For the fifth year in a row, the signature event at The Hukilau has sold out months in advance. The Tiki Tower Takeover, held every June in the 17th floor rooftop ballroom at Pier Sixty-Six in Fort Lauderdale, will have added significance in 2019.
The festive cocktail party that spotlights some of the world’s top Tiki bartenders will celebrate Women Who Tiki with eight female mixologists serving their own special creations. With the hotel closing for a massive refurbishment immediately after The Hukilau, it will also be the last Takeover in the tower for at least two years.
The Hukilau: Wednesday through Sunday, June 5-9, 2019, at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world. * TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram
In addition to the all-female theme, the 2019 event will feature a significant increase in participants over past years, when no more than five bartenders were included. The Hukilau takes over the Pier Top Lounge from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 6. Prior to boarding the elevators to the tower, villagers can enjoy a welcome drink in the hotel’s ground-floor Windows on the Green.
While individual tickets are no longer available, there’s still one way to gain VIP entry. There are a limited number of South Seas passes available ($399 plus fee) that include exclusive early access at 4 p.m. to the Tiki Tower Takeover plus a custom mug from Tiki Farm. This top-of-the-line pass also gets you admission to all five days of events (not including symposiums and classes). Click here for a rundown on all the ticket options, as well as updates on what’s sold out.
Here’s this year’s all-star lineup of bartenders. All are making their first Tiki Tower Takeover appearance, though two have previously served the welcome drink. No previous events have featured more than five bars, so expect an action-packed (and cocktail-filled) party in the Pier Top Lounge this year.
The 18th annual Tiki weekender known as The Hukilau will not invade Fort Lauderdale until June, but local Tikiphiles will get an early taste of the rum-fueled festivities this weekend when two special events kick off the 2019 countdown at The Mai-Kai.
Both events will take place in The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai, the historic Polynesian restaurant that opened in 1956 and continues to enthrall Tikiphiles from around the world. Both events are free, but there’s a limited capacity of around 150 for each event, so be sure to get there early. Here are the details:
Sunday, March 3: Retro Rekindled community gathering featuring early happy hour, giveaways and meet-and-mingle with The Hukilau organizers. Richard Oneslager, The Hukilau’s owner and organizer, will speak and answer questions. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. The event is free but reservations are encouraged. * Facebook event
The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
The Molokai also features a full appetizer menu (half-priced during happy hour) that includes Tiki bar classics (Pupu Platter, Crab Rangoon, et al.) along with sushi, salads and modern tapas (sliders, fish tacos, etc.). The expansive restaurant also has a beautiful outdoor Tiki garden that can be explored, along with plenty of exotic and elaborately themed dining rooms if you’d like to stay for dinner.
The Hukilau is one of the world’s biggest and longest running Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktail events. Established in 2002 in Atlanta, it moved to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai in 2003 with live music, symposiums, classes and an ever-expanding schedule of events over a five day weekend. The Hukilau 2019 will take place June 5-9, headquartered at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina near Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Sunday’s Retro Rekindled gathering is designed to give attendees and potential villagers a chance to learn more about the bands, bars, room parties, and all the other facets of the event, such as the signature Tiki Tower Takeover. In 2019, The Hukilau is spotlighting female mixologists in the festive tower cocktail party, plus special presentations on “Women of The Mai-Kai” and “Women Who Tiki.”
Oneslager took an ownership role in The Hukilau in 2015. He has been the driving force since 2017, when co-creator and longtime organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White stepped down. Rather than make wholesale changes, Oneslager has kept The Hukilau true to White’s vision while enhancing and adding features such as the Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy. Villagers can learn from the pros as bartenders and mixology experts from around the country teach intimate classes on the finer points of the craft.
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
The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and longest-running Tiki weekender, has confirmed an all-new lineup for one of its signature events during the 16th annual festivities in Fort Lauderdale in June. When the acclaimed Tiki Tower Takeover returns to the revolving rooftop ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 for a third straight year, it will feature four new Tiki bar teams and a special master of ceremonies, globetrotting “rum ambassador” Ian Burrell.
The Tiki Tower Takeover is a unique three-hour happy hour with panoramic views of Fort Lauderdale featuring some of the world’s top Tiki bartenders. During its first two years, it included such Tiki cocktail royalty as Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate and Paul McGee. These high-profile Tiki bar proprietors helped launch the special event in 2015 and returned last year for an encore. For 2017, there’s a whole new lineup, announced Sunday in an email to ticket-holders by The Hukilau’s Richard Oneslager.
