The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events to honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need

Updated June 26

The Hukilau’s 2020 event in Fort Lauderdale may have been wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the Polynesian Pop lifestyle in the privacy of your own Tiki bar or with other villagers in your local scene. Following are a week’s worth of suggestions that pay homage to the participants, along with some ways you can lend a hand in these trying economic times.
See below: Bonus recipe for The Last Fang
* Virtual Main Event at The Mai-Kai on Friday and Saturday, June 5-6

The Hukilau

Many of us were looking forward to the 19th annual edition of the East Coast’s largest Tiki weekender on June 3-7 at the B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant. But we’ll have to wait for next year’s 20th anniversary to meet up with all our old friends, savor rum and Tiki cocktails made by some of the world’s top bartenders, dance to live bands and DJs, watch Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her aquaticats perform through the portals of Wreck Bar, plus so much more.

But as the shutdowns, stay-home mandates and restrictions due to the pandemic stretch into a fourth month, it’s possible to get a taste of The Hukilau without going far or putting yourself and others at risk. We’ve come up with ideas stretching over seven days, from educational symposiums to a special virtual event set for Friday and Saturday at The Mai-Kai. While The Hukilau’s kickoff party typically doesn’t launch until Wednesdays, we know many villagers like to arrive early and get a head start. The Hukilau 2019 also featured special events for bartenders starting Monday, so we’re following that plan.

Follow The Hukilau
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram

Related posts
* The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
* Support Tiki bars now: Visit their online stores, contribute to fundraisers
* Daiquiris of Hope: Keeping the spirit of our favorite bars and bartenders alive
The Tiki Times: See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

Here’s an outline of suggested Hukilau-related things to do this week. If you have any to add, shoot us an email or a message on our social media pages: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

MONDAY, JUNE 1: Learn about rum

The London Docks and Rums of the British Empire
Watch the replay: The London Docks and Rums of the British Empire hosted by Matt Pietrek of Cocktail Wonk and Minimalist Tiki.

Rum and education are two of the foundational elements of The Hukilau, so what better way to start the week than a special presentation by Matt Pietrek. The former Microsoft specialist and writer has turned his passion for rum and Tiki cocktails into a second career, earning an impressive three nominations in the upcoming 2020 Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

Matt Pietrek demonstrates a flaming garnish during his Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at The Hukilau 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Matt Pietrek demonstrates a flaming garnish during his Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at The Hukilau 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Pietrek was nominated for Best Cocktail & Spirits Writing for an article on his long-running Cocktail Wonk blog, plus Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book for Minimalist Tiki: A Cocktail Wonk Look at Classic Libations and the Modern Tiki Vanguard, written with his wife Carrie Smith and released last summer. The blog is also among the heavyweight industry players nominated in the Best Cocktail & Spirits Publication category.

In his debut at The Hukilau last year, Pietrek did double duty with a symposium (How the British Navy Influenced the Birth of Tiki) and Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class (Stocking Your Home Tiki Bar). Pietrek also joined The Atomic Grog for The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass, a special presentation and discussion in the main dining room at the historic restaurant. He was in the midst of digging up more fascinating facts for this year’s Hukilau guests when everything was put on hold.

But Pietrek has kept busy over the past several months with regular appearances online in a very active and engaged rum community. This new presentation covers The London Docks and Rums of the British Empire, an offshoot of his fascination with Navy Rum. Minimalist Tiki is a DIY effort by Pietrek and Smith, so you can support them directly by purchasing the book online.

If you need to stock up on some rum while planning your week of festivities, we recommend you support the brands who support The Hukilau with sponsorship money, free samples, and merchandise. Among the 2019 sponsors were Angostura, Appleton, Cockspur, Diplomatico, Don Q, Gubba, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, Orgeat Works, Plantation, Pusser’s, The Real McCoy, Real Syrups, Rhum Barbancourt, Rum Bar, Rums of Puerto Rico, St. Benevolence, Sandy Feet, Santa Teresa, Tiki Lovers, Swedish Punsch, Tanduay, and Worthy Park.

TUESDAY, JUNE 2: Learn about cocktails

Let's Get Tropical with Georgi Radev and Jupiter Jones
Watch the replay: Let’s Get Tropical with Georgi Radev and Jupiter Jones, featuring Oriol Elias on The Craft of Tiki Cocktails.

The Hukilau’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classrooms may be dark this year, but there’s been no shortage of bartender knowledge spreading on the Internet, thanks to many talented mixologists around the world keeping their audience engaged. I’ve never seen so many professional recipes and trusted information available daily like it is now.

