In the entertainment and hospitality industry, your biggest fans can also be your toughest critics. So when the new owner of South Florida’s beloved Mai-Kai sat down with more than 100 Tiki enthusiasts during The Hukilau on June 11 for an open discussion of his plans to renovate the 65-year-old landmark, their reaction was crucial.
Judging by the many rousing ovations throughout the 50-minute presentation, veteran real estate developer and historic preservationist Bill Fuller passed the test with flying colors. The only murmurs of dissent came when the organizer of The Hukilau, Richard Oneslager, jokingly asked if it was true Fuller planned to replace the restaurant’s signature Chinese ovens with microwaves, and if The Molokai bar was being re-themed to Miami Vice.
Looming thunderstorms put a kibosh on the multimedia presentation planned for the open-air beachside gathering at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. But Fuller’s words were more than enough to win over the crowd who came from around the world to the 19th Tiki weekender that traditionally culminates with a climactic evening at The Mai-Kai.
Fuller elaborated on those plans during his talk at The Hukilau, divulging some new details. He was joined by two members of The Mai-Kai family, Kulani Thornton Gelardi and Kern Mattei, who also revealed some interesting new projects in the works.
After a spirited intro by event emcee King Kululele, Oneslager sat down with Fuller and led a question-and-answer session under the large thatched hut between the pool and beach at the quaint boutique hotel. The burning questions on everyone’s mind, Oneslager said to Fuller, were: “What’s going to stay? What’s going to change? And are you going to screw things up?”
Fuller said he was “lucky to be at the right place at the right time to be able to join forces with the family” in September 2021. The reason The Mai-Kai is being preserved is mainly due to the will of the Thornton family, he said. Gelardi’s mother, Mireille Thornton, inherited the ownership mantle from her late husband, Robert Thornton, in 1989.
The 85-year-old family matriarch will continue to choreograph and produce the restaurant’s authentic Polynesian show, which she joined as a dancer from Tahiti in the early 1960s. “She has her own nuances, which is what makes special experiences like this tick,” Fuller said. “You can’t just replicate it, you need to have that body of knowledge, that creativity and heritage. That’s what’s so rich within the walls of The Mai-Kai.”
The first question for Fuller from the audience echoed a common refrain on social media: Exactly when can we expect to be back within those walls?
The East Coast’s longest running Tiki weekender is back in full force this June, including many familiar faces along with new features and entertainment for villagers to enjoy at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort in South Florida. Tickets and room reservations are available now for the 19th live edition of The Hukilau, set for June 9-12, 2022.
Pompano Beach’s Beachcomber Resort & Club hosted the scaled-down 2021 event, proving to be the perfect venue for a more intimate but mostly outdoor gathering of the Tiki tribe. The entire hotel is once again reserved for The Hukilau’s guests. But with fewer than 150 rooms available, it may fill up fast. Call (954) 941-7830 to reserve your spot at the party now. (Reservations will require proof of an event pass at check-in.)
Additional hotels nearby will be announced soon, so don’t despair if the Beachcomber fills up. But locals and those staying elsewhere should consider snagging event passes now before they start to sell out. Tickets are available at three different price points, from $129 to $569. The top-level South Seas Pass includes access to every party and event, most symposiums, a beachside luau and Sunday brunch, unlimited cocktails and rum tastings, a limited-edition pendant, plus more! More info on tickets and passes below.
The Hukilau 2022 – June 9-12 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras, King Kukulele, et al.), symposiums (Ian Burrell, David Wondrich, Rocket Betty, Spike Marble, Headhunter Ray, et al.), 16 guest bars, rum tastings, luau on the beach, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* Official website | Instagram | Facebook page and group
While the venue remains small and cozy, the lineup of guests has been expanded for 2022 to include some of the top names in the Tiki, rum and cocktail world. Some old friends are returning after taking a respite during COVID, and new ones are making their first appearance. Below is our take on the most exciting news out the recent announcement, followed by a full rundown on the musical guests,symposium presenters, guest bars, special features, plus the early schedule and info on tickets and passes. You might also want to mix up the Cobra Defanged recipe below (featured at The Hukilau 2021) and enjoy while you get psyched up for 2022.