“The new line-up is a great mix of contemporary American Tiki bars, and two world class standouts from Europe,” Oneslager wrote. “In addition, we have one of the world’s leading rum experts emceeing the event for us.”
Oneslager and partner Mike Zielinski of Idle Hands Events Management took over ownership of The Hukilau in 2015. Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White stepped down after 15 years as co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer in December. Oneslager and his team have faced a challenge in White’s absence, but the latest news signals that the event is still on track, with more details set to be announced soon.
The charismatic Burrell, who is based in London and hosts the annual UK RumFest, is billed as the international ambassador of rum. He’ll lend his expertise to several events at The Hukilau, including tastings and symposiums. As host of the Tiki Tower Takeover, expect him to raise the energy level and add his unique brand of humor and enthusiasm. Burrell’s one and only previous appearance at The Hukilau was 2011, when he helped judge a cocktail contest and participated in a special “Rumposium” event with Berry, Cate and other luminaries. He’s truly the spirit’s global ambassador, spreading the gospel at events around the world. In 2013, he made appearances on all seven continents. * More on Ian Burrell: Take 5 interview * At The Hukilau 2011: Rum Rat Pack | Rum Barrel Challenge * At Miami Rum Festival 2014: Tiki seminar and cocktail recipe
During the June 8 event, signature cocktails will be served up by four of the world’s top bar teams, two from Europe and two from the United States. Here’s the official lineup of pop-up bars announced Sunday:
Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar in Bologna, Italy.Also rated by many to be among the best bars in the world, Nu Lounge is a neo-Tiki bar known for its chill, retro vibe and world-class craft cocktails. Dalla Pola, the general manager and an award-winning mixologist, oversees a bar program known for its wide selection of spirits, bitters and homemade syrups. * Related: Interview by A Mountain of Crushed Ice
Bartenders to be announced from Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. This modern neo-Tiki bar made a splash a year after opening by winning the award for Best New American Cocktail Bar of 2014 at Tales of the Cocktail. Originally conceived by Paul McGee before he opened Lost Lake, this popular downtown lair is a mash-up of modern Tiki with craft cocktail aesthetics. The current beverage director is Kevin Beary, who finished third in the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival’s cocktail competition in August with bartender Cory Starr. * Related: Bar of the week | Cocktail of the week
Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City. This young gun is a veteran of The Hukilau, leading his Big Apple bar’s pop-up at last year’s Tiki Road Trip Pool Party and serving on the Tiki Mondays With Miller crew during the first two Tiki Tower Takeovers. The Greenwich Village underground bar shares space with another craft cocktail hot spot, The Happiest Hour, giving Richard a launching pad for his modern take on classic Tiki. He has also competed in The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at both the New York City and South Beach wine & food festivals. * Related: Bar of the week
In addition to the elite bartenders taking part in the Tiki Tower Takeover, there are plans to increase the number of pop-up bars from around the country participating in other special events to eight. Look for upcoming announcements on special guest bars and bartenders.
Highlights and photos from the 15th annual Polynesian Pop weekender in Fort Lauderdale. The memorable second day included two special events in the 17th floor Pier Top Ballroom: The Tiki Tower Takeover featuring five top bar teams from around the country; and Shag’s SkyLounge featuring the artist Josh Agle hosting a one-of-a-kind cocktail party. As rum sponsors began pouring samples in the Atrium, the Tiki Treasures Bazaar opened in the with a kickoff party in the Crystal Ballroom. Day 1: Pre-Party at The Mai-Kai, The Wreck Bar mermaid show
Humuhumu takes the stage at The Mai-Kai for a sold-out symposium for industry professionals. Her talk, which she presents to much acclaim at events large and small, is designed to introduce bartenders to the wider scope of Tiki, with an emphasis on Polynesian Pop culture. (Photo by James McDonald) More tips:Click here to see Humuhumu’s story (“Keep The Hukilau going at home) that ran in the event program.
Back at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, guests begin gearing up for the first full day of The Hukilau. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
The Hukilau’s takeover of the Pier 66 began in earnest as hordes of aloha-shirt-wearing villagers arrived and began checking in at the registration desk. Many were excited to receive a goodie bag stuffed with freebies from The Hukilau and its sponsors. “Amazing swag bags! Thank you,” wrote Glenn & Carol from SoCal on the official app.