Elite among these engaging bartenders is Georgi Radev, owner/operator of Laki Kane in London, author of Let’s Get Tropical: More than 60 Cocktail Recipes from Caribbean Classics to Modern Tiki Drinks (2019), and a veteran Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy instructor. Last year, he taught Tiki on the Thames and Tiki Mayhem (the latter with international colleagues Daniele Dalla Pola and Ian Burrell

Oriol Elias presents a cocktail seminar on Tiki in Spain at the 2017 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Atomic Grog photo)
Oriol Elias presents a cocktail seminar on Tiki in Spain at the 2017 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Atomic Grog photo)

Since the pandemic hit, Radev has been tireless. He launched “Mixology From The Fridge” on YouTube and Facebook, featuring dozens of entertaining how-to videos with recipes for cocktails, syrups and more. You can support Radev by watching his YouTube videos, buying his book and ordering items from the Laki Kane online store.

Radev joined forces with another online juggernaut, Tiki marketing maven and event organizer Jupiter Jones, for a weekly “Tiki Tuesday” broadcast on the Zavvy network of shows and podcasts. Their past guests have included Tonga Hut manager and rum/cocktail expert Marie King; Tiki and music historian Brother Cleve; and Trader Vic’s marketing exec Eve Bergeron, granddaughter of company founder Victor Bergeron. All of these VIPs had presentations or pop-up bars last year at The Hukilau, and Brother Cleve was scheduled to return in 2020 as a DJ.

This week’s guest, Spain’s Oriol Elias, is a noted bartender and rum expert as well as an authority on his country’s Tiki history. He was preparing for his first Hukilau presentation this year as a new cocktail academy instructor. Instead, we can enjoy his presentation on The Craft of Tiki Cocktails, which includes the category’s rich history and techniques, along with tips and tricks to help you create your own delicious libations. Continue reading “The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need”

Passes and tickets for The Hukilau: 10 things you need to know

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

*******************************************************

In just four months, hundreds of Tikiphiles will swarm the historic Mai-Kai restaurant and beachside B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau on June 3-7. But first, they need to score tickets and passes for the whirlwind weekend of retro-themed festivities.
UPDATE: The Surfrajettes, Eddie Angel, The Hi-Risers to headline The Hukilau 2020

The Hukilau 2020Rooms at the former Yankee Clipper hotel, a famous property that dates back to the mid-century, are filling up fast. [See previous story] The Mai-Kai is already accepting reservations for its popular dinner shows on Saturday, June 6, when The Hukilau’s villagers turn out in full force and typically sell out several seatings of the Polynesian Islander Revue.

Tonight, The Hukilau will lauch an updated website around 7 p.m. Eastern time, opening up sales of multi-day passes and tickets to popular symposiums, rum tastings, cocktail and craft classes, and reserved seats for special swimshows featuring Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid in the hotel’s Wreck Bar.

The event space at the B Ocean (or “The B” as some like to call it) is more intimate than the expansive Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, home to The Hukilau from 2015 through 2019. So it would not be a bad idea to jump on passes and tickets now.

Go to The Hukilau.com for tickets, event passes and complete info

The Hukilau 2020 will be held June 3-7 at the B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music and retro-themed performances, educational symposiums, vendor marketplace, rum and Tiki cocktail classes, plus 20 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram

Previous story: The Hukilau returns to historic hotel for 19th annual Tiki weekender
The wait is over! The Hukilau 2020 dates and host hotel revealed

Many of the key performers, including the headlining bands, are being kept tightly under wraps until today’s reveal. But we were able to squeeze a few details out of The Hukilau’s master planner, Richard Oneslager, and will share what we know below. Check back later for a full preview.

Here then, are 10 things you need to know about The Hukilau 2020 as passes and tickets go on sale:

Official Hukilau 2020 artwork by Mitch O'Connell
Official Hukilau 2020 artwork by Mitch O’Connell.

1. PASSES: There are several changes to the multi-day pass structure from past years to streamline and make everything a bit less confusing, Oneslager said. Gone is the Big Kahuna pass, leaving three options:
* South Seas pass (5 days): The top-tier pass with the most benefits is virtually unchanged from past years. South Seas passholders have access to all five days of the event, including Wednesday’s pre-party at The Mai-Kai. They also get free entry plus food and drinks at Thursday’s two special ticketed events, a cocktail pass for Friday’s High Tide Party, and other exclusive benefits.
* Aloha Pass (4 days): This Thursday through Sunday pass includes the Tiki Treasures Bazaar and pool parties featuring free cocktails, admission to the High Tide Party, and more.
* Beachcomber Pass (3 days): Formerly known as the Luau Pass, the change was made to avoid confusion with the special event added this year (more on that below). Beachcomber passholders receive admission Friday through Sunday, including the bazaar, pool parties, and High Tide Party.
More details on passholder benefits will be revealed on the website. Note that one- and two-day passes may not be offered later if all of the multi-day passes listed above sell out.

