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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Organizers 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.
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)
* 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)
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.
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)
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).
* 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)
* 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
Despite what you may have read in a local business journal, South Florida’s Polynesian palace is not going anywhere. Owner Dave Levy assures us not to worry and that everything will be fine. There has been no change in the daily operations of this classic establishment that promises to entertain, fascinate and satisfy us for years to come. In a tribute to its widespread appeal, Levy was recently interviewed for a feature story in The New York Times.
As a reminder of what makes this Fort Lauderdale landmark special, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why we love The Mai-Kai:
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai in 1969 and today. (Photos from Tim “Swanky” Glazner / Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
1. The architecture and design. This was a big one that helped it gain historic status but may go unappreciated by many. It was state-of-the art Tiki in 1956 and remains so today. Designed by noted South Florida architect Charles McKirahan, it was “a futuristic Polynesian A-frame 40 feet tall with wings on either side for dining rooms and inside and outside transitioning together via waterways and an open room,” wrote Tim “Swanky” Glazner in the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September. Following several expansions over the years, the size and scope of the restaurant today is jaw-dropping, seating more than 600 in the bar and eight dining areas both indoors and outdoors amid lush gardens and waterfalls.
In a special 10-minute ceremony during a Dec. 13 public hearing, the Broward County Commission declared Dec. 28th to be “Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show Day” in the county. Owners, management and performers attended the signing of the proclamation at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale.
The proclamation reads: “Be it proclaimed by the board of county commissioners of Broward County, Florida: That the Board hereby designates Wednesday December 28, 2016 as “MAI-KAI RESTAURANT AND POLYNESIAN SHOW DAY” in Broward County, offers its gratitude for 60 years of historical hospitality.”
The proclamation was presented by Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who was then given a lei by owner Mireille Thornton. Mireille’s son, managing owner Dave Levy, was also on hand, along with director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist. Two Mai-Kai performers, guitarist Kainalu and dancer Hokulani, then serenaded Mayor Barbara Sharief and the commission in what may have been the county’s first traditional Polynesian performance during a public hearing.
* See a photo of the proclamation
* Watch the video of the public hearing (fast forward to the 4:00:00 mark)
It’s a testament to a restaurant’s historic status and popularity when not one, but two book authors are scheduled speak at an anniversary event produced by a longtime supporter. When The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale turns 60 on Dec. 28, the annual Customer Celebration Party will be enhanced to include two special presentations in the acclaimed Polynesian palace’s main showroom, home of the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
SPECIAL EVENT: The Mai-Kai’s 60th Anniversary Symposia Series & Customer Celebration Party – Wednesday, Dec. 28. Featuring presentations by authors Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner brought to you by Tiki Kiliki Productions. Plus enjoy dinner shows, live music, and food and drink specials all night. Doors open at 1:30, symposia begin at 2, happy hour at 3:30, signings at 4, live music at 6, dinner shows at 7 and 9:30. Symposia tickets are sold out. For dinner reservations, call (954) 563-3272. [Facebook event]
Named to the National Register of Historic Places two years ago, The Mai-Kai is the last remaining example of the classic mid-20th century Polynesian supper club. Indeed, the restaurant’s many fans consider it the Tiki mecca. Since the venerable Critiki website began compiling its user ratings into an annual list two years ago, The Mai-Kai has been honored as the No. 1 Tiki bar in the world two years straight. The Mai-Kai was also just voted the best Tiki bar by readers of SouthFlorida.com. [See video]
One of those fans, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, is producing a special Symposia Series for the 60th anniversary that features two authors who have written extensively about The Mai-Kai and Polynesian pop culture: Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner. It’s that kind of reverence that makes The Mai-Kai a special place for many.
History symposia kick off party in legendary showroom
“The origin story of The Mai-Kai – its architecture, decor, and its influence on Polynesian pop on the American East Coast and beyond – makes it one of the greatest Tiki temples of all time,” wrote noted pop culture historian and author Kirsten in the forward to Glazner’s book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September by Schiffer.
“Before the era of theme parks, this place showed the way,” Glazner wrote in his debut work. “It weaves its magic, if you let it. It is a place out of time: ancient, mysterious, lush, and relaxing.” The California-based Kirsten and Tennessee-based Glazner will make the pilgrimage to The Mai-Kai on Dec. 28 to host symposia on the restaurant’s unique and fascinating history.
