
Social media: Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates
Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram

AUGUST 2017 TIKI EVENTS CALENDAR
Spotlight events: Surf Guitar 101 Convention (Aug. 4-6) | Tiki Oasis (Aug. 10-13)
Asbury Park Surf Music Festival (Aug. 25-27) |
Ongoing events | Upcoming events

********************* SPOTLIGHT EVENT *********************
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Aug. 4-6 – Surf Guitar 101 Convention at the Alpine Village in
Torrance, Calif., and Surf Dogs Sports Grill in Huntington Beach. The 10th annual event draws the best instrumental bands from around the world dedicated to preserving the ’60s surf sound. Headlining bands include the Huntington Cads (California), El Caminos (Japan) and The Kilaueas (Germany). Fostered by the Surf Guitar 101 website and organized by Jeff “Big Tiki Dude” Hanson, this is one of the premiere surf music events of the year. The convention has expanded from one to three days in 2017. Saturday remains the main event with all the heavy hitters hitting the stage from noon to midnight, along with vendors raffles for vintage guitars and other gear. Friday’s opening night features all current California bands from 8 p.m. to midnight. Sunday’s closing party spotlights a second venue and bands playing alternate sets of songs not played on Saturday.

Surf Guitar 101 Convention

2017 performing bands
Friday, Aug. 4 (Alpine Village) – The Surf Rockers, Outerwave, Par Avion, Tequila Worms, The Volcanics, Insect Surfers.
Saturday, Aug. 5 (Alpine Village) – The Mystery Men?, Atomic Mosquitos, Tribute to Jim Fuller and The Surfaris, Lively Ones reunion, The Dynotones, The Exotics, The Kilaueas, Tribute to the Astronauts, The Madeira, The El Caminos, Venturesmania, The Huntington Cads reunion.
Sunday Aug. 6 (Surf Dog’s Sports Grill) – SG101 Members Jam, The Exotics, The El Caminos, The Madeira, Atomic Mosquitos, The Mystery Men, The Kilaueas, Special Secret All Star Band.

Surf Guitar 101 Convention highlights

* Huntington Cads reunion. The instrumental surf band that was a mainstay in the Los Angeles scene in the 1990s will reunite for a rare appearance. The band released several cult classic albums (Go Exotic! in 1996 and Introduce the New Sound in 1998), but is perhaps better known for featuring budding artist Josh Agle (aka Shag) on guitar.

* Lively Ones reunion. This first-wave instrumental surf rock band from the 1960s Southern California scene is perhaps most well known for their 1963 song Surf Rider (written by Nokie Edwards from The Ventures), which was featured in the final sequence as well as the end credits of the seminal 1994 film Pulp Fiction.

* Tribute to Jim Fuller and The Surfaris John Blair (of Jon and the Nightriders) will join an all-star cast of musicians playing vintage, early Surfaris songs from the influential band’s early 1960s catalog. Fuller, a co-founding member of the band whose lead guitar work is featured on the signature hit Wipe Out, died in March at age 69.

* Pre- and post-convention shows. Many of the bands performing over the three-day weekend, plus others not featured at the main event, have scheduled shows throughout Northern and Southern California before and after the convention. Check this thread on the Surf Guitar 101 website for all the dates.

Official sites: Surf Guitar 101 | Facebook page
* Past Atomic Grog coverage, photos

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* Aug. 5 – Book signing and presentation by Tiki “Swanky” Glazner at Tacoma Cabana. Join the author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant at the acclaimed Tiki bar in Washington for the kick-off of his West Coast tour. This event includes a one-hour multimedia presentation on The Mai-Kai’s iconic Mystery Drink. See rare archival videos and photos, hear interviews, and learn about all the people involved in its creation and history, from Kui Lee and Bettie Page to Johnny Carson.

Book signings and presentations by Tiki "Swanky" Glazner
More on Swanky and his book tour
* Book review and tour preivew on Critiki News
* Interview on the Tiki With Ray blog

Official sites:
* Tim “Swanky” Glazner | The Mai-Kai
* New: Friends of The Mai-Kai Facebook group
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D

More on The Atomic Grog:
* The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic S. Fla. restaurant
* The Mai-Kai turns 60 with special history presentations, celebration
* The Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

* Aug. 7 – Book signing with Tiki “Swanky” Glazner at Smuggler’s Cove. The author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant makes his second West Coast stop to sign books and tell stories about master mixologist Mariano Licudine and the “Tiki Mothership” at the acclaimed San Francisco rum and Tiki bar.