2. ARTISTS: The official artist for 2020 is Chicago-based lowbrow illustrator Mitch O’Connell. His flamboyant and colorful artwork can be found everywhere, from major national magazines and newspapers, to album covers of legendary bands, to major advertising campaigns, to fine art galleries around the world. His work is also popular in the tattoo world, with many of his designs appearing in two best-selling books. In addition to the 2020 promotional artwork, O’Connell is designing The Hukilau’s official mug and will likely make appearances during the event. Other artists worth mentioning are Tiki Diablo, who is once again producing distinctive barware for Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy students; and Tiki Tony, who will create a small carving for South Seas passholders.

The B Ocean Resort's private beach will host a traditional luau on Thursday, June 4, during The Hukilau
The B Ocean Resort’s private beach will host a traditional luau on Thursday, June 4, during The Hukilau. (Atomic Grog photo, January 2020)

3. LUAU ON THE BEACH: With Pier Sixty-Six under extensive renovations for several years, The Hukilau is losing one of its signature events. Replacing the Tiki Tower Takeover, which was held in the rotating 17th floor ballroom of the space-age hotel, is something a bit more traditional and Tiki-centric. Thursday night’s headlining event is now a traditional luau on the B Ocean Resort’s private beach. Tickets will be sold a la carte, along with an option of food and/or drinks. South Seas passholders get everything included.

Continue reading “Passes and tickets for The Hukilau: 10 things you need to know”

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

*******************************************************

The Hukilau’s 2020 entertainment lineup will be announced on Feb. 3, when event tickets and passes go on sale for the 19th annual Tiki weekender June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale. While The Mai-Kai remains the nerve center of the Polynesian Pop celebration for the 18th straight year, most of the festivities will be centered at the B Ocean Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

2020 Preview: The Hukilau returns to historic hotel for 19th annual Tiki weekender
The wait is over! The Hukilau 2020 dates and host hotel revealed

After five years as host hotel, the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina closed for a years-long refurbishment and re-imagining on the day after The Hukilau 2019. To give you a preview of what you can expect during the whirlwind weekend, following is a look back at last year’s festivities. While this Top 10 list is nowhere near complete in capturing the diversity of activities that encompassed the five-day bash, it offers a snapshot of some of the more memorable moments.

See below: Bonus cocktail recipes from the Rum Island Pool Parties
Passion Fruit West Indies (Pagan Idol) | Playboy (Tiki Underground)

The Hukilau 2019 was held June 5-9 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram
Previous recap: The Hukilau 2019 photos and video from social media

Mahalo to the venues, the organizers, all the participants and (especially) all the villagers who attended. Special thanks to those who provided photos for use below. Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed, in no particular order …

Continue reading “Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale”

100 Days to The Hukilau: Weekend events at The Mai-Kai to feature The Surfrajettes, preview party

100 Days to The Hukilau: Weekend events at The Mai-Kai to feature The Surfrajettes, preview party

The 18th annual Tiki weekender known as The Hukilau will not invade Fort Lauderdale until June, but local Tikiphiles will get an early taste of the rum-fueled festivities this weekend when two special events kick off the 2019 countdown at The Mai-Kai.

The Surfrajettes will make an exclusive South Florida appearance at The Mai-Kai on Saturday, March 2.
The Surfrajettes will make an exclusive South Florida appearance at The Mai-Kai on Saturday, March 2.

Both events will take place in The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai, the historic Polynesian restaurant that opened in 1956 and continues to enthrall Tikiphiles from around the world. Both events are free, but there’s a limited capacity of around 150 for each event, so be sure to get there early. Here are the details:

Saturday, March 2: “100 Days to The Hukilau” featuring live performances by the instrumental surf band The Surfrajettes from Toronto, Canada. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the band performs at 7 p.m. Free general admission, ages 21 and older only.
* Facebook event
See below: Video, photos of The Surfrajettes at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau 2017

Sunday, March 3: Retro Rekindled community gathering featuring early happy hour, giveaways and meet-and-mingle with The Hukilau organizers. Richard Oneslager, The Hukilau’s owner and organizer, will speak and answer questions. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. The event is free but reservations are encouraged.
* Facebook event

The Surfrajettes perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau on June 10, 2017
The Surfrajettes perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau on June 10, 2017.

