From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. The biggest will get extended coverage as “spotlight events.” Social media:Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram
June 7-11 – The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale is the east coast’s largest and longest-running Tiki weekender. The 16th annual bash returns to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 for the third year and the historic Mai-Kai restaurant for the 15th straight year. As usual, there will be a schedule packed with symposiums, live music, rum tastings, special events and parties, a huge vendor marketplace, plus more.
The Hukilau highlights
* Tikiphiles take over The Mai-Kai. From Wednesday night’s pre-party to Sunday’s finale, there are plenty of opportunities for The Hukilau’s “villagers” to enjoy the 60-year-old Tiki palace that was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The biggest gathering is Saturday night’s main event, which includes two performances of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
* Symposiums, merchandise put spotlight on The Mai-Kai. The Hukilau’s villagers can satisfy their never-ending thirst for all things Mai-Kai with three special symposiums: The Mai-Kai’s Untold Stories with Tim “Swanky” Glazner will be held Friday at Pier 66. The author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant will lead a panel discussion with current and former employees of The Mai-Kai, presenting the real history from the people who lived it. Saturday at Pier 66, Nautical Tiki with Mike Skinner will include the Tiki researcher’s deep dive into Polynesian Pop’s connection to adventures on the high seas, plus new details on how the legendary HMS Bounty is linked to The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai.. Then, on Sunday at The Mai-Kai, The Atomic Grog’s Hurricane Hayward will present “The Menus of The Mai-Kai: 60 Years of Tiki Cocktail History,” an interactive slideshow that will explore dozens of vintage menus and trace the chronology of the legendary cocktails. Rare “lost cocktails” from the early menus will be served during the all-day event that also includes live music. Artist Tiki Tony is also putting a Mai-Kai spin on the event merchandise, from the event mug (produced by John Mulder of Eekum Bookum) based on the shrunken heads in the Samoa dining room (see above) to a pendant based on the restaurant’s distinctive lamps.
* The host hotel, the iconic Pier 66, is the perfect setting. Another 60-year-old venue, this state-of-the-art hotel includes a signature mid-century modern 17-story tower added in the mid-’60s with a rotating penthouse lounge used for special events. There’s a large ballroom for the vendors, a separate ballroom for symposiums and the Friday night main event, plus lush grounds and multiple pools. It also has a prime location just east of the Intracoastal Waterway, adjacent to Port Everglades and not far from Fort Lauderdale’s famous beach.
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.
From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. Social media:Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram
TIKI NEWS: Book and mug releases
Shag the Store announced the release of Shag’s newest signed book, Shag: The Collected Works. It’s available signed by Shag directly from the Palm Springs and Hollywood stores. It’s also coming soon to the online store. The 192-page hardcover book features the “Balcony on Sunset” print on the front cover and the “Three Coats” print on the back cover.
BAR NEWS: Farewell Tiki Mondays With Miller, Longitude, Kreepy Tiki and Trader Vic’s; Aloha The Reef and Tiki Underground
Lost Lake in Chicago continues to rake in the honors, the most recent being named a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program by the James Beard Foundation. “It’s really a thrill to see Lost Lake listed alongside the incredible bars that inspire us daily,” said a message on the acclaimed Tiki bar’s Facebook page. Among the many other nominees are Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans, Bar Agricole in San Francisco, Canon in Seattle, Clyde Common in Portland, The Dead Rabbit in New York City, and The Varnish in Los Angeles. The 2017 James Beard Awards Gala will be held in Chicago on May 1. Lost Lake’s Paul McGee, Shelby Allison and Erin Hayes at the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2016 in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
* More photos, full coverage of the special cocktail event
Following his Tiki Mondays With Miller finale on Feb. 13 at Pouring Ribbons in New York City, Capt. Brian Miller posted the following missive on Facebook: “The crew and I left it all on the stage and we hope each and every one of you had a great time. We said we wouldn’t go quietly and we didn’t. There was so much rum and so much love. I was humbled by all of it. Thanks to all of you that came on Monday and everyone else that has come to Tiki Mondays over the past 5+ years. It was my pleasure and my honor to serve all of you.” Look for a new venture in New York City in the near future from Miller and company.
There was sad news out of Oakland, Calif, where owner Suzanne Long announced a March 5 closing of her beloved Longitude. Open since August 2014, this was the respected rum and cocktail expert’s first bar of her own, and it was well-received across the Tiki and rum communities. In her Facebook announcement, Long wrote: “Thank you to all of you who have walked through our doors in the last three years. It has been an amazing, glorious adventure and we couldn’t have done it without all of your love and support. Mahalo to you and Aloha, with so much love! And from me, don’t worry. You haven’t seen the last of me yet.” We’re holding you to that, Suzanne!
While many will say it was a shell of its former self, Trader Vic’s ended a 62-year association with the Beverly Hilton with the Feb. 2 closing of the poolside lounge that was the last remnant of the legendary Tiki restaurant at the venerable hotel, Los Angeles Magazine reported. “The original Beverly Hilton Trader Vic’s was a sprawling Polynesian pop masterpiece that opened with the Welton Becket-designed hotel in 1955 and was a celebrity hot spot for decades,” the article says. Added Eater Los Angeles: “Operating on land owned for decades by Merv Griffin and playing host to everyone from Hugh Hefner to the Rat Pack, Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills had become a beloved staple for that side of town – but now it’s all been scrubbed away.” When the restaurant closed in 2007, the pool bar became the only place in Los Angeles to get an authentic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and pu-pu platters. A more modern Trader Vic’s restaurant operated at L.A. Live from 2009 to 2014. Now the only U.S. locations are in Emeryville, Calif., and Atlanta. There are more than a dozen overseas locations.
An era ended in Fort Lauderdale, where the proprietors of Kreepy Tiki Lounge announced that the live music venue and craft cocktail bar would be closing its doors on April 1. “We invite you all to celebrate the times we had, friendships we’ve made, and enjoy the last remaining days with us,” said a Facebook announcement. The adjoining Kreepy Tiki Tattoos will remain open during construction in the weeks to come, so look for news on future upgrades to the space near Fort Lauderdale International Airport. South Florida Distillers, makers of the award-winning Fwaygo rums, is a recent new addition to the building. A longtime rockabilly and punk-rock hangout under various names, the bar received a major upgrade (and full liquor license) when Ayme Harrison took over bar operations in late 2014. It was subsequently named one of the best 22 Tiki bars in the country by Condé Nast Traveler, and Harrison’s mixology skills were recognized in 2016 at such high-profile events as The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and The Hukilau. Harrison is one of several high-profile partners in a new craft cocktail bar in nearby Delray Beach called Death or Glory, set to open April 1, according to Miami New Times. The article also says that the old Kreepy Tiki Lounge “may continue to operate in another capacity” under Kreepy Tiki Tattoos owner Jackson Valiente.
It was not all about closings this month. Some exciting news in Palm Springs heralded the opening of The Reef at the Caliente Tropics resort. Home of the annual Tiki Caliente and Mod Palm Springs events, the vintage resort with the iconic A-frame entrance and distinctive mid-century Polynesian Pop architecture had once been home to a bar called The Reef. When Rory Snyder, creator of the aforementioned Tiki weekenders, saw an opportunity to take over the bar space, he jumped at it. He enlisted the talents of artists Buzzy Meeker (design, build-out), Doug Horne (logos, menus and mug design) and John Mulder of Eekum Bookum (mug creation). “I want the mood and menu of The Reef make all who walk in here feel at home,” Snyder said in an announcement on Facebook. “Everyone from the long-time Palm Springs residents, to vacationing tourists, to our enthusiastic Tiki ohana. Because The Reef is located at a hotel, some people might wander in from the pool in their flip-flops and some might arrive dressed up for a night out. Regardless, I want people to come in knowing that, just because this is a tropically-themed bar, they can get still their favorite standard well drinks or enjoy one of our craft Tiki cocktails, along with some good food while having a memorable time. You will be entertained.” Previews were held in February, with a grand opening scheduled for March 4.
It’s clear that the best Tiki bars are a passion project of their owners, and the new Tiki Underground in the Akron, Ohio, area is no exception. Cleveland native Sean Coffey was a Tiki fanatic for 20 years before realizing his dream and opening a tropical paradise for all to enjoy. “Sean has loved Tiki culture for so many years and he’s basically had a Tiki bar, at home,” his wife and co-owner Jessie Coffey said in an article on Cleveland.com. “Now we get to have the public come over.” Funded in part by fans and supporters, the bar is a DIY effort in the truest sense of the word. Coffey took over a 4,500-square-foot space that was formerly home to a sports bar in Hudson, Ohio, bringing South Seas style and the spirit of aloha to an enthusiastic opening day crowd on Feb. 24. A grand opening and the roll-out of more entertainment and menu options were planned for March.
In Fort Lauderdale, news broke about a new restaurant opening in the beachside B Ocean Resort, perhaps best known for the classic “porthole lounge” The Wreck Bar and long-running swim shows by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid. Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen is the brainchild of celebrity chef and restauranteur Ralph Pagano, who has had success with his Naked Taco and Naked Lunch concepts in Miami. Less successful was the short-lived Naked Tiki on South Beach, but hopefully Pagano’s appreciation of Tiki shines through in his new 150-seat restaurant, which also includes The Florida Bar. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Naked Crab is a “stripped-down but also dressed-up crab and seafood and steak house where I cook impeccably sourced fish,” Pagano told New Times. In related Wreck Bar news, Marina and her pod of aquaticats launched a new, burlesque-themed swim show for ages 21 and older on Friday and Saturday nights at 9:30 p.m. These are in addition to the regular family-friendly “fishtail glam” mermaid shows at 6:30.
The kitschy dive bar Hula Hula, which has been operating since 2007 and proudly advertising “karaoke 365 days a year,” announced that it has been forced to move from its Seattle Center location. According to a post on the bar’s Facebook page, Hula Hula will shut down March 18 but reopen in a new location in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in April.
RUM NEWS: Bacardi crowns North American Cocktail Competition champion
Darnell Holguin after his presentation at the 1306 Bar on South Beach. (Photos by The Atomic Grog)
Darnell Holguin of New York City won the Bacardi Legacy North American Cocktail Competition Finals in Miami Beach on Feb. 13 with his It Was All a Dream cocktail. Other U.S. finalists included Cody Henson of Miami, Will Isaza of Boston, Alex Chien of Chicago, Cameron George of Seattle, and Vincent Toscano of San Francisco. Holguin will represent the United States at the Global Final in Berlin in May. Around 250 people attended the private industry-only event at the 1306 Bar. Our correspondent tasted almost all of the 19 drinks and reported to us (without knowing the winner) that he thought Holguin’s was far and away the best. He called it “a very Tiki-tastic concoction that utilized condensed milk and allspice dram. … The minute I sipped it, I knew it was the winning drink.”
* See video of the competition
Feb. 11 – Aloha Fest in Venlo, The Netherlands. An evening of European surf music and culture including Surfer Joe, The Terrorsaurs, Kilaueas, Aloha Sluts and more. Plus DJs, unplugged shows, market with Tiki art and music for sale.
Feb. 11 – Southern Surf Stomp at Kavarna in Decatur, Ga. All-ages concert featuring Liz Brasher, and The Fugitives.
Feb. 13 – Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City. The final voyage of Brian Miller and his scurvy crew, with special guests Gaz Regan and the Hula Belly Sisters. At Pouring Ribbons in the East Village.
Feb. 16 – Mahiki Invasion at UnderTow in Phoenix featuring an hour of Tiki education with Georgi Radev of Mahiki in London. Includes cocktails, a Tiki mug, sponsor Reàl Cocktail Ingredients giveaways, and a recipe guide created by Radev.
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.”
EVENT RECAP: Tiki Caliente expands to four days of wall-to-wall Poly Pop parties in Palm Springs
Like the first major college football bowl game (but a lot more colorful), Tiki Caliente kicked off the annual Tiki event season in style with its eighth gathering of the tribe in the tropical mid-century splendor of Palm Springs on May 12-15. Expanded to four days at the historic Caliente Tropics resort, the intimate, sold-out event also featured a pre-party at Tonga Hut as well as more symposiums, an eclectic lineup of performers, art shows, vendors and the usual festive room parties. Tonga Hut also served as Tiki Caliente’s on-site bar all weekend, keeping the party going with authentic Polynesian-style cocktails from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.
* See below: Tonga Hut, bar of the week/month
Symposiums featured some of the most creative minds in Tiki cocktails, including “From the High Seas to High Tiki: Rum’s Cocktail Voyage” by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Finishing Touches” by Marie King of Tonga Hut, and “Punch and the History of the Communal Cocktail” by Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.
While not officially part of the event, the room crawl has become a fixture and allows guests to meet and mingle as well as show off their mixology skills. Many participants go all-in with full-blown Tiki decor, DJs, live music and more. Organized by the crew from the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast, this year’s crawl spanned three days and featured 15 rooms. Among the more noteworthy parties were hosted by Zen Tiki Lounge (celebrating their 10-year anniversary), Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast (serving a riff on the Cobra’s Fang/Cobra’s Kiss called The Snakepit), and the faculty and students from Poly Hai (serving the “Wake Your Tiki Ass Up Coffee Grog” with sponsor Deadhead rum at 9:30 a.m.).
The Mulders collaborated with Horne on the Tiki Caliente 8 War Club, one of the most creative event mugs we’ve seen in a long time. Horne also created the official event limited edition print and limited-edition war club pedants. The art of Shag was also featured in a special reception and party for the massive “Trousdale Twist” painting. Shag, who owns a mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, was on hand to meet guests and soak in the Polynesian Pop atmosphere.
EVENT PREVIEW: Step back into the WWII era at Tiki Kon in Portland
The northwest Tiki scene is gearing up for the 14th annual Tiki Kon, happening July 8-10 in Portland. Themed to Polynesian Pop’s roots in the post-World War II era and the USO, the eclectic event is centered at a new host hotel, the Red Lion Hotel On The River. Guests can enjoy Tiki-themed music, art and fashion, with a rollicking camp show, surf and lounge bands, educational symposiums, themed food and drinks, vendors from around the world, and the longest-running home bar tour of its kind.
Here’s a look at the schedule and highlights of the vintage weekend. Unless noted, all events are at the Red Lion Hotel. Some individual events have tickets available at the door, while others are free and open to the public. Check the online schedule for details.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of The Hukilau, we asked Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White to share her remembrances from her 15 years as co-founder, co-producer and organizer. Starting in 2002 in Atlanta and moving to Fort Lauderdale the next year, the event has experienced plenty of high points for guests and participants. But what does Tiki Kiliki remember most? Video:A look back at The Hukilau’s first 14 years
There were so many highlights, she said, it was tough to narrow down. Here’s a year-by-year look back at a few of the most vivid:
2002 – Two things stick in Tiki Kiliki’s memory from the inaugural event: “The look on the manager’s face when Wayne Coombs began using his industrial stapler to cover the Echo Lounge in Atlanta with reed fencing for The Hukilau party that night.” The other was meeting Sven Kirsten and King Kukulele for the first time, “taking them to antique markets, thrift stores and the Clairmont Lounge.”
2003 – Tiki Kiliki will always remember entering the doors of The Mai-Kai for the first time. “It changed my life forever,” she said. Meeting owner Mireille Thornton and hearing her say that The Hukilau reminded her of the way it used to be was “the ultimate compliment AND memory!” She got an unexpected surprise during the first U.S. appearance of Italian band I Belli Di Waikiki. “They dumped an entire cooler of ice down the back of my dress,” she remembers.
2004 – Nobody will forget Hurricane Jeanne. “It was a terrible thing to go through, but it created some of the best memories,” Tiki Kiliki said. “People slept in The Mai-Kai and I learned a lot about how you always trust your gut. We should have evacuated the day prior.” The other highlight was watching Billy Mure play the music that he loved to play in front of true fans. “He was horribly arthritic, but he always said the only time he wasn’t in pain was when he was playing,” she said. “He was a friend until his passing in 2013 at the age of 97.”
2005 – Robert Drasnin made a historic appearance, performing his classic Voodoo album for the first time since 1959. “It was one of the moments I’m most proud of in my life,” Tiki Kiliki said. “Everyone in the audience was mesmerized.” The performance was so successful and the reception so warm, “he actually began to write Voodoo 2 while in Fort Lauderdale that weekend,” she said.
Marking its 15th anniversary, the East Coast’s largest and oldest Polynesian Pop event promises its biggest party ever in 2016. But before the rum-fueled bash gets into high gear, we’d like to pause and take a look back at the past 14 gatherings of the Tiki tribe. Related: Tiki Kiliki: 15 years of The Hukilau, 15 years of memories
In 2002, a modern Tiki renaissance was in full swing. Inspired by the heyday of Polynesian Pop, which began with groundbreaking efforts of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1930s and stretched for more than 30 years into the 1960s, a new generation of artists, musicians, mixologists and entrepreneurs had been embracing retro Tiki culture since the 1990s.
As this grassroots movement gained momentum and new devotees discovered the wider world of mid-century pop culture, full-blown events soon followed. In Southern California – the birthplace of Tiki and haven for some of the genre’s most beloved bars, architecture and artists – Tiki Oasis started small in 2001 and quickly became the largest Tiki event in the West by its second installment in 2002.
The Hukilau was envisioned by its founders not only as the East Coast’s answer to Tiki Oasis, but also a celebration of the growing family and community, or ‘ohana, that had become so enamored with the entire underground movement. The name of the event, of course, comes from the traditional Hawaiian festival held in fishing villages in which a large net is cast into the sea to capture fish for the feast that honors the spirit of family and community.
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.
Some sad news out of Portland with the unexpected closing of Trader Vic’s. Meanwhile in South Florida, The Hukilau announces an exciting new symposium. Other event updates include the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, Tiki Fest in the Pacific Northwest, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. Quick sips include a Tiki home design show, a new FOM chapter in Atlanta, a space-Tiki lounge in L.A., and a Tiki speakeasy in NYC. Regular features spotlight lowbrow art legend Von Franco; sizzling San Diego surf band Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides; and the Luau, a historic restaurant from Miami Beach’s heyday. Learn about rum at the website of the week, RumJourney.com, before sampling the rum and cocktail of the week: Don Q Cristal and Val’s Daiquiri from New York City’s End of the Century.
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BREAKING NEWS: Fire closes Trader Vic’s in Portland
A March 2 fire at the medical office above the Trader Vic’s location in Portland forced what was originally thought to be a temporary closing of one of the few remaining North American outposts of the venerable Polynesian restaurant chain. But news later leaked out that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, the franchise owner was forced to close permanently, Wilmanette Week reported.
The fire burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, but a Facebook post on the restaurant’s official page that same day indicated that repairs would be made. After several weeks, however, a manager posted on his personal Facebook account that Trader Vic’s Portland “is now permanently closed” less than 5 years after it opened. In a follow-up, he said that the re-opening would have taken eight weeks and the owner decided to close after struggling to “keep above water” due to the high rent and overhead of the 8,000-square-foot restaurant.