The party starts early: Doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the presentations, which will include slideshows of vintage photos and artwork, plus a raffle for special giveaways. Your ticket also gets you early entry into The Mai-Kai for an unencumbered look at all the dining rooms and Tiki garden; plus appetizers and tropical drinks, including three special “lost cocktails” from the early days of the restaurant.
Lost cocktails announced
On Dec. 28 only, a special menu will feature three drinks that appeared on the original 1956 menu but were retired over the years. Guests can enjoy the spicy and deadly Last Rites, the sweet and sour Impatient Virgin and the rich and rummy Demerara Float.
Like many of the cocktails at The Mai-Kai, they can be traced back to topical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, who developed the faux Polynesian style in the 1930s in Hollywood, Calif. The Chicago location of the Beachcomber chain was a huge influence on The Mai-Kai, and many of its key employees came to Florida to work when the restaurant opened. The cocktail menu was spearheaded by bartender Mariano Licudine, a 17-year veteran who got his start at the flagship Hollywood location. He retired from The Mai-Kai in 1979, but his influence is still felt today.
At 2 p.m., Kirsten will present for the first time his research into the origins and history of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Tahitian cannibal carvings, which have served as the restaurant’s logo in one form or another since opening day. Founding owners Bob and Jack Thornton “showed themselves as standard-bearers of the coming Tiki generation by adopting these figures as The Mai-Kai’s trademark,” Kirsten wrote Tiki Pop (Taschen), his 2014 magnum opus.
In “The Tahitian Cannibal Carvings: The Logo Tikis of the Mai-Kai,” Kirsten will reveal how this specific Tiki design dates back to the early days of Polynesian pop, then marked the beginning of the Tiki period. This “cannibal trio” became the logo Tikis of important Polynesian restaurants across America, reproduced in a multitude of forms and materials. This will be a rare opportunity to see the influential Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki (2000) and Tiki Modern (2007), in South Florida. He last did a presentation at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in 2012.
A 3 p.m., it’s Glazner’s turn to take the stage in the showroom, home of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue and part of the original A-frame structure built in 1956. Glazner, a longtime Mai-Kai fan and Tiki enthusiast, has been collecting memorabilia and stories from longtime and current employees for more than a decade. The resulting labor of love, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, is a lavish 176-page hardcover book featuring 440 color and black-and-white images, many revealed for the first time.
He’ll treat guests with a new symposium, “The Mai-Kai: Then and Now,” a look at how the restaurant has changed since it opened in 1956. Just announced: Glazner will be joined by a special guest, former Florida state Representative Randy Avon Jr., who will share first-hand stories of growing up at The Mai-Kai. Avon’s mother, Pualani Mossman Avon, ran the The Mai-Kai’s gift shop in the 1960s after performing in her family’s pioneering cultural Lalani Village in Hawaii. The song Lovely Hula Hands was written about her. Family members included singers George Kainapau and Alfred Apaka. Randy was also Southeast manager for Rums of Puerto Rico, which had a close relationship with The Mai-Kai and the signature Derby Daiquiri cocktail.
Glazner has been doing unique presentations at events across the country, including The Hukilau in June, Tiki Oasis in August, and a book release party at The Mai-Kai in September. His talks have covered topics such as how Don the Beachcomber influenced the Thornton brothers; the mastery of mixologist Mariano Licudine; the stories behind the iconic Mystery Drink, including its appearance with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show; and the glamorous women who worked as Mystery Girls and Molokai Girls. His rare footage of Carson receiving the drink and meeting a Mystery Girl on national television is priceless.
All of the above – including Pualani Mossman Avon – are the focus of chapters in the book, which Glazner will be signing after the presentation at 4 p.m. in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, as the gift shop is known. Kirsten will also sign copies of his books, or any items that attendees may want to have autographed.
Tiki Kiliki says she’s producing these special symposia as her gift to The Mai-Kai. The co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer of The Hukilau has been one of the restaurant’s biggest supporters over the past 15 years. “I’m so excited about the 60th anniversary of my favorite place on earth,” Tiki Kiliki said. “This will be the first anniversary I’ve attended in person and although every visit is dear to me, I think this one will be a bit more special with all the Tikiphiles coming from all over the country.”