The Atomic Grog’s Top 5 highlights of The Hukilau 2022
Billed as a “four-day Tiki extravaganza celebrating the history of Polynesian Pop,” The Hukilau has always beefed up that basic premise with lots contemporary artists with a retro-inspired bent. In recent years, the event has also become a top destination for rum and tropical cocktail enthusiasts. A growing roster of bars, bartenders, industry experts and spirits companies flock to “Fort Liquordale” for the festive atmosphere and friendly fans.
In no particular order, here are the some of the unique offerings that we’re looking forward to this year:
The Mai-Kai last hosted an event during The Hukilau 2021 in September, just before the Thornton family announced the sale of the historic property to a new ownership team that will pump at least $5 million into renovations that will restore the restaurant to its vintage glory.
* Past coverage: The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
THE MAI-KAI SNEAK PREVIEW
For those of us eagerly awaiting news on the future of the legendary Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale, The Hukilau will give us exclusive insights from the new ownership group. Bill Fuller and his crew from Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality are scheduled to share the refurbishment plans in an exclusive presentation on Saturday, June 11. The 65-year-old restaurant has been closed since October 2020, when a roof collapse shut down the kitchen and back-of-house operations. Luckily, the stunning decor and dining rooms remain intact, but they’re also due for freshening up. The new owners are partnering with the founding Thornton family to keep The Mai-Kai’s rich legacy alive. Also part of the new crew are longtime managers who are hard at work ramping up the bar to serve The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails for the first time since The Hukilau 2021 in September. Look for a pop-up bar featuring select signature drinks throughout the weekend.
DAVID WONDRICH JOINS THE PARTY
For more than 20 years, this James Beard Award winning author, cocktail historian, mixologist and educator has documented the craft cocktail movement while also becoming one of the world’s foremost authorities on drinks history. The former English professor gained national exposure as Esquire Magazine‘s drinks correspondent, along with his four acclaimed books:Esquire Drinks, Killer Cocktails, Imbibe! and Punch. His most recent gig was senior drinks columnist at The Daily Beast and co-host of the Life Behind Bars podcast. His latest achievement is serving as editor of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, an 860-page opus that serves as the first major reference work on the subject. Wondrich is a frequent guest lecturer and regular seminar host at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. It will be an honor to see the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident make his first appearance at The Hukilau in 2022.
* Follow Wondrich on Twitter
THE RUM AMBASSADOR RETURNS
Ian Burrell is back for his fifth appearance at The Hukilau, teaching an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class and hosting one of his signature “$1,000 Rum Tasting” events. The self-appointed global rum ambassador, Burrell is a charismatic spokesman for the spirit, entertaining host, and all-around fun guy to hang out with. Which makes him the perfect fit for The Hukilau. He previously treated villagers to similar premium rum tastings in 2018 and 2019, offering attendees samples of four to six rums that sell at retail for a combined value in excess of $1,000.
* Related: Take 5 with Ian Burrell | More blogs featuring Ian Burrell
THE SURFRAJETTES HEADLINE STRONG MUSICAL LINEUP
Surf music fans are in for a treat as The Hukilau welcomes back The Surfrajettes, the all-female instrumental combo from Canada that has been building an ever-increasing underground following and online fanbase since making their first and only appearance at the event in 2017. The foursome’s long-awaited debut album, Roller Fink, is due out April 22 on Hi-Tide Recordings. Veteran instro surf rockers The Intoxicators will once again make the trek from Tallahassee to knock our socks off for the 16th time. (If we’re lucky, we may also see an appearance of the band’s alter ego, The Disasternauts.) Also appearing is Southern supergroup The Manakooras, featuring members of Satan’s Pilgrims, Aqualads and The Intoxicators. The band boasts a unique blend of surf music with steel guitar, ukulele and exotica-influenced percussion. Last but not least, longtime emcee King Kukulele is back where he belongs after missing The Hukilau 2021. The Southern California musician, comedian and entertainer has been a fixture at Tiki events across the country over the past two decades, including every previous Hukilau through 2019. His humor, ad libs and easy-going style are a much-needed addition.