The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.

Guests at both events can enjoy the regular daily happy hour in The Molokai until 7 p.m., when most signature cocktails are half-priced. There are also nightly specials that feature two drinks at 50 percent off all evening: K.O. Cooler and Tahitian Breeze on Saturday; and the Zombie and Piña Colada on Sunday.

The Molokai also features a full appetizer menu (half-priced during happy hour) that includes Tiki bar classics (Pupu Platter, Crab Rangoon, et al.) along with sushi, salads and modern tapas (sliders, fish tacos, etc.). The expansive restaurant also has a beautiful outdoor Tiki garden that can be explored, along with plenty of exotic and elaborately themed dining rooms if you’d like to stay for dinner.

The Hukilau's villagers enjoy Mai-Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue in June 2018. (Photo by Heather McKean)
The Hukilau’s villagers enjoy Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue in June 2018. (Photo by Heather McKean)

You can also make reservations in the main showroom to see The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. The restaurant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Just as historic are the bar’s tropical drinks, which have achieved cult status among Tiki, rum and cocktail devotees.
Related: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

The Hukilau is one of the world’s biggest and longest running Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktail events. Established in 2002 in Atlanta, it moved to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai in 2003 with live music, symposiums, classes and an ever-expanding schedule of events over a five day weekend. The Hukilau 2019 will take place June 5-9, headquartered at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina near Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Sunday’s Retro Rekindled gathering is designed to give attendees and potential villagers a chance to learn more about the bands, bars, room parties, and all the other facets of the event, such as the signature Tiki Tower Takeover. In 2019, The Hukilau is spotlighting female mixologists in the festive tower cocktail party, plus special presentations on “Women of The Mai-Kai” and “Women Who Tiki.”

The Hukilau in June will feature a special symposium on the Women of The Mai-Kai by author Tim "Swanky" Glazner
The Hukilau in June will feature a special symposium on the Women of The Mai-Kai by author Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Oneslager took an ownership role in The Hukilau in 2015. He has been the driving force since 2017, when co-creator and longtime organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White stepped down. Rather than make wholesale changes, Oneslager has kept The Hukilau true to White’s vision while enhancing and adding features such as the Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy. Villagers can learn from the pros as bartenders and mixology experts from around the country teach intimate classes on the finer points of the craft.

Oneslager took a leap of faith across the pond in October 2018, taking The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai to London as part of the annual UK RumFest. Oneslager has said he expects another Hukilau London in 2019. The Hukilau also teamed up with the rum fest’s founder, global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, to sponsor the Tiki bartending competition at last month’s inaugural Miami Rum Congress.
* Recap and photos: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress

Continue reading “100 Days to The Hukilau: Weekend events at The Mai-Kai to feature The Surfrajettes, preview party”

Epcot’s Native American art exhibit includes Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts

The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

During a recent visit to Epcot at Walt Disney World, we made sure to visit the new exhibition celebrating American Indian art. The American Heritage Gallery always does a great job with its exhibits, featuring multimedia and interactive displays plus plenty of artifacts and poignant narratives in the relatively small space. The previous exhibit on African-American history and culture was a must-see.

The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The exhibit, “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art,” opened in July at the American Heritage Gallery inside the American Adventure Pavilion in World Showcase. It’s a collaboration between Disney Imagineering; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All of the artwork comes from the collections of those two museums. Included among the 89 pieces representing 40 different American Indian tribes is a prominent display dedicated to California and the islands of Hawaii. It includes models of a canoe and a sailboat based on those used by Polynesian seafarers who settled the Hawaiian islands more than 1,700 years ago. There’s also a huge piece of Polynesian tapa cloth, circa 1900s. Of interest to more modern tastes is the hand-printed He’e Aloha Shirt crafted by native Hawaiian Craig Neff of The Hawaiian Force. You can find his store in downtown Hilo, Hawaii.

Tapa cloth on display at "Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art," a new exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Tapa cloth on display at “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art,” a new exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Native communities from six other geographic regions across the United States are included. Members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida performed at the exhibit’s opening.

The goal of the exhibition is to showcase authentic, historical artifacts alongside contemporary works of American Indian art. Guests learn how cultural traditions have been handed down through generations via interactive displays with narration and insights by some of the artists with works on display.