60th anniversary specials: Extended happy hour, dinner show deal
At 3:30, The Molokai bar will open 90 minutes earlier than normal for an extended happy hour, which runs until 7. If you miss out on tickets, or can’t attend the early symposia, you can still come to the book-signing and early happy hour starting at 3:30 and running until 7 in The Molokai bar. The lost cocktails will be included in the happy hour, along with The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and appetizer menus.
Like all Wednesdays, you can also enjoy two cocktails at 50 percent off all night: The Barrel O’ Rum and Planters Punch. Another regular feature in the bar, guitarist-vocalist Rose Marie will perform island and other classic music all night beginning at 6. Due to space limitations, however, there will be no regular Wednesday sushi buffet.
There will also be a $60 dinner-and-show special in honor of the anniversary. A special prix fixe menu will be available that includes the Polynesian Islander Revue (a $15 value), plus select appetizers and entrées. You can also see the show and order anything off the extensive menu ala carte. The dinner shows often sell out, so be sure to reserve you seat now by calling (954) 563-3272. Shows are scheduled for 7 and 9:30 p.m., with seating typically an hour beforehand.
Before dinner, there’s no better place to grab a cocktail than The Molokai, praised by such well-regarded Tiki bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco ). Both have written books that praise The Mai-Kai as the “mothership” of the current Tiki bar revival.
Aside from the tiny Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, “The Mai-Kai is the last place on Earth where you can still sample a Don the Beachcomber drink more or less as it was prepared 70 years ago,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari (2007). An updated 10th anniversary edition of the influential book, which includes an entire chapter on Mariano Licudine and The Mai-Kai, will be released in 2017.
In the epilogue of this year’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, Cate wrote: “The Mai-Kai will take you back to dining as event, experience, and escape. Today, you can still stand at the entrance, or during the show, and look at the faces of first-time visitors as their eyes widen, mouths agape at the spectacle.”
“It will come as no surprise that The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar, with its heavy emphasis on the nautical while remaining true to Tiki tradition, was an inspiration cornerstone for me,” Cate wrote. Even without the expansive restaurant and grounds that surround it, The Molokai is one of the most distinctive Tiki bars in the world. On Dec. 28, like every day, happy hour will run until 7, featuring 50 percent off nearly all of the 50 signature tropical cocktails that have as much history as the restaurant, perhaps more.
Historic cocktails, eclectic food to match the stunning decor
“While The Mai-Kai’s food menu has adapted to changing culinary tastes, its drink menu, including the quality ingredients, has not changed since 1956,” says the official page on the National Register of Historic Places Program website. “As a result, the restaurant is renowned for its expert tropical drinks. … The Mai-Kai has a permanent place in a holy trio of old-school holdouts dedicated to the careful construction of their libations.”
The robust food offerings are also half-price during the happy hour, which is annually rated among the best in South Florida. The appetizer menu of traditional pu-pus (egg rolls, crab rangoon, soups, salads and sushi) pair perfectly with the signature cocktails. And new chef Mark Rivera has added a creative menu of signature tapas (charred octopus; fish tacos; duck, wagyu beef and pork belly sliders) that takes finger food to the next level.
While it doesn’t date back to 1956, The Molokai fits perfectly into the The Mai-Kai’s richly detailed environment and has its own fascinating back-story. With water cascading down the windows to simulate a rainstorm and elaborate nautical decor, it’s designed to make you feel like you’re in an 1800s Pacific seaport. This is not by accident. The current Molokai was designed during a 1971 remodeling using much of the actual props from the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlin Brando.
The items were acquired at auction when the MGM prop department closed in 1970. This includes not only the large set pieces on the walls and ceilings, but also other details such as model ships. MGM’s longtime prop master was even hired to personally make sure the rigging and other elements were installed as authentically as possible. Much of the bar’s decor remains exactly the same to this day.
Family, loyalty are cornerstones of The Mai-Kai culture
After happy hour, don’t miss The Mai-Kai’s signature Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in 1961, it’s still designed and choreographed by owner Mireille Thornton, widow of founding owner Bob Thornton and a former dancer in the original show. Mireille takes annual trips to the Pacific islands to research and come up with costume and theming ideas for new shows each year.
On Dec. 28, you’ll be able to see one of the first performances of the 2017 show. An all new show will be rehearsed the week before and make its official debut that night, said Mireille’s son, Dave Levy, who has guided The Mai-Kai as managing owner since his stepfather’s death in 1989. It remains a true family affair, with Mireille’s daughter Kulani Gelardi serving as the third partner and CFO.