Villagers are greeted by a special sign and display in the lobby of Pier 66. Many of the Tikis are from the personal collection of artist Will Anders. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White – The Hukilau’s co-creator, co-founder, producer, and organizer – greeted guests on the app: “Kick back and relax. You have a busy night ahead of you. You haven’t seen nothin’ yet!” Meanwhile, some guests posted their progress as they made the trip south. “Hukilau or bust,” Mr Kane wrote in the app. “Leaving Orlando now for Tiki nirvana.” On Facebook, AnnaMarie Khan of Jupiter wrote: “Just spotted a coconut on the shoulder of I-95 – we must be close!”
Jose Villasana and N! Satterfield work the registration booth, distributing tickets and event programs in the Atrium outside the Crystal Ballroom in the main tower building at Pier 66. (Photos by Go11Events.com)
The Hukilau’s special swag included a coffee mug, swizzle sticks, matches, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a do-not-disturb door hanger, most featuring Shag-designed artwork. Among the many other items in the themed bag were a Hukilau mug, a Rhum Barbancourt jigger, a Mai-Kai sticker, and an extensive full-color program.
The modern lobby of Pier 66 takes on a Polynesian Pop feel as villagers pick up their special passes and tickets for the day’s events. (Left photo by Barb Lawrence, right photo by Jose Villasana)
Guests also used the The Hukilau’s official app to ask questions about the schedule as well as seeking, selling and trading event tickets, hooking up with friends, and sharing details about the hotel. There was also a good deal of activity surrounding the new Smuggler’s Cove trading cards, with many villagers quickly getting into the spirit of quickly collecting the full set. Others shared the aloha spirit in other ways: “Some time tomorrow I have a half gallon of barrel aged Zombies I need to share,” Keith Hudgins wrote. “Who’s with me?”
Early arrivals get in the spirit of The Hukilau. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
Updated preview: In a special 10-minute ceremony during a Dec. 13 public hearing, the Broward County Commission declared Dec. 28th to be “Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show Day” in the county. Owners, management and performers attended the signing of the proclamation at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale.
The proclamation reads: “Be it proclaimed by the board of county commissioners of Broward County, Florida: That the Board hereby designates Wednesday December 28, 2016 as “MAI-KAI RESTAURANT AND POLYNESIAN SHOW DAY” in Broward County, offers its gratitude for 60 years of historical hospitality.”
The proclamation was presented by Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who was then given a lei by owner Mireille Thornton. Mireille’s son, managing owner Dave Levy, was also on hand, along with director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist. Two Mai-Kai performers, guitarist Kainalu and dancer Hokulani, then serenaded Mayor Barbara Sharief and the commission in what may have been the county’s first traditional Polynesian performance during a public hearing. * See a photo of the proclamation * Watch the video of the public hearing (fast forward to the 4:00:00 mark)
It’s a testament to a restaurant’s historic status and popularity when not one, but two book authors are scheduled speak at an anniversary event produced by a longtime supporter. When The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale turns 60 on Dec. 28, the annual Customer Celebration Party will be enhanced to include two special presentations in the acclaimed Polynesian palace’s main showroom, home of the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
SPECIAL EVENT: The Mai-Kai’s 60th Anniversary Symposia Series & Customer Celebration Party – Wednesday, Dec. 28. Featuring presentations by authors Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner brought to you by Tiki Kiliki Productions. Plus enjoy dinner shows, live music, and food and drink specials all night. Doors open at 1:30, symposia begin at 2, happy hour at 3:30, signings at 4, live music at 6, dinner shows at 7 and 9:30. Symposia tickets are sold out. For dinner reservations, call (954) 563-3272. [Facebook event]
Named to the National Register of Historic Places two years ago, The Mai-Kai is the last remaining example of the classic mid-20th century Polynesian supper club. Indeed, the restaurant’s many fans consider it the Tiki mecca. Since the venerable Critiki website began compiling its user ratings into an annual list two years ago, The Mai-Kai has been honored as the No. 1 Tiki bar in the world two years straight. The Mai-Kai was also just voted the best Tiki bar by readers of SouthFlorida.com. [See video]
One of those fans, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, is producing a special Symposia Series for the 60th anniversary that features two authors who have written extensively about The Mai-Kai and Polynesian pop culture: Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner. It’s that kind of reverence that makes The Mai-Kai a special place for many.
History symposia kick off party in legendary showroom
“The origin story of The Mai-Kai – its architecture, decor, and its influence on Polynesian pop on the American East Coast and beyond – makes it one of the greatest Tiki temples of all time,” wrote noted pop culture historian and author Kirsten in the forward to Glazner’s book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September by Schiffer.
“Before the era of theme parks, this place showed the way,” Glazner wrote in his debut work. “It weaves its magic, if you let it. It is a place out of time: ancient, mysterious, lush, and relaxing.” The California-based Kirsten and Tennessee-based Glazner will make the pilgrimage to The Mai-Kai on Dec. 28 to host symposia on the restaurant’s unique and fascinating history.
The party starts early: Doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the presentations, which will include slideshows of vintage photos and artwork, plus a raffle for special giveaways. Your ticket also gets you early entry into The Mai-Kai for an unencumbered look at all the dining rooms and Tiki garden; plus appetizers and tropical drinks, including three special “lost cocktails” from the early days of the restaurant.
Lost cocktails announced On Dec. 28 only, a special menu will feature three drinks that appeared on the original 1956 menu but were retired over the years. Guests can enjoy the spicy and deadly Last Rites, the sweet and sour Impatient Virgin and the rich and rummy Demerara Float.
Like many of the cocktails at The Mai-Kai, they can be traced back to topical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, who developed the faux Polynesian style in the 1930s in Hollywood, Calif. The Chicago location of the Beachcomber chain was a huge influence on The Mai-Kai, and many of its key employees came to Florida to work when the restaurant opened. The cocktail menu was spearheaded by bartender Mariano Licudine, a 17-year veteran who got his start at the flagship Hollywood location. He retired from The Mai-Kai in 1979, but his influence is still felt today.
At 2 p.m., Kirsten will present for the first time his research into the origins and history of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Tahitian cannibal carvings, which have served as the restaurant’s logo in one form or another since opening day. Founding owners Bob and Jack Thornton “showed themselves as standard-bearers of the coming Tiki generation by adopting these figures as The Mai-Kai’s trademark,” Kirsten wrote Tiki Pop (Taschen), his 2014 magnum opus.
In “The Tahitian Cannibal Carvings: The Logo Tikis of the Mai-Kai,” Kirsten will reveal how this specific Tiki design dates back to the early days of Polynesian pop, then marked the beginning of the Tiki period. This “cannibal trio” became the logo Tikis of important Polynesian restaurants across America, reproduced in a multitude of forms and materials. This will be a rare opportunity to see the influential Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki (2000) and Tiki Modern (2007), in South Florida. He last did a presentation at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in 2012.
A 3 p.m., it’s Glazner’s turn to take the stage in the showroom, home of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue and part of the original A-frame structure built in 1956. Glazner, a longtime Mai-Kai fan and Tiki enthusiast, has been collecting memorabilia and stories from longtime and current employees for more than a decade. The resulting labor of love, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, is a lavish 176-page hardcover book featuring 440 color and black-and-white images, many revealed for the first time.
He’ll treat guests with a new symposium, “The Mai-Kai: Then and Now,” a look at how the restaurant has changed since it opened in 1956. Just announced: Glazner will be joined by a special guest, former Florida state Representative Randy Avon Jr., who will share first-hand stories of growing up at The Mai-Kai. Avon’s mother, Pualani Mossman Avon, ran the The Mai-Kai’s gift shop in the 1960s after performing in her family’s pioneering cultural Lalani Village in Hawaii. The song Lovely Hula Hands was written about her. Family members included singers George Kainapau and Alfred Apaka. Randy was also Southeast manager for Rums of Puerto Rico, which had a close relationship with The Mai-Kai and the signature Derby Daiquiri cocktail.
Glazner has been doing unique presentations at events across the country, including The Hukilau in June, Tiki Oasis in August, and a book release party at The Mai-Kai in September. His talks have covered topics such as how Don the Beachcomber influenced the Thornton brothers; the mastery of mixologist Mariano Licudine; the stories behind the iconic Mystery Drink, including its appearance with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show; and the glamorous women who worked as Mystery Girls and Molokai Girls. His rare footage of Carson receiving the drink and meeting a Mystery Girl on national television is priceless.