Objects from the 1800s are displayed alongside those created within the past year as a way to show the complete arc and look toward the future of American Indian art. Many of the contemporary pieces have never been on display, according to the Smithsonian magazine for the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Hawaii exhibit includes a sailboat model, circa 2000, made of native materials such as balsa wood, coconut fiber and canvas. It's on loan to Disney World from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hawaii exhibit includes a sailboat model, circa 2000, made of native materials such as balsa wood, coconut fiber and canvas. It’s on loan to Disney World from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The three interactive video exhibits feature displays that resemble a campfire. When guests wave their hands in front of the flames, the displays turn into video presentations. The music heard throughout the gallery was recorded by Native musicians from the regions showcased in the exhibition.

Among the featured artists are fashion designer Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), doll-maker Glenda McKay (Ingalik-Athabascan) and Juanita Growing Thunder (Assiniboine Sioux).

Continue reading “Epcot’s Native American art exhibit includes Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts”

Event preview: The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, June 5-9

The Hukilau returns for its 18th annual Tiki weekender in June, serving up five days of immersive rum-fueled experiences at the Pier 66 Hotel & Marina and The Mai-Kai restaurant, both 62-year-old landmarks in sunny Fort Lauderdale.

The Hukilau 2019Organizers made the first official announcement of 2019 on New Years’ Day, promising the return of all the hallmarks that make the event one of the Tiki revival’s top summer destinations. Tickets and hotel rooms will not go on sale until Feb. 1, but more details are due to be released throughout the month.

It will be the fifth straight year that The Hukilau has pitched its tent at Pier 66, and the 17th year at the legendary Mai-Kai. (The Hukilau launched in 2002 in Atlanta before migrating south to Florida the next year.) Below you’ll find all the news from the initial communiqué, embellished with some of our favorite photos from last year’s festivities to whet your appetite. Stay tuned for future updates on The Atomic Grog.

The Hukilau official sites
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Twitter | Instagram

THE HUKILAU 2019: Official announcement
June 5-9 at Pier 66 Hotel & Marina and The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale.

Tickets and hotel rooms go on sale Feb. 1. Look for more details throughout January.

What can you look forward to in 2019? The same things you love:

* Rooms and events at Pier 66 (plus B Ocean Resort)
The views of Fort Lauderdale from the 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 are stunning. (Photo by Chris Kridler) The views of Fort Lauderdale from the 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 are stunning. (Photo by Chris Kridler)

* Same Wednesday through Sunday schedule
Guest bartenders at Thursday's Tiki Tower Takeover included cocktail legend Brother Cleve (left) and Doc Parks of Pagan Idol and Zombie Village. (Photo by Heather McKean) Guest bartenders at Thursday’s Tiki Tower Takeover included cocktail legend Brother Cleve (left) and Doc Parks of Pagan Idol and Zombie Village. (Photo by Heather McKean)

* Tiki Treasures Bazaar
Vendors come from far and wide to The Hukilau. (Photo by Hukilau Mike) Vendors come from far and wide to The Hukilau. (Photo by Hukilau Mike)
* More photos from Hukilau Mike

* Tiki Tower Takeover (Thursday)
Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola (Nu Lounge Bar) always puts on a show. (Photo by Chris Kridler) Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola (Nu Lounge Bar) always puts on a show. (Photo by Chris Kridler)

Continue reading “Event preview: The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, June 5-9”

The Hukilau 2018 tickets on sale now: More bands, more bars, more Tiki!

The Hukilau 2018

Updated Feb. 8, 2018
The Hukilau gave its loyal fans a New Year’s treat by announcing an expanded lineup for the East Coast’s largest Tiki-themed event, giving its regular “villagers” early access and discounts on tickets. The general public can now join the party at the 17th annual mash-up of Polynesian Pop and cocktail culture.

UPDATE: The Hukilau 2018 symposiums to include Disney imagineer, Tiki on TV

The Hukilau 2018

The Hukilau: June 6-10, 2018, at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Twitter | Instagram
Quick links: Tickets | Book hotel | Schedule | Bands, bars, VIPs
Previous story: Rum Renaissance Festival moves next door to The Hukilau, creating ultimate rum and Tiki weekend
See below: Bonus cocktail recipes
* Three Dots and a Dash from Three Dots and a Dash
* Nu Nui Nui from Daniele Dalla Pola of the Nu Lounge

Here are the highlights of the announcement, sent via email and posted on the official website. I also spoke directly with the event’s owner and co-organizer, Richard Oneslager, to get all the scoop on 2018. NEW: As of Feb. 8, this preview is now updated with the late January announcement.

