While California may still be king of the hill with its abundance of classic and modern Tiki bars, constant events and confluence of Polynesian Pop’s movers and shakers, another sunny state on the opposite side of the country is quickly becoming a must-visit destination for more than its beaches and theme parks.
This weekend’s return of Tiki Fever in Sarasota reminds us of all the things that make Florida a hot spot for seekers of a vintage experience. The event takes place at a classic retro resort and the state’s oldest Tiki bar (Bahi Hut). It includes four days of revelry featuring top bands, presenters, vendors, and more. It’s a relatively new event, celebrating its third gathering Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 5-8.
But next year is when it really heats up. A promising new weekender, Tiki-a-Go-Go, will debut in April in Orlando. The state’s vanguard Tiki event, The Hukilau, will return to southeast Florida in June.
Early 2024 should also mark the return of perhaps the state’s No. 1 destination for fans of classic Tiki, the revered Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show. If that’s not enough, Florida is ground zero for the resurrection of the Don the Beachcomber restaurant brand. The Florida-based parent company plans to open as many as five new locations in the state between now and the end of next year.
Sure, we’re still home to the ubiquitous “Florida Man,” often oppressive humidity, and increasingly questionable politics. But for all the reasons above, and more outlined below, Florida deserves to become a must-visit destination for fans of classic Tiki as well as the modern revival.
Here’s a preview of the state’s three major weekenders, plus a roundup of other events of interest. (Florida-based artists, musicians and businesses are highlighted throughout the rest of this story with links.)
The Feb. 22 birthday of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber (1907-1989) is typically a red-letter day for many bartenders and home enthusiasts, who celebrate by mixing up classic tropical cocktails to toast the originator of such iconic drinks as the Zombie, Nui Nui, and Three Dots and a Dash. This custom has intensified recently with the announcement of new book and film projects that celebrate the life of times of the creator of what’s now known as Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture.
But the occasion gained special importance this year with the announcement that a Tampa-based hospitality company will begin rolling out a chain of new Tiki-themed restaurants featuring the Don the Beachcomber branding in 2023. According to a press release from 23 Restaurant Services, “there are currently two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars under development in Central Florida, with the first slated to open by the end of the year.”
The company’s president, Marc Brown, said in the release that he expects as many as 10 to 15 restaurants to be spread across the Southeast over the next several years, with plans to expand nationally. Brown’s company bought the rights to the Don the Beachcomber brand in 2021, aiming to incorporate it into its successful Tiki Docks concept in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
The birthday of Donn Beach, who legally changed his name from Ernest Raymond Gantt after the success of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants in the 1930s, seemed like a great time to announce the ambitious plan that 23 Restaurant Services calls “an expansive growth strategy.”
“Each of the restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and flamboyant, rum-based drinks that have become synonymous with Don the Beachcomber locations for more than 90 years,” the press release says.
“Don the Beachcomber is the most iconic brand in Tiki history, so it’s impossible to overstate how excited we are about what lies ahead,” Brown said. “We look forward to leveraging our expertise in management and operational excellence to reintroduce the world to the legend that is Don the Beachcomber.”
To accomplish this, 23 Restaurant Services will be guided by an advisory board featuring some of the top artists, writers, and bartenders from the current Tiki scene:
John Mulder, a Florida-based artist and designer whose Eekum Bookum Tiki Mugs makes some of the most in-demand products on the market.
Danny “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, a California-based designer of carvings, mugs, and full bar interiors who has outfitted some of the world’s top Tiki establishments.
“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”
In addition to the advisers, Brown has taken a huge first step in bringing back Don the Beachcomber’s classic cocktails by hiring Marie King, former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, as director of beverage for 23 Restaurant Services. King also served as beverage director of the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., located in Huntington Beach, Calif., from 2009 to 2018. Like 23 Restaurant Services, the owners of this location purchased the name and did not have any connection to the original company.
The coronavirus pandemic is not yet in our rear-view mirror, but we’re happy to report that most establishments on this list have been back in operation for quite some time now. While “new normal” continues to be a way of life for everyone in the bar business, we’re happy to see many favorites again operating with an eye on a successful future.
We’ll continue to update this list periodically, concentrating on some key bars and restaurants that are still in transition periods. For the rest, we’ll leave most of the past news and updates documented below as a sobering reminder of what could happen again if we’re not diligent.
There’s never any guarantee of a fruitful future, so we encourage everyone to continue to patronize the online stores linked below and show your support in any way possible. This resource was created to throw a lifeline to struggling businesses in a trying time. Some would argue that’s the new normal.
We also urge you to also support the artists and merchants who are key parts of the industry, designing and producing many of the products listed below. You can find links to our favorites in the right rail of this blog post. You can also support them at events that have recently returned around the world.
SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE
The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).
Aku Aku, Orlando – This small and inviting mid-mod Tiki oasis near downtown has an online shop featuring gift cards, T-shirts, stickers and mugs. Artist Doug Horne signed his newest mug release, Invisible Man, on Jan. 22, 2022. It quickly sold out, but more were released in early March. Follow the Aku Aku pages onInstagram and Facebook for updates.
Archipelago, Washington, D.C. – The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December 2020 for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February 2021, followed by patio seating. In mid-June 2021, Archipelago resumed indoor seating after 452 days.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark has shirts, pins and mugs available in its online shop. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, with version 2.5 held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 2021. The bar reopened in October 2020 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January 2021, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released. The mug was designed by RoboTiki crafted by Eekum Bookum.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans – The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home. Latitude 29 reopened in September 2021 after closing in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Before the storm, Latitude 29 had been open consistently since October 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. An exciting new mug release commemorated Spookilau 2021, when Oakwash produced 150 limited-edition Cursed Coconut mugs. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa also returned again for another winter holiday season. The bar closed after ringing in 2022 but returned on Jan. 6. Before you visit, reserve a seat via Latitude29Nola.com.
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 …
Updated June 1
Click here for updates on sold-out events, see the full schedule: NEW:THE HUKILAU 2019 – Unofficial Schedule
Due to popular demand, The Atomic Grog presents a handy-dandy schedule in spreadsheet format for all five days of the upcoming Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale, including lots of new info like band set times, Saturday night at The Mai-Kai and more.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCHEDULE
As The Hukilau fast approaches its 18th annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale in June, hotel rooms at the host Pier Sixty-Six are sold out, and the more popular symposiums and classes are filling up. But new events are still being added, including a Saturday cocktail class and Sunday symposium on the rums of The Mai-Kai hosted by The Atomic Grog.
* More below: Passes available | Special event tickets | Pop-up Tiki bars | New, upcoming
Meanwhile, news just broke that Pier Sixty-Six will be closing for a massive two-year renovation immediately after The Hukilau 2019. This news is not unexpected, and plans for a new 2020 site have been in the works. “There should be no uncertainty that we will have a great venue for 2020,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “I do think it’s the end of an era at Pier Sixty-Six, and it is special that we get to cap it off.” See more below:Is this the last fling at Pier Sixty-Six?
Pier Sixty-Six, a landmark property developed in 1956 on the Intracoastal Waterway and home of The Hukilau since 2015, has sold out of rooms for the event. But The Hukilau organizers have lined up a great back-up option less than a mile away, directly on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The recently renovated B Ocean Resort, formerly known as the iconic Yankee Clipper, has plenty of rooms at a special rate for villagers attending the festive Polynesian Pop party.
Marina’s special shows for The Hukilau are always among the more popular events, and capacity is limited in The Wreck bar to allow all paid attendees prime viewing. So it’s advised that you act now if you don’t want to get left out. There are three performances on the schedule, but Wednesday night’s late-night burlesque show and Thursday’s 2 p.m. show are already sold out. Tickets remain only for the 2 p.m. matinee on Friday ($20 plus service charge).
The Hukilau has announced an impressive lineup of bands, bars and booze experts as it launched a new website with tickets now on sale for the 18th annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale. Guests can also book rooms at two hotels: the host Pier 66 and the nearby B Ocean Resort.
New guests bars from across the world: Laki Kane (London), Esotico (Miami), Archipelago (Washington, D.C.), 4 Kahunas (Arlington, Texas), Manolito (New Orleans), The Polynesian (New York City), Tiki TNT (Washington, D.C.), UnderTow (Phoenix), The Zombie Village (San Francisco), and Tiki Underground (Hudson, Ohio). Plus returnees Death Or Glory (Delray Beach), Dirty Dick (Paris), Flask & Cannon (Jacksonville), Foundation (Milwaukee), Hidden Harbor (Pittsburgh), Nu Lounge Bar (Italy), Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago), Pagan Idol (San Francisco), The S.O.S. (Atlanta), Tonga Hut (Los Angeles), and Trailer Happiness (London).
Women take over the Tiki Tower Takeover, featuring world-class mixologists Sierra Kirk (Hale Pele), Jeanie Grant (Pagan Idol), Libby Longlott (UnderTow), Sarah Clarke (Hidden Harbor), Shannon Mustipher (Gladys NYC), Phoebe Esmon (Curate), Ayme Harrison (Death or Glory), and Marie King (Tonga Hut).
New symposiums on Trader Vic’s (with granddaughter Eve Bergeron), Tiki mugs (with Tiki Diablo, Eekum Bookum, and Holden Westland of Tiki Farm), surf music (with Jon Paul Balak and Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambrini), rum and the British Navy (with Matt Pietrek, aka Cocktail Wonk), and home bars (with Ron Ferrell).
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes led by Ian Burrell, Matt Pietrek, Georgi Radev (Laki Kane), Kevin Beary (Three Dots and a Dash), Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick), Adam Henry (Hidden Harbor), Ian Jones (The S.O.S), Jeanie Grant (Pagan Idol), and Shannon Mustipher (Gladys NYC).
More craft classes from South Florida artists Tom Fowner and Will Anders, plus California’s Tiki Tony. And Nicole Brauchler returns with another make-up class.
Bartenders who hope to gain bragging rights in the Tiki cocktail world have until Monday, Jan. 14, to enter a new regional competition and earn a chance to compete in the finals this summer at Tiki Kon in Portland. Bonus recipe:Jamaican Bad Decisions, the 2018 winning cocktail
The Iron TikiTender competition has expanded this year and will hit the road to select the finalists for its fourth throwdown, won last year by Jeanie Grant of Pagan Idol in San Francisco. The first of these regionals will be held on Feb. 16 during the second annual Inuhele Tiki weekender in Atlanta. * Facebook event
The link above includes the official rules. Recipes must be based on the classic Hurricane and include sponsor BG Reynolds Syrups. Bartenders must work in one of 12 southern states.
The three competitors in the Atlanta competition will be selected on Jan. 21. The competition will be held during Inuhele at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center and include three challenges: Speedy Classics to Spec, Garish Garnish, and Mystery Ingredient.
Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend, which debuted last February as a one-day home bar tour, has expanded in 2019 to a three-day weekend of bar-hopping, panels, bands, demos, networking and more. Headquartered at the Marriott, Inuhele (which fittingly means “cocktail journey”) will feature a Friday night bar crawl to the venerable Trader Vic’s plus new venues Tiki Iniki and Tiki Tango.
Panelists include cocktail legend Brother Cleve, artist Derek Yaniger, rum expert Paul Senft and Inuhele organizer Jonathan M. Chaffin of Horror In Clay, the Atlanta-based purveyor of horror, Tiki, and sci-fi themed barware and accessories.
The Iron TikiTender competition will serve as opening act to musical headliners Kinky Waikiki and The Mystery Men on Saturday night. Deluxe and VIP tickets are already sold out, so act now and don’t miss out.
Launched at Tiki Kon 2014, Iron Tikitender is produced by Blair Reynolds, creator of BG Reynolds Syrups. The event returned to Tiki Kon last year after a two-year absence. Grant emerged victorious after doing battle with fellow finalists Kelly Merrell (Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar) and Mark Hooper (Arkansas-based bartender and Tiki ninja). Hosted by Reynolds with commentary by Ray Wyland (Tiki With Ray) and Jason T. Smith (Tiki treasure hunter), the contest was a spectacle that drew hundreds of Tiki cocktail fans to the main ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel.
The must-have Tiki bar accessory of 2018 may have been the custom swizzle sticks designed and made by California artist Michael Grider that take flaming cocktails to a new level.
It didn’t take long for these inventive items, priced at $25 each, to sell out on Etsy. Grider’s Torch Swizzle also requires a specially formulated lemon extract “Torch Juice” developed by Grider. Buy four and you got a free Torch Juice Kit.
But if you’re a procrastinator like me, you missed the boat when these first hit the Internet and took off like wildfire. The last batch was shipped in November. These are not mass produced, but hand-sculpted by Grider and then created using a centrifuge and a mold filled with hot metal. After the top is cast around a stainless steel rod, it’s hand-sanded and polished before it’s sent to be plated and receive a copper, nickel, or brass finish. Grider then completes each swizzle with patina, polish and a coat of clear enamel.
I hate to clue more people into this, but what the hell: A limited amount of torch swizzles will be up for grabs on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. (Pacific time). Grider and his wife Karissa promise that a few torches will go online for pre-order. They won’t be available again for a few months due to Michael’s upcoming surgery, so now’s your chance to snag one at the same $25 price tag, plus $15 for the juice kit. The kit includes Torch Juice in a reusable dropper bottle for easy dispensing, two replacement wicks, and four replacement screens. The free kit offers stands if you’re able to snag four torches. Go to GriderCo.Etsy.com to pre-order
Updated Feb. 8, 2018
Polynesian Pop has always been deeply ingrained in American culture, from Tiki’s mid-century heyday through today. This symbiotic relationship will be explored in colorful detail during special symposiums at The Hukilau, the 17th annual Tiki weekender happening June 6-10 in Fort Lauderdale.
Among the special presentations now on sale at TheHukilau.com are “Travel with Trader Sam” hosted by Disney Imagineer Kyle Barnes and “The Golden Age of Tiki and the South Pacific on Television” with film and video collector Ron Ferrell.
Disney’s Kyle Barnes was art director of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney World and Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland. He also oversaw the 2015 refurbishment of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in Orlando (left). (Contributed photos)
Guests who buy multi-day passes get first shot at these and other educational activities, including Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes and rum tastings, craft classes with noted artists, plus many other hands-on activities. Also on sale are tickets to the three aquatic performances by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her pod of aquaticats at The Wreck Bar at the nearby B Ocean Resort.
* “The Golden Age of Tiki and the South Pacific on Television” with Ron Ferrell (Saturday, June 9): An exclusive look at how Polynesia was represented during the golden age of television. See clips and enjoy the commentary as Tikiphile and cinema fan Ferrell shares his collection of film and video of Tiki and Polynesian pop from Hollywood, TV shows, and commercials.
At The Hukilau 2017, villagers had the opportunity to participate in classes ranging from Tiki carving, to cocktails (with Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash), to rum tasting. (Photos by Heather McKean)
Updated Feb. 8, 2018
The Hukilau gave its loyal fans a New Year’s treat by announcing an expanded lineup for the East Coast’s largest Tiki-themed event, giving its regular “villagers” early access and discounts on tickets. The general public can now join the party at the 17th annual mash-up of Polynesian Pop and cocktail culture.
Here are the highlights of the announcement, sent via email and posted on the official website. I also spoke directly with the event’s owner and co-organizer, Richard Oneslager, to get all the scoop on 2018. NEW: As of Feb. 8, this preview is now updated with the late January announcement.