* Full list of performers below
16 TOP TIKI BARS ON TAP
Where else can you sample world-class cocktails from Paris, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Chicago all in one place? At The Hukilau, of course, where Dirty Dick, Tonga Hut, Hidden Harbor, and Three Dots and a Dash are among the amazing number of guest bars scheduled to pop during the four-day event. Each will offer several signature and/or classic Tiki cocktails, mixed and served by the owners, managers and bartenders from these high-profile establishments. New for 2022: Look for smaller samples to keep waste to a minimum. And this all comes at no additional cost beyond your event pass, a deal that’s hard to beat. See the full list of bars below
Below is a rundown of everything we know so far. Much more will be announced in the coming weeks. Sign up for email updates at TheHukilau.com and follow the social media links above. We’ll also cover the major updates here on the blog, plus our social channels. We’re also happy to once again be posting updates on Tiki Central, the influential message board that was instrumental in the creation of The Hukilau 20 years ago. After two years of downtime for extensive renovations, it’s back up and running just in time.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT
Look for bands and musicians performing day and night during the pool parties and other events at the Beachcomber. Those confirmed so far include:
The Surfrajettes (Toronto) – Fresh off a high-profile cruise with The Beach Boys, these underground instrumental surf sensations are making inroads toward broader success and appreciation. If you miss them at The Hukilau, be sure to catch them on their upcoming U.S. tour.
The Intoxicators (Tallahassee) – This hard-hitting instrumental foursome can create a racket, but their extremely tight and accomplished musicianship, memorable tunes and unbridled enthusiasm for The Hukilau create a comforting experience year after year. Check out their catalog of past releases.
After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.
It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.
The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.
“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”
The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”
That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.
The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’
While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”
The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”
We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”
Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.
The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.
More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”
New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai
The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”
Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.
Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”
The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.
The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”
Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”
The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.
The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.
The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M
The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.
This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.
Among the most loyal followers of The Mai-Kai are the thousands of guests who flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, an annual celebration of Polynesian Pop culture that established a foothold in the historic restaurant in 2003 and remains inextricably linked.
The recent announcement of The Mai-Kai’s planned refurbishment and reopening sent joyous shockwaves throughout the Tiki community, but especially among The Hukilau’s longtime “villagers,” as they’re known. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic, but we were able to get a taste of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in September 2021 during a special event in the porte-cochère. It was comforting to sip authentic cocktails and enjoy the musicians performing outside the front entrance, but many still longed to be inside.
When it was announced during the event that a deal had been struck and The Mai-Kai would be reopening, it made the experience even sweeter. Full details were released the following week (see story below), and the rest is history.
While the timeline is not clear on a reopening date, hopes are running high that the 20th anniversary of The Hukilau in 2022 will indeed include at least a partial return to indoor activities. The synergy is guaranteed to continue with the news that one of the investors in the new ownership team is The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager.
Beyond taking in all the activities – from the dinner show featuring the Polynesian Islander Revue to live bands in The Molokai bar – a ritual for many villagers during The Hukilau includes walking the sacred grounds and taking photos of their beloved Mai-Kai.
Below you’ll find a collection of those photos, shared with The Atomic Grog over the years. Many are appearing on the blog for the first time. Let’s enjoy the eye candy and look forward to once again returning in person for the grand reopening.
After a 27-month hiatus, The Hukilau is returning to the picturesque sands of Fort Lauderdale beach in September with a four-day takeover of an oceanfront boutique hotel, plus a main event at The Mai-Kai that could kick off a new beginning for the historic Polynesian restaurant.
“It will be a smaller, more intimate event. Almost everything is outdoors,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “We won’t be packed into a ballroom,” he noted, citing COVID concerns. All state and local guidelines will be followed, he added.
The Hukilau was last held in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which has since gone down for extensive renovations that could last several more years. Only the iconic tower and marina will remain when the resort reopens. The 2020 event, scheduled for the B Ocean Resort, was waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic.
Luckily, Broward County’s famous highway A1A beachfront also contains many smaller and more appropriate venues for 2021. One of these is the Beachcomber Resort & Club, located just north of the Fort Lauderdale strip in Pompano Beach. The Hukilau has reserved the entire boutique hotel for the weekend, creating a complete Tiki takeover. With pandemic protocols still fresh in everyone’s mind, most of the activities will be held in various outdoor spaces on the resort’s grounds and private beach.
Of course, The Hukilau would not be complete without its heart and soul, the historic Mai-Kai in nearby Oakland Park. The restaurant remains closed after a massive flood caused extensive back-of-house damage in October 2020. But Saturday’s traditional main event will return to The Mai-Kai, taking place in the sprawling parking lot just a 15-minute drive from the Beachcomber.
Tickets, hotel rooms available soon
Previous 2020 passholders who rolled their tickets into 2021 were given priority and early access to confirm hotel rooms. Remaining rooms can be booked now only by phone by calling (954) 941-7830.