Party like it's 2009: Los Straitjackets (left) will headline The Hukilau for a second time, while The Intoxicators will make their 13th appearance at the Tiki party in Fort Lauderdale. (Photos from The Hukilau 2009)
Party like it’s 2009: Los Straitjackets (left) will headline The Hukilau for a second time, while The Intoxicators will make their 13th appearance at the Tiki party in Fort Lauderdale. (Photos from The Hukilau 2009)

PREVIEW: The Hukilau 2018 highlights

* MUSIC: More headlining bands. The 2018 event will include some of the world’s top surf and exotica bands, including Los Straitjackets, The Madeira, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Quintet and The Martian Denny Orchestra. Villagers will also be thrilled to see the return of The Intoxicators, who missed 2017 after 12 straight appearances. Other performers include The Exotics, Black Flamingos, Czarna Wolgastar, The Royal Pacifics, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, and The Hukilau’s one and only emcee during its previous 16 years, the ubiquitous King Kukulele. Look for more bands to be announced, along with special guest DJs. Bands will perform on all five days in various venues. [More details below]

* BARS: 12 Tiki pop-ups. Seven of last year’s 10 acclaimed bar teams are returning, joined by five new Tiki-themed pop-ups from around the world setting up shop all over Pier 66 at special events, tastings, and classes. Due to popular demand, a second afternoon pool party with complimentary cocktails has been added to the schedule. Back for more more rum and cocktails are bartenders from Dirty Dick (Paris), Flask & Cannon (Jacksonville), Hidden Harbor (Pittsburgh), Nu Lounge Bar (Italy), Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago), Pagan Idol (San Francisco), and S.O.S. Tiki Bar (Atlanta). Coming on board for 2018 are Death Or Glory (Delray Beach), Foundation Bar (Milwaukee), Frankie’s Tiki Room (Las Vegas), Tonga Hut (Los Angeles), and Trailer Happiness (London). [More details below]

Rum ambassador Ian Burrell presents a symposium at The Hukilau 2017 (Atomic Grog photo). He'll be joined in 2018 by cocktail pioneer and influential musician/DJ Brother Cleve (Photo by Audrey Harrer)
Rum ambassador Ian Burrell presents a symposium at The Hukilau 2017 (Atomic Grog photo). He’ll be joined in 2018 by cocktail pioneer and influential musician/DJ Brother Cleve (Photo by Audrey Harrer).

* INDUSTRY VIPS: Cocktail influencer makes debut. Boston’s Brother Cleve will bring his vast knowledge of cocktails and music to The Hukilau for the first time. This prime mover of the craft cocktail scene in the 1990s and former member of the groundbreaking band Combustible Edison will present a symposium, make a special DJ appearance, and also have his own bar in the Tiki Tower Takeover event. In addition, rum ambassador Ian Burrell returns from London for a second straight year to host a symposium, two cocktail classes and a special rum tasting. [More details below]

* TIKI TOWER TAKEOVER: Signature cocktail party expands, returns for Round 4. Held on Thursday night in the hotel’s revolving Pier Top Lounge, the fourth edition of one of Tiki’s most exclusive events is likely to sell out just as fast as the previous three. Tickets are limited to passholders, so act now. The lineup will grow from four to five pop-ups (featuring six different bar teams), including returning participants Three Dots and a Dash and Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar. Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick also returns, teaming up with Pagan Idol for a special two-bar mash-up. The final two pop-ups will feature the craft cocktail stylings of Brother Cleve and the crew from the U.K.’s Trailer Happiness. [More details below]

* MERCHANDISE: Works of top Tiki artists on display. The official artists for The Hukilau 2018 are Joe Vitale and Donella Vitale, whose work can already been seen on the website and promo artwork. The couple is based in Orlando, where they both work for Disney in addition to being among the most recognizable artists of the Tiki revival. Fun fact: The Vitales are among a select few who have attended The Hukilau all 16 years, along with emcee King Kukulele and co-founder Tim “Swanky” Glazner. Villagers will get first shot at the event merchandise, including the 17th annual mug produced by Eekum Bookum. There will also be special items for some villagers, including a South Seas passholder pendant by Crazy Al Evans.