Key managers, such as director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist and general manager Kern Mattei, have been with The Mai-Kai for decades. Mattei followed in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr., working out of the same office. One employee has been around almost as long as The Mai-Kai itself. Angel Vega was supposed to slow down after he was honored for 50 years of service at the 2013 anniversary party, but you can still often find him behind the maître d’ stand.
On any given night, the more than 100 employees work their magic amid the controlled chaos, giving guests a sense of what true hospitality means. What other Tiki bar supplies you with hot towels to clean your hands in the most civilized manner? In another tradition from Don the Beachcomber and the early Tiki temples, both The Molokai and main bar that serves the dining rooms are behind closed doors. Bartenders work in secrecy, keeping their recipes close to the vest but also providing a total escape for guests who are immersed in the Polynesian paradise. Drinks are served by sarong-clad maidens in The Molokai, well-dressed servers in the dining rooms.
Take a tour of the lavish grounds, distinctive decor
Seats for the show include the main area in front of the stage, known as the Garden, along with four other distinct dining rooms named for South Seas islands (New Guinea, Tonga, Hawaii and Moorea). There are eight total dining areas, including the secluded Tahiti and Samoa rooms, plus the outdoor Lanai and tables scattered throughout the Tiki garden. The Mai-Kai seats 500 for dinner, half of those in the showroom, plus another 150 in The Molokai. To say it’s expansive is an understatement.
* Related: Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen
If you’re there early or late, take the time to stroll through all the rooms and paths that wind through the waterfalls and lush foliage of the garden. The entire lighting system was recently upgraded to add LED bulbs, which provide more consistent and reliable performance. Nothing about the look was modernized, however. Look up in the main dining room to the giant A-frame and marvel at the floats and other vintage lighting. It’s one of many seamless modernizations The Mai-Kai has made over the years to stay vital and remain one of the area’s most popular destination dining experiences.
Chef Rivera has revitalized the dinner menu, modernizing the plating and adding new twists to the classics. But many traditions remain, including the Chinese ovens that you can spot on the walking path toward the back dining rooms and Lanai. Few other restaurants in the United States use these ancient high-temperate ovens to cook steak, ribs, duck and other meats.
There is eye candy in every room: The outrigger canoe hanging from the rafters in Moorea that Bob Thornton used to serenade Mireille on their honeymoon in her native Tahiti; the black velvet portrait of Mireille in the Tahiti room; the shrunken skulls and other vintage artifacts on display in the Samoa room; the mysterious velvet painting high on the wall in Tonga that dates back to 1956. Just like Disney World, there are intricately themed details every where you look, even the gift shop and ladies’ rest room, which both have an ornate Asian theme. (The gift shop was formerly a dining room named Bangkok.)
You can go behind the stage and see the indoor Tiki garden (featuring works of noted artists from yesterday and today). Most of the Tikis throughout the property were recast by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from their original molds, though several massive vintage pieces by mid-century artist Barney West still proudly stand out front on the edge of Federal Highway on opposite ends of the property. Another tip: Don’t forget to take a walk along the sidewalk from north to south, where furniture stores have encroached on the surrounding area that was desolate when The Mai-Kai was built in 1956.
And be sure to stop at the porte-cochère to see three new Tikis carved in 2016 by contemporary Florida artists: Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard. Anders also contributed a 10-foot-tall Tiki dubbed King Kai to the outdoor garden, making the recent infusion of large stylized carvings the biggest since the 1960s. More evidence of today’s enthusiasts working hard to keep the traditions of The Mai-Kai alive for another 60 years.
* Related: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
Authors dig deep into the The Mai-Kai’s history, mystery
It will be fascinating to learn more about the three cannibal icons, which have been depicted over the years in artwork on everything from menus, to coasters to advertising to the streetside sign. The three cannibal Tikis from The Mai-Kai’s original outdoor sign were brought out of storage and displayed at The Hukilau in 2008. They’re a direct link to Don the Beachcomber, which featured the Cannibal Room bar and trio of Tikis in the Chicago location in the 1940s and ’50s. This restaurant was a major inspiration for the Thornton brothers, who were Chicago natives.