Continue reading “The Tiki Times – 2017 Events Calendar: August means Tiki Oasis, surf guitar and hot summer events”

Week/Month in Tiki (May 1-31, 2016): Recap Tiki Caliente; preview Tiki Kon, Tales of the Cocktail and Tiki Oasis; plus Tiki bar news and more!

The Week in Tiki As usual, May kicked off the Tiki event season with Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs. Check out a recap and photos, plus previews of Tiki Kon in Portland, Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Tiki Oasis in San Diego, and more upcoming events. We have news on South Florida Distillers joining Kreepy Tiki Lounge in an expanded location near Fort Lauderdale’s airport, plus lots more Tiki bar news. Regular features spotlight the godfather of pop surrealism, artist Mark Ryden; Sven Kirsten’s 2010 compilation, The Sound of Tiki; the Palm Springs outpost of the venerable Tonga Hut; plus the Modern Tiki Lounge website. Our featured rum, the inventive Santeria, is included in an Atomic Grog original cocktail, Koko Kahuna.
* Keep up with The Week/Month in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | Past blogs | Archive
* More below: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

EVENT RECAP: Tiki Caliente expands to four days of wall-to-wall Poly Pop parties in Palm Springs

The Tiki Caliente tribe gathers poolside at the Caliente Tropics resort in Palm Springs. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
The Tiki Caliente tribe gathers poolside at the Caliente Tropics resort in Palm Springs. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Like the first major college football bowl game (but a lot more colorful), Tiki Caliente kicked off the annual Tiki event season in style with its eighth gathering of the tribe in the tropical mid-century splendor of Palm Springs on May 12-15. Expanded to four days at the historic Caliente Tropics resort, the intimate, sold-out event also featured a pre-party at Tonga Hut as well as more symposiums, an eclectic lineup of performers, art shows, vendors and the usual festive room parties. Tonga Hut also served as Tiki Caliente’s on-site bar all weekend, keeping the party going with authentic Polynesian-style cocktails from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.
* See below: Tonga Hut, bar of the week/month

Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid joins Marty Lush for his Don Ho tribute show at Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid joins Marty Lush for his Don Ho tribute show at Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Performers included Creepxotica, Ding Dong Devils, The Do-Its, The Jimmy Psycho Experiment, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Martini Kings, Surfbroads, TikiTronic, and Voodoo Organist. Organizer Rory Snyder ratcheted up the kitschy fun with a yacht rock party co-hosted with Marty Lush (aka Digitiki of The Quiet Village podcast). Lush also performed a rum-fueled Don Ho tribute show, “Suck on This.”

Symposiums featured some of the most creative minds in Tiki cocktails, including “From the High Seas to High Tiki: Rum’s Cocktail Voyage” by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Finishing Touches” by Marie King of Tonga Hut, and “Punch and the History of the Communal Cocktail” by Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.

Tiki Caliente organizer Rory Snyder (front) enjoys a Zen Tiki Lounge room party. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Tiki Caliente organizer Rory Snyder (front) enjoys a Zen Tiki Lounge room party. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

While not officially part of the event, the room crawl has become a fixture and allows guests to meet and mingle as well as show off their mixology skills. Many participants go all-in with full-blown Tiki decor, DJs, live music and more. Organized by the crew from the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast, this year’s crawl spanned three days and featured 15 rooms. Among the more noteworthy parties were hosted by Zen Tiki Lounge (celebrating their 10-year anniversary), Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast (serving a riff on the Cobra’s Fang/Cobra’s Kiss called The Snakepit), and the faculty and students from Poly Hai (serving the “Wake Your Tiki Ass Up Coffee Grog” with sponsor Deadhead rum at 9:30 a.m.).

Artist Tiki Ray Kieffer sees one of his tikis installed at the Caliente Tropics in Palm Springs during Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Artist Tiki Ray Kieffer sees one of his tikis installed at the Caliente Tropics in Palm Springs during Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Commercial Tiki bars got in on the act on Saturday night with a Tonga Hut bash followed by the finale, hosted by Huntington Beach’s Don the Beachcomber in the Caliente Tropics lobby and featuring live music from Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides. The room crawl judges gave the best cocktail award to John and Janet Mulder of Eekum Bookum for their gin Saturn. The award for best decor/theme went to artist Doug Horne for “Swampfire Ball.” The judges choice award went to Stephen Holt’s Kraken Hunter Bar.
* Room crawl photos on Facebook | Tiki Central discussion
Live at Tiki Caliente: Listen to the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast

The Mulders collaborated with Horne on the Tiki Caliente 8 War Club, one of the most creative event mugs we’ve seen in a long time. Horne also created the official event limited edition print and limited-edition war club pedants. The art of Shag was also featured in a special reception and party for the massive “Trousdale Twist” painting. Shag, who owns a mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, was on hand to meet guests and soak in the Polynesian Pop atmosphere.