Party like it’s 2009: Los Straitjackets (left) will headline The Hukilau for a second time, while The Intoxicators will make their 13th appearance at the Tiki party in Fort Lauderdale. (Photos from The Hukilau 2009)
PREVIEW: The Hukilau 2018 highlights
* MUSIC: More headlining bands. The 2018 event will include some of the world’s top surf and exotica bands, including Los Straitjackets, The Madeira, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Quintet and The Martian Denny Orchestra. Villagers will also be thrilled to see the return of The Intoxicators, who missed 2017 after 12 straight appearances. Other performers include The Exotics, Black Flamingos, Czarna Wolgastar, The Royal Pacifics, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, and The Hukilau’s one and only emcee during its previous 16 years, the ubiquitous King Kukulele. Look for more bands to be announced, along with special guest DJs. Bands will perform on all five days in various venues. [More details below]
* BARS: 12 Tiki pop-ups. Seven of last year’s 10 acclaimed bar teams are returning, joined by five new Tiki-themed pop-ups from around the world setting up shop all over Pier 66 at special events, tastings, and classes. Due to popular demand, a second afternoon pool party with complimentary cocktails has been added to the schedule. Back for more more rum and cocktails are bartenders from Dirty Dick (Paris), Flask & Cannon (Jacksonville), Hidden Harbor (Pittsburgh), Nu Lounge Bar (Italy), Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago), Pagan Idol (San Francisco), and S.O.S. Tiki Bar (Atlanta). Coming on board for 2018 are Death Or Glory (Delray Beach), Foundation Bar (Milwaukee), Frankie’s Tiki Room (Las Vegas), Tonga Hut (Los Angeles), and Trailer Happiness (London). [More details below]
Rum ambassador Ian Burrell presents a symposium at The Hukilau 2017 (Atomic Grog photo). He’ll be joined in 2018 by cocktail pioneer and influential musician/DJ Brother Cleve (Photo by Audrey Harrer).
* INDUSTRY VIPS: Cocktail influencer makes debut. Boston’s Brother Cleve will bring his vast knowledge of cocktails and music to The Hukilau for the first time. This prime mover of the craft cocktail scene in the 1990s and former member of the groundbreaking band Combustible Edison will present a symposium, make a special DJ appearance, and also have his own bar in the Tiki Tower Takeover event. In addition, rum ambassador Ian Burrell returns from London for a second straight year to host a symposium, two cocktail classes and a special rum tasting. [More details below]
* TIKI TOWER TAKEOVER: Signature cocktail party expands, returns for Round 4. Held on Thursday night in the hotel’s revolving Pier Top Lounge, the fourth edition of one of Tiki’s most exclusive events is likely to sell out just as fast as the previous three. Tickets are limited to passholders, so act now. The lineup will grow from four to five pop-ups (featuring six different bar teams), including returning participants Three Dots and a Dash and Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar. Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick also returns, teaming up with Pagan Idol for a special two-bar mash-up. The final two pop-ups will feature the craft cocktail stylings of Brother Cleve and the crew from the U.K.’s Trailer Happiness. [More details below]
* MERCHANDISE: Works of top Tiki artists on display. The official artists for The Hukilau 2018 are Joe Vitale and Donella Vitale, whose work can already been seen on the website and promo artwork. The couple is based in Orlando, where they both work for Disney in addition to being among the most recognizable artists of the Tiki revival. Fun fact: The Vitales are among a select few who have attended The Hukilau all 16 years, along with emcee King Kukulele and co-founder Tim “Swanky” Glazner. Villagers will get first shot at the event merchandise, including the 17th annual mug produced by Eekum Bookum. There will also be special items for some villagers, including a South Seas passholder pendant by Crazy Al Evans.
Bar teams from Pittsburgh’s Hidden Harbor (left) and Atlanta’s S.O.S. Tiki Bar will return for this year’s expanded Rum Island Pool Party at The Hukilau 2018. (Atomic Grog photos)
* ENHANCEMENTS: Feedback from villagers. The Hukilau listened to its attendees and will implement quite a few changes: Extended hours and a second pool party on Saturday (in addition to Friday) including live music, more bars and bands (see above), a “Villager’s Lounge” tent to “meet and hang with old friends and new,” a party featuring all exotica music, and more food trucks.
* MORE SPECIAL EVENTS: Symposiums, Medusirena Marina swimshows. Symposiums, craft workshops, Okole Maluna cocktail classes, hula lessons, plus more new additions were announced in late January. These include three swimshows featuring Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid in her home at the nearby Wreck Bar in the B Ocean Resort, plus symposiums on Disney’s Trader Sam’s Tiki bar concept and the heyday of Tiki on television. Craft workshops will feature a trio of noted Tiki artists, while cocktail classes will include bartenders and experts from across the country. UPDATE:The Hukilau 2018 symposiums to include Disney imagineer, Tiki on TV