All of the above – including Pualani Mossman Avon – are the focus of chapters in the book, which Glazner will be signing after the presentation at 4 p.m. in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, as the gift shop is known. Kirsten will also sign copies of his books, or any items that attendees may want to have autographed.
Tiki Kiliki says she’s producing these special symposia as her gift to The Mai-Kai. The co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer of The Hukilau has been one of the restaurant’s biggest supporters over the past 15 years. “I’m so excited about the 60th anniversary of my favorite place on earth,” Tiki Kiliki said. “This will be the first anniversary I’ve attended in person and although every visit is dear to me, I think this one will be a bit more special with all the Tikiphiles coming from all over the country.”
60th anniversary specials: Extended happy hour, dinner show deal
At 3:30, The Molokai bar will open 90 minutes earlier than normal for an extended happy hour, which runs until 7. If you miss out on tickets, or can’t attend the early symposia, you can still come to the book-signing and early happy hour starting at 3:30 and running until 7 in The Molokai bar. The lost cocktails will be included in the happy hour, along with The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and appetizer menus.
Like all Wednesdays, you can also enjoy two cocktails at 50 percent off all night: The Barrel O’ Rum and Planters Punch. Another regular feature in the bar, guitarist-vocalist Rose Marie will perform island and other classic music all night beginning at 6. Due to space limitations, however, there will be no regular Wednesday sushi buffet.
There will also be a $60 dinner-and-show special in honor of the anniversary. A special prix fixe menu will be available that includes the Polynesian Islander Revue (a $15 value), plus select appetizers and entrées. You can also see the show and order anything off the extensive menu ala carte. The dinner shows often sell out, so be sure to reserve you seat now by calling (954) 563-3272. Shows are scheduled for 7 and 9:30 p.m., with seating typically an hour beforehand.
Before dinner, there’s no better place to grab a cocktail than The Molokai, praised by such well-regarded Tiki bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco ). Both have written books that praise The Mai-Kai as the “mothership” of the current Tiki bar revival.
Aside from the tiny Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, “The Mai-Kai is the last place on Earth where you can still sample a Don the Beachcomber drink more or less as it was prepared 70 years ago,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari (2007). An updated 10th anniversary edition of the influential book, which includes an entire chapter on Mariano Licudine and The Mai-Kai, will be released in 2017.
In the epilogue of this year’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, Cate wrote: “The Mai-Kai will take you back to dining as event, experience, and escape. Today, you can still stand at the entrance, or during the show, and look at the faces of first-time visitors as their eyes widen, mouths agape at the spectacle.”
“It will come as no surprise that The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar, with its heavy emphasis on the nautical while remaining true to Tiki tradition, was an inspiration cornerstone for me,” Cate wrote. Even without the expansive restaurant and grounds that surround it, The Molokai is one of the most distinctive Tiki bars in the world. On Dec. 28, like every day, happy hour will run until 7, featuring 50 percent off nearly all of the 50 signature tropical cocktails that have as much history as the restaurant, perhaps more.
Historic cocktails, eclectic food to match the stunning decor
“While The Mai-Kai’s food menu has adapted to changing culinary tastes, its drink menu, including the quality ingredients, has not changed since 1956,” says the official page on the National Register of Historic Places Program website. “As a result, the restaurant is renowned for its expert tropical drinks. … The Mai-Kai has a permanent place in a holy trio of old-school holdouts dedicated to the careful construction of their libations.”
The robust food offerings are also half-price during the happy hour, which is annually rated among the best in South Florida. The appetizer menu of traditional pu-pus (egg rolls, crab rangoon, soups, salads and sushi) pair perfectly with the signature cocktails. And new chef Mark Rivera has added a creative menu of signature tapas (charred octopus; fish tacos; duck, wagyu beef and pork belly sliders) that takes finger food to the next level.
While it doesn’t date back to 1956, The Molokai fits perfectly into the The Mai-Kai’s richly detailed environment and has its own fascinating back-story. With water cascading down the windows to simulate a rainstorm and elaborate nautical decor, it’s designed to make you feel like you’re in an 1800s Pacific seaport. This is not by accident. The current Molokai was designed during a 1971 remodeling using much of the actual props from the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlin Brando.
The items were acquired at auction when the MGM prop department closed in 1970. This includes not only the large set pieces on the walls and ceilings, but also other details such as model ships. MGM’s longtime prop master was even hired to personally make sure the rigging and other elements were installed as authentically as possible. Much of the bar’s decor remains exactly the same to this day.