Event tickets – from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events – are available now via TheHukilau.com website. Sign up for the email list to get future updates, which will also be posted on Facebook.
Tickets will be limited to keep the event safe and intimate. However, if space is available and the Beachcomber sells out, The Hukilau has arrangements with several nearby beachfront properties to offer special rates to spillover guests who are shut out of Beachcomber rooms. Locals can also pick up event tickets and not worry about accommodations.
In a change from past years, The Hukilau will offer all-inclusive tickets that encompass all events – including symposiums and special experiences. South Seas passes are the top-tier passes, giving Hukilau villagers access to all weekend events, including reserved seats at symposiums. Beachcomber and Aloha passes offer most of the experiences, with extra events available for an additional fee.
A new beachfront hotel near The Mai-Kai
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is a family-owned hotel with 140 rooms, suites and villas that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The property also includes a cluster of apartments across A1A for event staff and participants. It’s roughly half the size of the B Ocean, so expect a more cozy event.
The resort offers “sweeping ocean views, two pools, tiki huts, full beach access, and more amenities, all reserved for our beloved villagers,” The Hukilau’s official announcement said. While many of the most popular activities will return to the schedule, organizers have made adjustments based on past feedback.
A conscious effort is being made to allow for more beach and social time with friends, a top request from villagers. The resort “is custom-made for us,” Oneslager said in a recent phone interview. He noted that the Beachcomber is blocked out for event attendees only, including the private beach.
The main event space is an open-air thatched hut where symposiums and performances will be held. The space is often used for weddings and other special events. Bands, solo musicians and DJs will be disbursed in outdoor areas around the resort. Performers will include musicians who lost their gig at The Mai-Kai when storm damage forced the restaurant’s closure in October.
Rum companies and other sponsors will host parties in a cluster of bungalows around a grassy area ideal for comfortable mingling. Pop-up cocktail bars and live performers will be spread out around the property, including poolside, Oneslager said.
On Thursday, The Hukilau’s opening day, guests “can expect welcome cocktails and cabanas filled with boozy libations from our roster of guest bars,” according to the official website. “Friday will be stacked with symposiums, pool parties, a grand luau, and guest bars.”
Catered by the Beachcomber and guest bartenders, the Friday night luau will be held in a private area just off the beach from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost of the feast is included in South Seas passes, while other ticketholders can add it for an extra fee.
In a change from years past, there will be no additional charge for symposiums (except for the lowest level passholders, who can pay $10 for tickets). There may be capacity limitations, but the top-tier South Seas passholders will receive priority seating. Most of these events will be outdoors under the large tiki hut, which can be modified to protect guests from gusty wind and rain, Oneslager said.
The Beachcomber will host the Tiki Treasures Bazaar as well as a pool party on Saturday. On Sunday, The Hukilau bids farewell with a beachside Tiki brunch and themed cocktails from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a festive sendoff with pop-up bars and live music.
While most of the weekend everts are scheduled to be outdoors, contingency plans are in place in the event of inclement weather. The Beachcomber has enough indoor restaurant and lobby space to host the luau if necessary. And the tiki hut area can shield guests during typical rainy days. Plans also call for a tent to be installed over the resort’s croquet lawn, Oneslager said.
If a severe storm hits, there are guarantees from the hotel that all reservations are 100 percent refundable. Event passes are also refundable if a named tropical storm sparks watches or warnings in the area within seven days of The Hukilau. Regardless of the weather, all rooms come with a cancellation window up to 10 days before the event. For more detailed information, check the online FAQ.
Like past years, The Hukilau will celebrate its Saturday main event at the historic Polynesian restaurant that has been part of every event since the move to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. Unfortunately, the closing for renovations has forced the owners to adapt since ceasing dinner service in October.
So what’s in store for The Hukilau? Passholders are invited to an exclusive “Save Paradise Party” on Saturday in the restaurant’s thatched outdoor porte-cochères space where guests has previously entered the restaurant. Free transportation will be provided for South Seas and Aloha passholders. The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails will be available for purchase.
Many events have been held at The Mai-Kai during its colorful 64-year history, from star-studded Hollywood parties to multi-day conventions of Tiki culture and cocktail enthusiasts. Now, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented closure for repairs and refurbishment, the historic Polynesian restaurant has been forced to puts its creativity to the test.