The return of Trader Vic’s to Portland was heralded in August 2011 as the beloved brand joined a burgeoning local Tiki scene that had grown around the annual Tiki Kon and worldwide revival. Portland previously had a longstanding Trader Vic’s in the Bensen Hotel from 1959 to 1996.
The new location in the Pearl District was warmly received by locals and Tikiphiles alike. It was filled with authentic decor, including Tikis, tribal masks, glass floats and outrigger canoes. The food and drinks were also highly regarded, but apparently the costs were too high to stay competitive in one of the country’s top food and beverage cities. The closing leaves only two Trader Vic’s restaurants in the United States: the company-owned flagship location in Emeryville, Calif., and a long-rinning franchise in Atlanta. There are 18 overseas locations in 11 countries.
* Trader Vic’s corporate site
EVENT PREVIEWS: The Hukilau, Miami Rum Festival, Tiki Fest, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, Tiki Kon
The Hukilau announces new symposium, sponsors
Some of the biggest names in the modern Tiki revival will gather at The Hukilau for a groundbreaking symposium as part of the 15th annual festivities June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale. “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture” will bring together author and bar owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), event promoter Otto von Stroheim (Tiki Oasis), historian Humuhumu (Critiki), author and bar owner Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), artist Crazy Al Evans, acclaimed artist Shag, and event promoter Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White of The Hukilau for a rousing two-part panel discussion hosted by Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog. Author Sven Kirsten (Tiki Pop, The Book of Tiki) will also participate via Skype. Tickets are on sale now for $15 for passholders, $30 for non-passholders. The symposium will take place on Saturday, June 11, at 1 p.m. in the Panorama Ballroom at the host Pier 66 hotel.
* FULL COVERAGE: PREVIEW OF THE HISTORY SYMPOSIUM, MORE
In honor of The Hukilau’s 15th year and the 60th anniversary of The Mai-Kai, event co-founder/organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White has assembled some of the top names in the Tiki revival for special events and symposiums that promise to educate as well as entertain. On March 3, she announced a first-of-its-kind Tiki event, a groundbreaking gathering of some of the biggest names in the modern revival.
Tickets are on sale now for “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture”, a freewheeling panel discussion on Saturday, June 11, moderated by yours truly and featuring Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Otto von Stroheim, Humuhumu, Martin Cate, Crazy Al Evans, Shag, and Tiki Kiliki herself. The godfather of the Tiki revival, Sven Kirsten, will participate via Skype. “We would not be celebrating today if it weren’t for these people,” Tiki Kiliki said of her colleagues on the panel.
It’s just $15 for this very special event, which will follow von Stroheim’s “2001: A Tiki Odyssey” symposium at 1 p.m. in the Panorama Ballroom at the Pier 66 hotel. Previously announced symposiums include author and bar owner Berry, Shag, Humuhumu, Tiki historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner, tattoo artist Paul Roe, plus South Florida artists Tom Fowner and Will Anders.
The “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture” panel discussion will be divided into two parts: First, Kirsten, Berry and von Stroheim will discuss the early days and evolution of the revival. Then, they’ll be joined by Humuhumu, Cate, Evans, Shag, and Tiki Kiliki to talk about how the revival inspired them to push the boundaries even farther. “I don’t want people to forget how we got here,” Tiki Kiliki said.
You’ll hear the stories of how Tiki became a passion for a select few Californians, and how they revived this lost culture for the rest of the world to enjoy. Learn how they did their research and how they found each other, kicking off a new renaissance that continues to this day. The rest of the panel will talk about their discovery of Tiki, and how they approach their own unique experiences.
I’ll be quizzing the panelists about their place in the Tiki pantheon, and the audience will also have an opportunity to ask questions. A special cocktail is also included in the price of admission. It’s recommend you attend von Stroheim’s symposium beforehand to get the full backstory on how it all started.