Family, loyalty are cornerstones of The Mai-Kai culture
After happy hour, don’t miss The Mai-Kai’s signature Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in 1961, it’s still designed and choreographed by owner Mireille Thornton, widow of founding owner Bob Thornton and a former dancer in the original show. Mireille takes annual trips to the Pacific islands to research and come up with costume and theming ideas for new shows each year.
On Dec. 28, you’ll be able to see one of the first performances of the 2017 show. An all new show will be rehearsed the week before and make its official debut that night, said Mireille’s son, Dave Levy, who has guided The Mai-Kai as managing owner since his stepfather’s death in 1989. It remains a true family affair, with Mireille’s daughter Kulani Gelardi serving as the third partner and CFO.
Key managers, such as director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist and general manager Kern Mattei, have been with The Mai-Kai for decades. Mattei followed in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr., working out of the same office. One employee has been around almost as long as The Mai-Kai itself. Angel Vega was supposed to slow down after he was honored for 50 years of service at the 2013 anniversary party, but you can still often find him behind the maître d’ stand.
On any given night, the more than 100 employees work their magic amid the controlled chaos, giving guests a sense of what true hospitality means. What other Tiki bar supplies you with hot towels to clean your hands in the most civilized manner? In another tradition from Don the Beachcomber and the early Tiki temples, both The Molokai and main bar that serves the dining rooms are behind closed doors. Bartenders work in secrecy, keeping their recipes close to the vest but also providing a total escape for guests who are immersed in the Polynesian paradise. Drinks are served by sarong-clad maidens in The Molokai, well-dressed servers in the dining rooms.
Take a tour of the lavish grounds, distinctive decor
Seats for the show include the main area in front of the stage, known as the Garden, along with four other distinct dining rooms named for South Seas islands (New Guinea, Tonga, Hawaii and Moorea). There are eight total dining areas, including the secluded Tahiti and Samoa rooms, plus the outdoor Lanai and tables scattered throughout the Tiki garden. The Mai-Kai seats 500 for dinner, half of those in the showroom, plus another 150 in The Molokai. To say it’s expansive is an understatement. * Related: Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen
If you’re there early or late, take the time to stroll through all the rooms and paths that wind through the waterfalls and lush foliage of the garden. The entire lighting system was recently upgraded to add LED bulbs, which provide more consistent and reliable performance. Nothing about the look was modernized, however. Look up in the main dining room to the giant A-frame and marvel at the floats and other vintage lighting. It’s one of many seamless modernizations The Mai-Kai has made over the years to stay vital and remain one of the area’s most popular destination dining experiences.
Chef Rivera has revitalized the dinner menu, modernizing the plating and adding new twists to the classics. But many traditions remain, including the Chinese ovens that you can spot on the walking path toward the back dining rooms and Lanai. Few other restaurants in the United States use these ancient high-temperate ovens to cook steak, ribs, duck and other meats.
There is eye candy in every room: The outrigger canoe hanging from the rafters in Moorea that Bob Thornton used to serenade Mireille on their honeymoon in her native Tahiti; the black velvet portrait of Mireille in the Tahiti room; the shrunken skulls and other vintage artifacts on display in the Samoa room; the mysterious velvet painting high on the wall in Tonga that dates back to 1956. Just like Disney World, there are intricately themed details every where you look, even the gift shop and ladies’ rest room, which both have an ornate Asian theme. (The gift shop was formerly a dining room named Bangkok.)
You can go behind the stage and see the indoor Tiki garden (featuring works of noted artists from yesterday and today). Most of the Tikis throughout the property were recast by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from their original molds, though several massive vintage pieces by mid-century artist Barney West still proudly stand out front on the edge of Federal Highway on opposite ends of the property. Another tip: Don’t forget to take a walk along the sidewalk from north to south, where furniture stores have encroached on the surrounding area that was desolate when The Mai-Kai was built in 1956.