Glazner’s symposium should be just as enlightening and entertaining. Beyond everything in his book, he has a wealth of information to share though his contacts with current and past employees, many of whom should be in attendance. It’s always great to see past performers, such as Toti Terorotua, who was part of the original revue and only recently retired. He performed in The Molokai during the book release party in September.
Glazner’s vast research also gives us insight into the first 15 years of The Mai-Kai, before a 1971 renovation that expanded the dining areas, added The Molokai in its current form and defined what the restaurant looks like today. “In the 1950s, Bob and Jack Thornton went on a buying trip all over the islands, and they bought literally tons of Oceanic art to decorate The Mai-Kai,” Glazner said during a walking tour at the September book release event. Up until the 1970s, a great deal of that artwork was in the restaurant. But after the renovations in 1971, they had to change their insurance policy, Glazner said.
When the insurance adjusters came into The Mai-Kai, Glazner said, they couldn’t believe the million dollars worth of Oceanic art, some of it in the open-air garden getting rained on. The cost of insurance went so high, most of the authentic decor was removed in 1974 and donated to Stanford University, the alma mater of the Thornton brothers. Some of it is also housed at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. It was last shown as a full exhibit there in 2010.
The Mai-Kai remains a priceless experience, a commodity whose value is beyond the comprehension of insurance adjusters. Glazner sums it up succinctly in his book: The Mai-Kai is “a place that opened over 60 years ago, built on an idea that started more than 80 years ago from a dream that is eternal … paradise.”
The East Coast’s longest-running and largest Tiki-themed weekender continues to add special events, merchandise and rum sponsors with less than a month remaining before throngs of retro-loving Tikiphiles descend on Fort Lauderdale. The latest major addition is the The Hukilau’s High Tide, presented by Rhum Barbancourt and taking place during the Friday night festivities at the host Pier 66 hotel.
Existing Friday night passholders can buy wristbands for $35 giving them access to the special Barbancourt cocktails during High Tide (up to eight per person). Cocktails are also available for $10 each. Non-passholders can buy a Friday day pass that also includes the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party (noon-4 p.m.) and Tiki Treasures Bazaar (10 a.m.-8 p.m.) for $129. A Friday night pass is $99 (or $69 without drink bracelet). Stacy’s Polynesian tidbits will be sold à la carte. Hotel bars will also be selling cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages.
Miller, an accomplished Big Apple bartender and brand ambassador, is host of the city’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail event, Tiki Mondays With Miller. He’ll be bringing many of his motley crew with him to The Hukilau to help him with the Rhum Barbancourt pop-up bar, including Ryan “Corporal Captain” Liloia, Jelani “Swabble” Johnson, and Garret “Dr. Funk” Richard. They’ll be pouring four different Tiki cocktails featuring Rhum Barbancourt, a venerable spirit from Haiti that will have a high profile at this year’s event. Miller issued a missive from his pirate’s lair promising “an assortment of temptresses, rogues and scoundrels.” His captain’s orders: “Tortuga ain’t got nuthin on Tiki Mondays With Miller at The Hukilau.”
Miller and an all-star lineup of world-class bartenders (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, St. John Frizell) will also be mixing with Rhum Barbancourt at the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover on Thursday night. You can sample the distinctive rhums and see them mixed in cocktails Thursday through Saturday outside the Tiki Treasures Bazaar in the brand’s special tasting booth.
As a special treat, Friday’s High Tide event will also include The Hukilau debut of larger-than-life chef Jim Stacy, best known for his appearances on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Stacy is a renaissance man whose talents include butcher, bartender, chef, touring rock ‘n’ roller and tattoo artist. He cut his teeth in the Atlanta bar and restaurant scene at the Star Community Bar and Starlight Drive-In Theatre, then became a local and national TV food authority. He recently sold the Atlanta-area Pallookaville Fine Foods in preparation for a new concept sure to please fans of traditional Polynesian-themed food and cocktails.
Stacy will soon be opening MoaKai, a full-blown Polynesian/island restaurant spotlighting “classic resort dishes made with Southern soul food ingredients.” Expect the themed Atlanta eatery to include such creative, taste-tempting dishes as lau-lau with collards instead of taro leaves, and poi made with sweet potato. “We’ll be doing a traditional Hawaiian barrel smoked chicken as our specialty with additional emphasis on vegetarian and vegan menu items,” Stacy said in a recent interview. At the High Tide party, Stacy will be cooking up “Polynesian delights featuring Rhum Barbancourt expressions with a soul food twist,” according to the event announcement.
Of course, Stacy’s restaurant will include a Tiki bar, The Barnacled Mermaid. Guests can sample Stacy’s fresh take on tropical mixology on Friday afternoon during the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party along with other top bars from across the country: Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), Aku Aku (Orlando), and The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley (New York City). Stacy is a longtime supporter of The Hukilau who attended last year’s event (see photos). But this will be his first year as a participant. He also featured The Mai-Kai on an episode of Offbeat Eats in January 2015.
Some events sold out, but plenty remain on full weekend schedule
Interest is high in The Hukilau for its 15th anniversary gathering, which will also celebrate the upcoming 60th birthday of The Mai-Kai. The historic Pier 66, another 60-year-old landmark, is sold out of rooms. But event co-founder and organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White quickly lined up an overflow host hotel, the nearby Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel. See our previous report for all the details and book a room now.
THE HUKILAU: Tiki Road Trip announced, Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai sold out, new rum sponsors, and more!
The Hukilau has been gearing up for its 15th anniversary event in Fort Lauderdale on June 8-12 with a flurry of news and announcements since early April. Here’s all the latest:
Get your tickets now for the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party, a condensed version of a cross-country road trip to five bars in five different states serving exotic tropical cocktails. On Friday, June 10, from noon to 4 p.m., guests will have the opportunity to sip cocktails and chat up the bar staff from Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), Aku Aku (Orlando), plus The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley (New York City). Also joining the party will be Cooking Channel star Jim Stacy, who will be offering a sneak preview of his upcoming Tiki bar in Atlanta, the Barnacled Mermaid. The party takes place at the Pier 66 main pool and surrounding courtyard. Tickets ($20 for weekend passholders, $49 for non-passholders) include one drink from each bar. Also on hand will be the author of the book that inspired the event: James Teitelbaum (Tiki Road Trip, 2003). Also announced in early April was a special screening of Korla The Movie, a documentary film about eccentric and influential musician Korla Pandit (1921-1998). The screening will be held during the finale at The Mai-Kai on Sunday, June 12. * Full report on Tiki Road Trip party and movie screening
The host Hyatt Regency Pier 66 officially sold out of rooms for The Hukilau on April 20. But co-founder/organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White quickly announced the overflow host hotel, the waterfront Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel. Located just over the Intracoastal Waterway bridge from Pier 66, the Hilton includes such amenities as free wi-fi and beach shuttle, plus a large pool and relaxing environment just a short walk from all the festivities. Room rates start at $119 for a standard king or double. * Click here to book now
Also sold out: Both dinner shows at The Mai-Kai during the Saturday night main event on June 11. This means the entire restaurant will be the domain of The Hukilau’s villagers for the legendary Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. However, the show several times a night, so attendees are welcome to catch it on one of the other nights during the festivities. We suggest booking dinner in the showroom after the finale on Sunday, or during Wednesday’s opening-night party (or both). Also, there might be space available Saturday night in the restaurant’s back dining areas, especially later in the evening. Call The Mai-Kai at (954) 563-3272 for reservations and/or plan on arriving late that night. You can also email Pia Dahlquist (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get on a waiting list. Typically the crowd thins out as the night goes on. The Mai-Kai can hold nearly 1,000 guests, but efforts are being made to keep it from becoming too overcrowded with demand high this year. The venerable Tiki temple, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in December, was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. Look for a special announcement about new additions at The Mai-Kai in time for The Hukilau. More info to come soon.
After 15 years of planning the East Coast’s premiere Tiki weekender, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White knows a thing or two about giving her guests, affectionately known as “villagers,” what they want. For the 15th anniversary of The Hukilau, scheduled for June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale, that means assembling the biggest names in the Polynesian Pop revival for an unforgettable experience unlike any other.
“Tiki culture is only growing stronger, and we are trying to provide the best show possible for anyone who wants to join us,” Tiki Kiliki said in an interview this week. She said she wants her guests to feel like “they’ve just stepped back in time into an era where Tiki was ever-present.”
Tickets went on sale Tuesday for an impressive array of symposiums and experiences that will make the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale the epicenter of the 21st century Tiki revival. Special guests and entertainers include some of the scene’s top artists (Shag, Tom Fowner, Will Anders, Jeff Chouinard), cocktail creators (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, Brian Miller, St. John Frizell), bands and musicians (The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, The Intoxicators, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Quiet Villagers, The Disasternauts), entertainers (Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Angie Pontani, Kitten de Ville, Lila Starlet), and pop culture historians (Otto von Stroheim, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Humuhumu, Paul Roe).
“The appearance of Shag has really stirred tons of excitement here on the East Coast,” Tiki Kiliki said. “We don’t see him often enough, so that will be a true treat for everyone.”
This year’s event celebrates not only The Hukilau’s 15th year, but also the 60th anniversary of The Mai-Kai, the legendary Tiki temple that was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Hukilau moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 after launching in 2002 in Atlanta, drawn by the restaurant’s legendary reputation that only continues to grow. Last year, it was named best Tiki bar in the world after a tally of ratings by Critiki.com users.
The Hukilau is returning for a second year to Pier 66, another historic property that dates back to 1956 and is beloved for its mid-century architecture and iconic rotating rooftop penthouse lounge. It’s a miraculous turnaround for The Hukilau, which nearly called it adieu in 2014. At the 11th hour, Tiki Kiliki was approached by new partners who have injected new life (and financing) into the event, enabling the move to Pier 66. She has also been able to concentrate on the creative end of things, putting together a perfect Polynesian Pop getaway for guests.
The Hukilau’s villagers last year voted Pier 66 “Best Hotel in The Hukilau’s History,” enamored by its modern amenities and hospitality provided by Hyatt, combined with its history and mid-century design. With only a few available rooms remaining during The Hukilau weekend, Tiki Kiliki urges potential guests to book sooner rather than later.
“The 66 provides a perfect backdrop to the classic era of Tiki with its roots perfectly planted the same year that The Mai-Kai first opened,” Tiki Kiliki said. Pier 66 guests are also the only villagers who will receive special welcome bags full of swag provided by sponsors. When Pier 66 sells out, she hopes to have another nearby hotel lined up for villagers to enjoy.
Sales of 2016 event passes and tickets for special events have been selling at an unprecedented rate after going online in late October, much earlier than in past years. Demand is no doubt driven by the anniversaries and the unique experiences the 2016 event offers.
Tiki Kiliki said many things are driving interest this year. Villagers are “excited about celebrating the past and the future with the anniversaries, and Tiki culture is only growing stronger. … Also, Pier 66 has a lot to do with it too. The event grows ever stronger in the right venue.”
After an exciting year that saw many new Tiki bars open across North America, lots more are in store for 2016. Preview what’s coming, plus get a quick New Year’s event guide. We have news on a new Kon-Tiki sailing the South Pacific, plus a traditional Hawaiian vessel traveling the globe. Quick sips include the Flor de Caña rum controversy, Santas hanging ten in Cocoa Beach, plus help for an ailing Laramie Dean. Regular features spotlight velvet painting master Edgar Leeteg; Tiki party band Ding Dong Devils; Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel; and the Cocktail Wonk website. The Rum of the Week, El Dorado 5, is featured in the Demerara Flip from The Atomic Grog.
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2016 will welcome new Tiki bars to Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle
It’s not a stretch to say that 2015 was a landmark year in the 21st century Tiki revival when you look at all the high-profile, authentically themed Tiki bars that opened in North America: Lost Lake in Chicago, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney World, The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, and The Shameful Tiki Room in Toronto all burst onto the scene, along with several others that we’ll recap in our year-end special, The Year in Tiki.
The good news is this was not a freak occurrence. More great bars are on the way in 2016, according to recent news reports, and all appear to have the same commitment to quality drinks, traditional Tiki decor and theming. The craft food and cocktail community is embracing Tiki in a big way, with no let-up in sight. Here’s what we can look forward to next year:
Opening in Pittsburgh in January, Hidden Harbor will feature a 7-foot custom-made Tiki by Crazy Al Evans and authentic Tiki cocktails (including classics such as a flaming Scorpion Bowl) created by co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry. “The space and concept will be a bit more contemporary than the typical Tiki bar, with an emphasis on original drinks,” Henry said via email. Henry and his partners own The Independent Brewing Company, which sits next to Hidden Harbor in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. The space is small (50 seats) but features a bar area and more intimate lounge, plus a chef-run kitchen serving small, tropical-themed plates.