Following a string of successful gatherings in its vast parking lot, The Mai-Kai is hosting its first-ever Tiki Marketplace this weekend, welcoming guests to a safe and fun-filled environment chock full of art and collectibles, music and fire-dancing, tasty cane spirits, and a generous spirit of ‘ohana. It’s almost as if The Mai-Kai never closed.
While marketplaces are a staple of Tiki establishments in California, they’re a new concept in stormy South Florida. But mid-April is the perfect time for such an event, a typically mild period before the rainy season and oppressive summer heat kick in. Saturday’s forecast for Fort Lauderdale calls for partly cloudy skies with highs in the upper 80s and a 20 percent chance of rain.
Fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails have even more reason to rejoice this week. As has been the custom before recent parking lot events, a window of opportunity opened for locals (or ambitious enthusiasts) to pull into the distinctive porte-cochère and take home their own ample supply of four different signature tropical drinks.
It’s now been a year since The Mai-Kai launched the ambitious “Gallons to Go” program during the height of the pandemic shutdowns in South Florida. And it remains a vital source of revenue in trying times, as well as a much appreciated treat for loyal customers, some of whom travel long distances to pick up their favorite cocktail.
And what a great deal for the price. If blended or shaken with crushed ice and served in the appropriate glassware, you can enjoy eight Rum Barrels and Black Magics, 12 Mai Tais, and 14 Jet Pilots from each 128-ounce jug. If you want to sample multiple drinks, grab some 32-ounce containers . They stay fresh in your fridge for at least a week and are impeccably mixed by manager Kern Mattei.
The second generation manager told us he’s personally batching the cocktails, closely following the classic recipes. We can confirm this, rating the Black Magic we picked up March 28 as among the best we’ve ever tasted. All four drinks (in single servings and quarts) will also be available for walk-up ordering at Saturday’s event. You can also grab a beer, wine and water. And as a special treat for the kids and teetotalers, virgin Piña Coladas will be available by the drink and quart.
There will also be plenty to nosh on and pair with your drinks. Dahlquist and The Mai-Kai have lined up three food and ice cream trucks:
* M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens serves Colombian and Latin fusion dishes including tacos, quesadillas and more.
* Inspir-Asian features Chinese dishes done street-food style, such as tacos and shrimp fried rice.
* Good Humor Ice Cream is a throwback treat featuring classic bars, cones and cookie sandwiches.
Vendors include exotic art, Tiki-inspired gifts, clothing, glassware and more
Two dozen artists, craftspeople, collectors and small retailers have signed up to be part of The Mai-Kai’s first Tiki Marketplace.
The Mai-Kai Trading Post will also have a vast assortment of branded merchandise and other items for sale, including clothing and glassware. Look for new T-shirts and many goodies released exclusively at the event along with favorites from the restaurant’s gift shop. Help The Mai-Kai directly with your purchase. Leftover items will be available in the online store, but many sell out during the event, so don’t miss out.
The cause of her death was related to COVID-19, her publicist announced. Tina Louise, the last surviving regular cast member from the 1964-67 series, paid tribute to Wells on Twitter: “I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me. We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do — always with a smile on her face.”
When remembering Wells, many recall images of the enduring show about castaways stranded on a deserted Pacific island. A few lucky Tikiphiles also cherish the memorable chance to meet the actress in June 2015 at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale.
Organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White invited Wells to participate in the annual Tiki weekender, designing a special event just for her: A “Three Hour Tour” cruise in a luxury yacht through the Intracoastal Waterway. The Hukilau villagers joined their favorite castaway on June 12, 2015, aboard the Lady Windridge Yacht as it set sail from the Pier 66 Marina at the event’s host hotel.
Guests were invited to dress in their favorite Gilligan’s Island garb, with Wells selecting the costume contest winners. They also enjoyed an open bar featuring craft Tiki cocktails and food, luxuries not afforded the passengers on the ill-fated S.S. Minnow. Wells later participated in an autograph session and mingled with attendees of The Hukilau throughout the weekend at both the Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant.
The Hollywood Reporter quoted Wells as saying the “values and principles” of Mary Ann mirrored her own and are timeless: “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch … if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rooms 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.
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
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:
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.
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.
NOTE: The Hukilau 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. A series of online events was held in its place. The 2019 recap below was posted before the pandemic. The Hukilau is returning to a live format in September 2021.
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.
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.
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 …