Bar teams from Pittsburgh's Hidden Harbor (left) and Atlanta's S.O.S. Tiki Bar will return for this year's expanded Rum Island Pool Party at The Hukilau 2018. (Atomic Grog photos)
Bar teams from Pittsburgh’s Hidden Harbor (left) and Atlanta’s S.O.S. Tiki Bar will return for this year’s expanded Rum Island Pool Party at The Hukilau 2018. (Atomic Grog photos)

* ENHANCEMENTS: Feedback from villagers. The Hukilau listened to its attendees and will implement quite a few changes: Extended hours and a second pool party on Saturday (in addition to Friday) including live music, more bars and bands (see above), a “Villager’s Lounge” tent to “meet and hang with old friends and new,” a party featuring all exotica music, and more food trucks.

* MORE SPECIAL EVENTS: Symposiums, Medusirena Marina swimshows. Symposiums, craft workshops, Okole Maluna cocktail classes, hula lessons, plus more new additions were announced in late January. These include three swimshows featuring Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid in her home at the nearby Wreck Bar in the B Ocean Resort, plus symposiums on Disney’s Trader Sam’s Tiki bar concept and the heyday of Tiki on television. Craft workshops will feature a trio of noted Tiki artists, while cocktail classes will include bartenders and experts from across the country.
UPDATE: The Hukilau 2018 symposiums to include Disney imagineer, Tiki on TV

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2018 tickets on sale now: More bands, more bars, more Tiki!”

The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic South Florida restaurant

There’s no doubt that The Mai-Kai restaurant has had long-lasting appeal and success. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and celebrated its 60th anniversary in December, when it was honored by the Broward County Commission with its own special day.

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  / <em>Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant</em>)
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.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic South Florida restaurant”

The Mai-Kai turns 60 with special history presentations, celebration

RECAP: Browse photos on the 60th anniversary celebration on Facebook
Related: New giant carved Tiki added to outdoor garden in time for 60th anniversary

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 owners and staff of The Mai-Kai were honored by the Broward County Commission on Dec. 13. (Photo provided by The Mai-Kai)
The owners and staff of The Mai-Kai were honored by the Broward County Commission on Dec. 13. (Photo provided by The Mai-Kai)

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)

Original story:

The Mai-Kai under construction in 1956 in Fort Lauderdale. (Mai-Kai photo)
The Mai-Kai under construction in 1956 in Fort Lauderdale. (Mai-Kai photo)

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]

The Mai-Kai's Mai-Kai 60th Anniversary Symposia Series

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

A recent view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
A recent view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

“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 menu for The Mai-Kai's 60th anniversary

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.

The Mai-Kai's opening day ad. (Provided by Sven Kirsten)
The Mai-Kai’s opening day ad. (Provided by Sven Kirsten)

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.

Pualani Mossman Avon entertains Hawaiian surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku at The Mai-Kai in 1961. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
Pualani Mossman Avon entertains Hawaiian surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku at The Mai-Kai in 1961. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

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.

An early photo of The Mai-Kai's facade shows the three cannibal Tikis atop the restaurant sign. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
An early photo of The Mai-Kai’s facade shows the three cannibal Tikis atop the restaurant sign. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

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.”

The raffle will include a special Mai-Kai item produced by Tiki Kiliki Productions: A limited-edition decanter designed as tribute to the original produced in 1961, sculpted and produced by Eekum Bookum. Also to be given away are two bottles of Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamaica signed by Joy Spence, the world’s first female master blender. Appleton is a crucial rum at The Mai-Kai, featured in dozens of cocktails.

60th anniversary specials: Extended happy hour, dinner show deal

The Mai-Kai's outdoor gardens feature waterfalls, Tikis, torches and lush tropical foliage. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove, June 2016)
The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens feature waterfalls, Tikis, torches and lush tropical foliage. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove, June 2016)

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.

The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in October 2016. Much of the decor has remained the same since a 1971 refurbishment that included set pieces from the 1962 film 'Mutiny on the Bounty.' (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in October 2016. Much of the decor has remained the same since a 1971 refurbishment that included set pieces from the 1962 film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

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.”

A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)
A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)

That means you can get a world-class Zombie or 151 Swizzle or Special Planters Punch, all still made to the same standards held by Licudine, who learned his craft working for Tiki cocktail pioneer Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber).
* Reviews and recipes: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai cocktail guide

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

 The Polynesian Islander Revue performs in June 2016 during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki event centered around The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Polynesian Islander Revue performs in June 2016 during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki event centered around The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

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.

Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the 25th anniversary silver Rum Barrel in 1981. (Mai-Kai photo)
Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the 25th anniversary silver Rum Barrel in 1981. (Mai-Kai photo)

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

Chef Mark Rivera and some of his current creations. (Mai-Kai photo)
Chef Mark Rivera and some of his current creations. (Mai-Kai photo)

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.