More from Poly Hai: Gallery of 400+ images from Kari Hendler | Videos
* Official sites: Tiki-Caliente.com | Facebook page

EVENT PREVIEW: Step back into the WWII era at Tiki Kon in Portland

Tiki Kon

The northwest Tiki scene is gearing up for the 14th annual Tiki Kon, happening July 8-10 in Portland. Themed to Polynesian Pop’s roots in the post-World War II era and the USO, the eclectic event is centered at a new host hotel, the Red Lion Hotel On The River. Guests can enjoy Tiki-themed music, art and fashion, with a rollicking camp show, surf and lounge bands, educational symposiums, themed food and drinks, vendors from around the world, and the longest-running home bar tour of its kind.

Here’s a look at the schedule and highlights of the vintage weekend. Unless noted, all events are at the Red Lion Hotel. Some individual events have tickets available at the door, while others are free and open to the public. Check the online schedule for details.

Continue reading “Week/Month in Tiki (May 1-31, 2016): Recap Tiki Caliente; preview Tiki Kon, Tales of the Cocktail and Tiki Oasis; plus Tiki bar news and more!”

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 24, 2015): NYC’s Miller takes Emeril’s Tiki showdown, Bacardi seeks new classic cocktails

The Week in TikiTiki, rum and cocktails are making news this week. We have the results of “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” hosted by Emeril Lagasse at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, plus coverage of The Mai-Kai’s “secret cocktails” event. We preview the Legacy National Cocktail Competition, sponsored by Bacardi and held in Miami. Other news includes the Instro Summit surf music fest lineup, two special concerts in Tampa Bay, Chicago Area Tiki Tour tickets, and the auction of a massive collection of Tiki artifacts from Disneyland and Disney World. Our weekly features spotlight LeRoy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts, The Pegu Blog, Double Crown Records, and Hale Pele in Portland. The rum of the week, Ron Zacapa 23 from Guatemala, is featured in the Zacapa Hurricane cocktail.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events

LAST WEEK IN REVIEW (Feb. 16-23, 2015)

Brian Miller wins Emeril’s Tiki showdown

Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City) accepts the top prize, the Judge’s Choice award, from Emeril Lagasse.
Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City) accepts the top prize, the Judge’s Choice award, from Emeril Lagasse.

The big news out of Friday night’s “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, besides the Judge’s Choice award won by Brian Miller, was the New York City bartender’s announcement that he wanted to leave the Big Apple for Los Angeles. Grasping his $5,000 prize, Miller said he hoped to “take a seat at the big boys’ table” and “hopefully pick up where Don (the Beachcomber) left off.”

However, Miller later had a change of heart, and said he realized that “New York City is where I want to be right now.” Miller wowed the judges with his Pain Reliever cocktail, served up during a three-hour party at the Shore Club on South Beach. Miami Beach craft cocktail bar The Broken Shaker won the People’s Choice award for the creative Paradise Found. The event was hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who was joined at the judging table by Tiki luminaries Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate, plus rum ambassador Lynnette Marrero. World-class chefs provides small bites as more than 700 attendees made the rounds of booths that featured some of the country’s top Tiki mixologists.

Other participants were The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), Frankie’s Tiki Room (Las Vegas), Royal Kona Resort (Hawaii), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), and Sunny’s (Miami). The win is just the latest feather in Miller’s cap. With his change of heart, a crucial loss to the New York Tiki scene has been averted.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Feb. 24, 2015): NYC’s Miller takes Emeril’s Tiki showdown, Bacardi seeks new classic cocktails”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull

The Mai-Kai's Shrunken Skull, from ancestor to tribute

Updated November 2021
See below: Our Shrunken Skull review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe | Bonus recipe
Related: The history of 151 rums at The Mai-Kai
Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.

The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.

In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.

The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design that can fetch more than $100 on the open market. It was replaced by a modern version that is not quite as rare but can still reach $50 or more for older versions.

The Shrunken Skull mug, as seen in The Mai-Kai online store
The Shrunken Skull mug, as seen in The Mai-Kai online store.

The above links and info come courtesy of Ooga Mooga, the premiere website for Tiki mug collectors. This highly recommended resource lets users track their mug collection while showing it off to others. Loaded with photos of great vintage mugs, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t register as a collector.

The Shrunken Skull also often comes in an Abelam mug (average price: $30), which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. A vintage Abelam mug is typically priced in the $100 range.

All of the above mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The shrunken head mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.

I picked up both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post. I’ll be monitoring their prices on Ooga Mooga like any good mug investor.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull”