The Year in Tiki 2015: Legends lost, but revival becomes renaissance with new bars, music, art and more

The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis
The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis.
It was a year of both sadness and elation, when some legends were lost but the world of Tiki made great strides. As we mourned the deaths in 2015 of musicians Robert Drasnin and Ernie Menehune, plus artist The Pizz, we were bolstered by the fact that a new generation of artists and musicians are taking inspiration from the past and creating an incredible new body of work. And Tiki culture was embraced and celebrated across the country at sold-out events and a whole new wave of bars. After our first year of The Week in Tiki updates, The Atomic Grog takes a look back at the memorable news of 2015.
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See below: Month-by-month recap | The Year in Tiki 2015 Awards

The year 2015 marked a turning point in the 21st century Tiki scene. If there was ever a time to declare that the “revival” had become a full-blown renaissance, it’s now. It’s been building for some years now, but last year seemed to be the tipping point. Just look at the evidence in our favorite topics: Events, music, art, cocktails, and culture. Then, take a chronological look back at the biggest news of the year, month by month. Finally, find out our selections for the top artist, band, bar, website, rum, and cocktail of 2015 in our first Year in Tiki Awards.

****************** EVENTS ******************

The Alika Lyman Group's performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Alika Lyman Group’s performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Long gone are the days when you spent the entire year planning for Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau. Smaller events, such as Tiki Kon and Tiki Caliente, have risen up to challenge the trend-setters. And the Fraternal Order Of Moai has filled a gap by providing a plethora of regional events from Ohana: Luau At The Lake to the Chicago Area Tiki Tour, and more. All of the above were wildly successful in 2015, with many events selling out in advance.

The top dogs continue to raise their game: The Hukilau moved to the iconic Pier 66 Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach and attracted some of Tiki’s biggest names, most notably the gathering of four of the world’s top bartenders for the Tiki Tower Takeover. Tiki Oasis keeps getting bigger, breaking its own attendance records, while newer events such as Mod-Palm Springs and Ohana: Luau by the Sea have carved out their own niche. Rum and cocktail events – such as Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and Tales of the Cocktail – have refined their successful formulas, spreading their message to an even wider audience.

Continue reading “The Year in Tiki 2015: Legends lost, but revival becomes renaissance with new bars, music, art and more”

The Week in Tiki (Nov. 30-Dec. 13, 2015): The Mai-Kai anniversary party, The Hukilau updates, Jungle Cruise restaurant at Disney World, Polynesian Resort lights torches, plus more!

The Week in Tiki There’s a lot of news to report in this belated but special holiday edition of The Week in Tiki. We have details on The Mai-Kai’s 59th birthday party on Dec. 28, plus updates on The Hukilau in June. There’s a new restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland that celebrates the Jungle Cruise, plus more news from the Polynesian Village Resort. Holiday features include event recaps and photos, plus last-minute gift ideas and a special Christmas Day broadcast. Quick sips include 50 days of Fwaygo Rum recipes, a special Aloha shirt from Shag, news on FOM fundraising efforts, plus updates on Tiki bars across North America. Regular features spotlight the master ceramists known as Munktiki; instrumental legends The Ventures; new Las Vegas bar The Golden Tiki; and Professor Cocktail’s website. The Rum of the Week, Seven Tiki spiced, is featured in two seasonal cocktails: the Devil’s Island Daiquiri from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and Hapa Holidaze from The Atomic Grog.
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The Mai-Kai says mahalo with 59% off at Dec. 28 anniversary party

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is giving back to its loyal fans and followers on Dec. 28 during its annual Mahalopreciation Party. In honor the historic Polynesian restaurant’s 59th anniversary, all guests in The Molokai bar will get 59 percent off most drinks and appetizers starting at 5 p.m. and running all night.

A postcard from the 1960s. The large Tiki still stands on the northeast edge of the property.
A postcard from the 1960s. The large Tiki still stands on the northeast edge of the property.

Voted the best Tiki bar in the world by Critiki.com users and recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, The Mai-Kai is considered to be the mecca of mid-century Tiki culture. It opened on Dec. 28, 1956, on sleepy Federal Highway and has survived decades of changing tastes by relying on its status as one of South Florida’s top tourist dining destinations and its legendary Polynesian Islander Review, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

Just as crucial to The Mai-Kai’s success is the amazing decor, much if it brought back from the South Seas by original owners Bob and Jack Thornton, and more than 50 tropical drinks that are hailed by some of the world’s top cocktail enthusiasts. The secret recipes are descendants of some of the original drinks created by Tiki cocktail pioneer Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s. Bob Thornton took over the restaurant in 1970, and his family still runs The Mai-Kai to his exacting standards.

Original Mai-Kai owners Jack (left) and Bob Thornton. (Courtesy of The Swank Pad)
Original Mai-Kai owners Jack (left) and Bob Thornton. (Courtesy of The Swank Pad)

The Dec. 28 party will include live music by guitarist-vocalist Rose-Marie starting at 6 p.m. The bar typically stays open until midnight, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy classic cocktails such as the Zombie and Barrel O’ Rum while partaking in the many pu-pus (Polynesian Chicken, Javanesian Beef, Spinach Salad) and new sushi rolls. You can easily make a meal out of the “small plates” in The Molokai.

In related news, longtime Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner has announced details on his upcoming book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Glazner, who has been passionately researching The Mai-Kai for more than 13 years, has channeled all his efforts into this 176-page, hard cover book due out early next year. It includes rare photos and images, plus first-hand stories that document the heyday of the mid-century Tiki era. It tells the story of The Mai-Kai’s creation, and its reign as the playground of celebrities and playboys in the 1950s and ’60s. [See previous Atomic Grog coverage] Swanky reports that the book should be available for pre-order soon. For updates, follow the links above or subscribe to his email list.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Nov. 30-Dec. 13, 2015): The Mai-Kai anniversary party, The Hukilau updates, Jungle Cruise restaurant at Disney World, Polynesian Resort lights torches, plus more!”

The Week in Tiki (May 25-31, 2015): The Hukilau ticket updates, Latitude 29 honored, Rapa Nui Reef sinking

The Week in Tiki The Hukilau announces more news as the June 10-14 Tiki weekender approaches, including the sellout of the Tiki Tower Takeover. Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 is named one of the Best Bars in America, plus we have details on the sinking of an Easter Island-styled reef off South Florida. Other news includes keeping alive the memory of Florida’s Tiki Gardens and The Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio. Weekly features spotlight artist Bamboo Ben, leading mug manufacturer Tiki Farm, Surf Rock Radio, and The Wreck Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The rum of the week, Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced, is featured in Martin Cate’s Henry & John cocktail.
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The Hukilau updates: Tiki Tower Takeover sold out

The Tiki Tower Takeover takes place in the Pier 66 hotel's 17th floor rotating lounge, which was built in 1965 with a space-age design
The Tiki Tower Takeover takes place in the Pier 66 hotel’s 17th floor rotating lounge, which was built in 1965 with a space-age design.

It’s less than two weeks until The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and most authentic Tiki event, hits Fort Lauderale for its June 10-14 gathering, and tickets to many events are selling fast. The first to sell out is the Tiki Tower Takeover, the much-anticipated event featuring the country’s most celebrated Tiki bar owners and drink masters hosting a special cocktail party in the famous Pier 66 revolving lounge 17 floors above Fort Lauderdale Beach. Several hundred lucky attendees will be treated to new signature cocktails from Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), and Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City). Click here for more on the guest bartenders.

Tickets remain for The Hukilau’s other signature event, the “Three Hour Tour” cruise with Dawn Wells, better known as Mary Ann on the classic TV show Gilligan’s Island. Guests will join everyone’s favorite castaway on Friday, June 12, aboard the Lady Windridge Yacht for a tour of the waterways of Fort Lauderdale. There will be an open bar featuring craft Tiki cocktails and food, plus a costume contest with a $100 grand prize. Wells will help select the best Gilligan’s Island-themed costume. Tickets are $99 for attendees with a wristband, $149 without a wristband. The five-day Big Kahuna pass is sold out, but you can still order four-, three-, and single-day passes, plus tickets to six expert symposiums and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s two special swim shows at the B Ocean Resort. Some of these may not last long, so act now.
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Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (May 25-31, 2015): The Hukilau ticket updates, Latitude 29 honored, Rapa Nui Reef sinking”

The Week in Tiki (May 18-25, 2015): New Beachbum Berry barware, The Hukilau 2015 merchandise now on sale

The Week in Tiki Cocktail Kingdom has joined forces with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for the release this week of some cool vintage Tiki cocktail gear. The Hukilau’s official mug and pendant are now on sale as the June 10-14 event announces a new rum sponsor and updated entertainment schedule. Other news includes a special cocktail event at The Mai-Kai, the reopening of the Tiki-Ti, a historic unveiling at the Caliente Tropics hotel during Tiki Caliente, plus new Shag artwork at a Palm Springs party and New York City exhibit. Weekly features spotlight artist Mookie Sato, the Southern Surf Stomp! blog, instro icons Los Straitjackets, and Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis. The rum of the week, Wicked Dolphin Silver, is featured in the Piña Colada.
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Cocktail Kingdom launches new line of Beachbum Berry Tiki barware

New from Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom: Pearl Diver Glass, Skull Bar Spoon, and Swizzle Cup
New from Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom: Pearl Diver Glass, Skull Bar Spoon, and Swizzle Cup. (From CocktailKingdom.com)

Just in time to jazz up your summer cocktail creations, premium barware company Cocktail Kingdom has teamed up with Tiki’s leading tropical drink historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, for a new collection of vintage barware. The Swizzle Cup, Pearl Diver Glass, and Skull Bar Spoon join the Navy Grog Cone Kit (released in 2013) as worthy additions to any bar, Tiki or otherwise.

As with all of Cocktail Kingdom’s retro-inspired items, much care was taken to recreate the original, classic items. The combination of Berry’s meticulous research and the dedication of Cocktail Kingdom, which is owned by cocktail history enthusiast Greg Boehm, results in the best possible products. The publishing arm of Cocktail Kingdom also released Berry’s sixth book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, in late 2013. In November 2014, the author became a Tiki bar proprietor with the opening of his first exotic lounge and restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

From a mid-century Don the Beachcomber menu
From a mid-century Don the Beachcomber menu.

The skull-topped barspoon is not based on any particular vintage item, but rather was inspired by pirate history and headhunter lore. You could put it to good use mixing a floater of 151 rum into a Shrunken Skull [See recipes] or other ominous concoction. It joins Cocktail Kingdom’s extensive selection of premium barspoons.

The arrival of the new glassware will likely be toasted at home and commercial Tiki bars across the land, where these rare items have been sought-after for years. The Swizzle Cup is made of lightweight stainless steel to the same specifications of the heavier metal versions that were popularized in the 1940s and 1950s. Newer versions of the sleek and stylish cups are used in a select number of the world’s top Tiki bars, such as The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, but the more common variety found on eBay just don’t measure up to the original. The new cup should allow for many more cocktail enthusiasts to enjoy a perfect 151 Swizzle, the deadly drink most commonly featured in the steel vessel to keep its contents ice cold. [See classic, Mai-Kai recipes]

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (May 18-25, 2015): New Beachbum Berry barware, The Hukilau 2015 merchandise now on sale”

The Week in Tiki (May 11-17, 2015): Robert Drasnin, master of exotica, dead at 87

The Week in Tiki Sad news this week with the passing of Robert Drasnin, the exotica pioneer who composed the seminal Voodoo album. Other news includes special cocktail flights at The Mai-Kai, Tiki Kon’s Iron Tikitender competition, and Angry Birds fly the coop to a tropical paradise. Weekly features spotlight artist Miss Fluff, the Retro Roadmap website, El Capitan & the Band with No Name, and Tiki bar Forbidden Island in Alameda. The rums of the week, Gubba Silver and Gold, are featured in Trader Vic’s Molokai Mike cocktail.
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Exotica legend Robert Drasnin dies at 87

robert-drasnin

Robert Drasnin, one of the last greats of the mid-century exotica music scene and a prolific composer of TV scores, passed away on Wednesday, May 13, at age 87. Drasnin is perhaps best known for his seminal Voodoo albums released nearly 50 years apart.

Voodoo, which came out in 1959, was a touchstone of the mid-century exotica genre. After a new generation of listeners discovered Drasnin’s music in the early 21st century, he amazingly released a follow-up, Voodoo II, in 2007. A composer and performer (sax, clarinet, flute), Drasnin is considered to be one of exotica’s early masters, along with Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. His songs, such as Chant of the Moon, evoke an almost otherworldly vibe that transcends time and place.

When the Tiki revival brought a new generation of fans to Drasnin’s music, he embraced the attention. He performed at The Hukilau in 2005 and 2007
[Watch: Video1 | Video2] and at Tiki Oasis in 2008 [Watch: Video1 | Video2]. After his 2005 performance at The Hukilau, which included a 16-piece orchestra performing Voodoo for the first time since 1959, he was inspired to write and release Voodoo II.

Voodoo by Robert Drasnin

The outpouring from fans on Facebook was immediate:

“He was so wonderful, talented, selfless and a great friend,” said The Hukilau’s co-founder and organizer, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. “I’ll miss him and knowing he’s a part of this world. I’m glad The Hukilau made you smile … one of the greats.”

Vocalist Alice Berry, who sang with Drasnin and his orchestra during his revival shows, posted that it was “hard to express how meaningful it was for me to get to be Robert Drasnin’s vocalist. He lived 87 amazing years, filled with music and love ’til the end – which came all too soon yesterday.”

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (May 11-17, 2015): Robert Drasnin, master of exotica, dead at 87”

The Week in Tiki (May 4-10, 2015): The Hukilau news and updates, plus summer Tiki festival season kicks off

The Week in Tiki The summer Tiki event season is heating up, and we have the latest news on The Hukilau coming to Fort Lauderdale in June, plus updates on this month’s Tiki Caliente. There’s also news on Tiki Oasis tickets and the just-announced Hot Rod Hula Hop, plus the scoop on the temporary closing of the Tiki-Ti. Weekly features spotlight artist Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker, A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog, acclaimed lounge band Martini Kings, and the vintage Trader Vic’s location in Atlanta. The rum of the week, The Real McCoy 3, is featured in the Vicious Virgin #3.
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The Hukilau gears up for 14th annual Tiki weekender, exclusive events

With the 30-day countdown for the East Coast’s premiere Tiki weekender quickly approaching, organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White has released a flurry of news and information about The Hukilau, coming June 10-14 to Fort Lauderdale. Here are the latest updates on the event, which will be headquartered for the first time at the historic Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel:

The four different glazes of The Hukilau's official 2015 mug by Tiki Diablo
The four different glazes of The Hukilau’s official 2015 mug by Tiki Diablo.

* Photos of all four glazes of the 2015 event mug by Tiki Diablo have been released. A limited run of 400 mugs will be produced, 100 per glaze. The four styles are Ocean, Fire, Sand and Volcano. The mug was inspired and adapted from a design by artist Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe. Tiki Diablo, aka Southern California artist Daniel Gallardo, is an in-demand craftsman and mug designer whose past projects include The Hukilau 2012 mug and a special 2014 Mai-Kai mug. Also look for pendants based on the mug to be available during an upcoming pre-sale. To reserve The Hukilau mug, email christie@thehukilau.com. Coming soon: More info on other merchandise available at the event.

* Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her pod of aquaticats will perform two special swim shows at the nearby B Ocean Resort for attendees of The Hukilau only. These will be in addition to the regular Friday and Saturday shows at 6:30 p.m. that can be viewed from the resort’s historic Wreck Bar. The exclusive new shows at the former Yankee Clipper hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, and 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 13, White said. To ensure clear sightlines for everyone, The Wreck Bar will not be filled beyond its seated capacity. Tickets for the additional mermaid shows are $10 each and are on sale now.

The Tiki Tower Takeover team, clockwise from left: Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee and Brian Miller
The Tiki Tower Takeover team, clockwise from left: Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee and Brian Miller.

* The highest-level event tickets have sold out. Big Kahuna passes – which includes admission to all five days, not including symposiums and special events – are no longer available. But you can still pick up an Aloha Pass (Thursday-Sunday) and Luau Pass (Friday-Sunday), or single-day tickets. Buy tickets now before they sell out. Big Kahuna, Aloha and Luau passholders will also receive swag bags containing an exclusive commemorative coffee mug, White said. If you plan on attending, it’s also a good idea to book a hotel room sooner rather than later. Also sold out is the first Saturday night dinner show at The Mai-Kai, the 58-year-old Polynesian palace that’s the nerve center of the event. You can still get into the second seating to see the famous Polynesian Islander Revue (est. 1961), the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Call The Mai-Kai at (954) 563-3272 to make reservations.

* Also likely to sell out are two special events that you won’t find anywhere outside of The Hukilau. On Thursday, June 11, guests will be able to enjoy a one-of-a-kind happy hour in the 17th floor Pier 66 revolving cocktail lounge overlooking Fort Lauderdale Beach. The Tiki Tower Takeover will feature four of the country’s most acclaimed Tiki cocktail masters together in one room, personally mixing up their own signature drinks. Attendees can enjoy full-sized, fully garnished cocktails from Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), and Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City). Click here for tickets and more info.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (May 4-10, 2015): The Hukilau news and updates, plus summer Tiki festival season kicks off”

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 2, 2015): Los Straitjackets at Ohana: Luau at the Lake, Tiki Caliente updates

The Week in TikiAloha, and welcome to a new feature on The Atomic Grog spotlighting the latest news and information on the Polynesian Pop revival and wide world of retro-themed entertainment. Every Monday, look for a new blog post that previews what’s coming up and looks back at the highlights of the previous week. The Week in Tiki will attempt to cover all the major happenings across the world, with a focus on our home base, Florida and the U.S. East Coast. In keeping with the theme of the blog, look for updates on events, music, art, cocktails and culture, along with our obsession with Disney World. We’ll also celebrate our favorite spirit, rum, and spotlight a different cocktail recipe every week. Sit back, relax … and enjoy!
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* Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS (Feb. 2-8, 2015)

Los Straitjackets
Los Straitjackets

Los Straitjackets to headline Ohana: Luau at the Lake
Event tickets are scheduled to go on sale today (Feb. 2) for the seventh annual Ohana: Luau at the Lake at The Tiki Resort in Lake George, N.Y. Featuring three days of music, cocktails and ‘ohana in a classic Polynesian setting, the June 25-28 event has become the biggest Tiki gathering in the Northeast and one of the signature events of the Fraternal Order of Moai. The 1950s era Polynesian-themed motor inn will be transformed into a weekend Tiki party featuring carvers, artists and vendors plus room parties and an authentic luau. Last week, it was announced that Los Straitjackets, the Lucha Libre-masked surf-rock stalwarts, will be headlining this year’s entertainment lineup. Other bands scheduled to perform include The Neanderthals, Waitiki, The Outta Sites and 9th Wave. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for further updates.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Feb. 2, 2015): Los Straitjackets at Ohana: Luau at the Lake, Tiki Caliente updates”