A photo of the Tahiti Room shortly after it was added in a 1971 expansion. The outrigger canoe that Bob and Mireille Thornton used on their honeymoon in Tahiti was later moved to the Moorea dining room. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
A photo of the Tahiti Room shortly after it was added in a 1971 expansion. The outrigger canoe that Bob and Mireille Thornton used on their honeymoon in Tahiti was later moved to the Moorea dining room. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

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

Author and historian Sven Kirsten is fascinated with the three cannibals. (Photo provided by Sven Kirsten)
Author and historian Sven Kirsten is fascinated with the three cannibals. (Photo provided by Sven Kirsten)

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.

Kirsten says he’s been obsessed with the cannibal carvings since his earliest findings, first writing about them in the Book of Tiki. Since then, he has “amassed a visual cornucopia of cannibal art” that he’s excited to “finally be able to share with the eager Tiki student.”
* Related: The Mai-Kai’s eighth annual Hulaween party is cursed by cannibals
* Past coverage: 10 reasons why you need Sven Kirsten’s Tiki Pop

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.

Tim "Swanky" Glazner gives a walking tour in The Mai-Kai's showroom during his book-release event in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Tim “Swanky” Glazner gives a walking tour in The Mai-Kai’s showroom during his book-release event in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

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.”

60th anniversary media coverage
* Mai-Kai celebrates 60 years with ‘lost cocktails,’ new show (SouthFlorida.com)
* Mai-Kai celebrates 60 years with secret cocktails and all-new Polynesian show (New Times)

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant
* Official website | Facebook page
* Buy the book now on Amazon
* More coverage online: Liquor.com | Retro Renovation | SouthFlorida.com
New Times | Venice Magazine | Edible South Florida | Knoxville Mercury

The Mai-Kai online store
You can order signature mugs and other merchandise online via the Trading Post’s new e-commerce app.
* Click here to order

The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
* Official site | Trading Post | Twitter
* Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D
* Recent coverage online: Tales of the Cocktail | TravelLatte | Adventures in Tiki
Tiki With Ray: Spotlight review | Field report

More on The Atomic Grog
* The Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* A hauntingly good time at historic Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* Historic Mai-Kai celebrated, new cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party
* Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)
* Interview with General Manager Kern Mattei
* More Mai-Kai history | All Mai-Kai posts

The Hukilau updates: High Tide party, rum sponsor rundown, merchandise preview and photos!

Updated June 30
On sale now: The Hukilau 2016 merchandise by Shag, inspired by The Mai-Kai NEW
Photos: First exclusive day-by-day recap
15-year tributes: Tiki Kiliki’s memories | Video: The first 14 years
Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Twitter | Instagram | App

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.

The Hukilau’s High Tide, sponsored by Rhum Barbancourt

An overlay to the live performances in the waterfront Panorama Ballroom, High Tide is a special event celebrating the high water mark of the weekend and featuring Rhum Barbancourt cocktails by swashbuckling New York City bartender Brian Miller, plus Polynesian small bites from award-winning Atlanta-based celebrity chef Jim Stacy.
Exclusive recipe below: Brian Miller’s Haitian Frolic featuring Rhum Barbancourt
See more below:
* 15 rum sponsors serve up tastings, cocktails
* New merchandise goes on sale (photos)

High Tide takes place from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. during the live performances by an eclectic lineup of bands (Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, Tikiyaki Orchestra, The Intoxicators) and burlesque/retro entertainers (Angie Pontani, Kitten Deville, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Lila Starlet).

The Hukilau: June 8-12, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
* Buy tickets, passes | Book hotel | Schedule
* Previous Atomic Grog coverage: Tiki Road Trip announced, Pier 66 and Mai-Kai sold out

Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City will be mixing special Rhum Barbancourt cocktails during The Hukilau's High Tide on Friday, June 10.
Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City will be mixing special Rhum Barbancourt cocktails during The Hukilau’s High Tide on Friday, June 10.

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.

Jim Stacy's TV credits include host of 'Offbeat Eats' on the Cooking Channel and 'Deep Fried Masters' on Discovery Channel's Destination America.
Jim Stacy’s TV credits include host of ‘Offbeat Eats’ on the Cooking Channel and ‘Deep Fried Masters’ on Discovery Channel’s Destination America.

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

The Hukilau 2016

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.

Several smaller and in-demand events have sold out, so it’s recommended you buy you tickets and passes now. Events that are already filled to capacity:

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