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* Press coverage: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Pittsburgh Magazine
Farther up the East Coast in Maine, where Tiki is rare, a new bar is set to open this winter. Rhum in downtown Portland “will be a refined take on Tiki with a distinctly Portland, Maine flavor,” restaurateur Jason Loring announced in a press release. “Elegant, modern translations of classic Tiki dishes will be bolstered with an impressive raw bar featuring local seafood.” The bar will also feature “contemporary counterparts, and a large format program for team tippling.” Translation: Get ready for more Scorpion bowls. Rhum will also feature skull-themed Tiki mugs handmade by local artists in a variety of shapes and sizes. Look for Rhum as early as mid- to late January.
* Press coverage from Maine Eater
On the West Coast, a new Tiki bar is in the works at a recently reopened classic establishment. Clifton’s (aka Clifton’s Cafeteria) in downtown Los Angeles, a landmark that originally opened in 1935, has been undergoing a massive $14 million refurbishment since its purchase by new owners in 2010. After being closed for four years, it officially reopened to much fanfare on Oct. 1. The immersive 47,000-square-foot, four-story space retains its original rustic charm, featuring modernized comfort food and updated decor that still pays homage to its roots as an oasis for the everyman. As part of the renovations, the original 1904 building facade was restored after the removal of an aluminum facade that was added in 1963. The revamped Clifton’s includes multiple dining and drinking establishments, some still in the works. A Polynesian-themed Tiki bar is being built on the fourth floor, to be named the Pacific Seas in honor of the original 1931 Clifton’s location. Legendary Tiki bar builder Bamboo Ben Bassham has confirmed that he will be working on the project beginning in January. “It will be heavily Pacific Seas influenced with a ton of Bahooka’s flotsam and jetsam,” Bassham said. “The floor plan is really fun!” Clifton’s Pacific Seas (1939-1960) was a grand, tropical-themed cafeteria with waterfalls, huts, and lots of tropical decor. Bassham’s reference is undoubtedly to Bahooka Ribs & Grog (1976-2013), another classic SoCal Tiki establishment that was known for its expansive nautical decor.
* See all the press coverage from LA Eater
There’s a lot of news to report in this belated but special holiday edition of The Week in Tiki. We have details on The Mai-Kai’s 59th birthday party on Dec. 28, plus updates on The Hukilau in June. There’s a new restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland that celebrates the Jungle Cruise, plus more news from the Polynesian Village Resort. Holiday features include event recaps and photos, plus last-minute gift ideas and a special Christmas Day broadcast. Quick sips include 50 days of Fwaygo Rum recipes, a special Aloha shirt from Shag, news on FOM fundraising efforts, plus updates on Tiki bars across North America. Regular features spotlight the master ceramists known as Munktiki; instrumental legends The Ventures; new Las Vegas bar The Golden Tiki; and Professor Cocktail’s website. The Rum of the Week, Seven Tiki spiced, is featured in two seasonal cocktails: the Devil’s Island Daiquiri from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and Hapa Holidaze from The Atomic Grog.
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The Mai-Kai says mahalo with 59% off at Dec. 28 anniversary party
The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is giving back to its loyal fans and followers on Dec. 28 during its annual Mahalopreciation Party. In honor the historic Polynesian restaurant’s 59th anniversary, all guests in The Molokai bar will get 59 percent off most drinks and appetizers starting at 5 p.m. and running all night.
The Dec. 28 party will include live music by guitarist-vocalist Rose-Marie starting at 6 p.m. The bar typically stays open until midnight, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy classic cocktails such as the Zombie and Barrel O’ Rum while partaking in the many pu-pus (Polynesian Chicken, Javanesian Beef, Spinach Salad) and new sushi rolls. You can easily make a meal out of the “small plates” in The Molokai.
In related news, longtime Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner has announced details on his upcoming book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Glazner, who has been passionately researching The Mai-Kai for more than 13 years, has channeled all his efforts into this 176-page, hard cover book due out early next year. It includes rare photos and images, plus first-hand stories that document the heyday of the mid-century Tiki era. It tells the story of The Mai-Kai’s creation, and its reign as the playground of celebrities and playboys in the 1950s and ’60s. [See previous Atomic Grog coverage] Swanky reports that the book should be available for pre-order soon. For updates, follow the links above or subscribe to his email list.