And be sure to stop at the porte-cochère to see three new Tikis carved in 2016 by contemporary Florida artists: Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard. Anders also contributed a 10-foot-tall Tiki dubbed King Kai to the outdoor garden, making the recent infusion of large stylized carvings the biggest since the 1960s. More evidence of today’s enthusiasts working hard to keep the traditions of The Mai-Kai alive for another 60 years. * Related: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
Authors dig deep into the The Mai-Kai’s history, mystery
It will be fascinating to learn more about the three cannibal icons, which have been depicted over the years in artwork on everything from menus, to coasters to advertising to the streetside sign. The three cannibal Tikis from The Mai-Kai’s original outdoor sign were brought out of storage and displayed at The Hukilau in 2008. They’re a direct link to Don the Beachcomber, which featured the Cannibal Room bar and trio of Tikis in the Chicago location in the 1940s and ’50s. This restaurant was a major inspiration for the Thornton brothers, who were Chicago natives.
Glazner’s symposium should be just as enlightening and entertaining. Beyond everything in his book, he has a wealth of information to share though his contacts with current and past employees, many of whom should be in attendance. It’s always great to see past performers, such as Toti Terorotua, who was part of the original revue and only recently retired. He performed in The Molokai during the book release party in September.
Glazner’s vast research also gives us insight into the first 15 years of The Mai-Kai, before a 1971 renovation that expanded the dining areas, added The Molokai in its current form and defined what the restaurant looks like today. “In the 1950s, Bob and Jack Thornton went on a buying trip all over the islands, and they bought literally tons of Oceanic art to decorate The Mai-Kai,” Glazner said during a walking tour at the September book release event. Up until the 1970s, a great deal of that artwork was in the restaurant. But after the renovations in 1971, they had to change their insurance policy, Glazner said.
When the insurance adjusters came into The Mai-Kai, Glazner said, they couldn’t believe the million dollars worth of Oceanic art, some of it in the open-air garden getting rained on. The cost of insurance went so high, most of the authentic decor was removed in 1974 and donated to Stanford University, the alma mater of the Thornton brothers. Some of it is also housed at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. It was last shown as a full exhibit there in 2010.
The Mai-Kai remains a priceless experience, a commodity whose value is beyond the comprehension of insurance adjusters. Glazner sums it up succinctly in his book: The Mai-Kai is “a place that opened over 60 years ago, built on an idea that started more than 80 years ago from a dream that is eternal … paradise.”
The Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White and spirits coordinator Dean Hurst visit the newly installed carving, King Kai, in The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens. (Photos by Go11Events.com)
The rains swept through South Florida, threatening a wet weekend but the skies suddenly cleared for the opening night festivities at The Mai-Kai. The hundreds of villagers, many coming straight from the airport, were swept up in the majesty of the Polynesian palace. Many made a pilgrimage to the garden to see King Kai, the new Tiki carved by South Florida artist Will Anders. Others made sure to check out the new Tiki trio in the porte-cochère.
Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate kick off their book tour at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
The first order of business was to meet Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate, the power duo behind the new book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki. The owners of the acclaimed San Francisco rum bar Smuggler’s Cove were signing copies of the book in The Mai-Kai gift shop, where they also had limited-edition mugs (a “Ports O’ Call” glaze on The Kuhiko) for sale that are exclusive for the book tour. And it’s indeed a tour. After two book signings at The Hukilau, the pair headed straight to Miami for a Sunday night event, then on to other events across the country.
Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate sign copies of their new book in The Mai-Kai gift shop. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Susan Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
Martin and Rebecca were thrilled to be at The Mai-Kai for the book’s release (it officially hit shelves and mailboxes the day before), and to meet their many friends and fans. As soon as you walked in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, you were greeted by a full display of the epic new book, which has the Tiki and cocktail scenes abuzz with its comprehensive look at the modern Polynesian Pop revival. I was one of the first in line to get my copy signed (and pick up a mug), and the authors made a special effort to personalize their signings and pose for photos. Their assistant, Peggy Williams, was also on hand to give out copies of the book’s accompanying trading cards, a novel way to promote the book and stir interest. Fans can collect the full set of 20 and discuss the recipes that appear on each on a special Facebook page.
Thanks to a dedicated group of artists and supporters, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale has been blessed with the arrival of a new clan of Tiki carvings, most notably the 10-foot “King Kai” that now holds court in the outdoor garden. It’s believed to be the most extensive infusion of large stylized carvings since the 1960s. See below:Exclusive photo gallery of King Kai, new trio of Tikis | What else is new
King Kai, a Hawaiian Ku design carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders, was installed May 21 and christened during a special ceremony the next day. Anders had lots of help in realizing the project, which was the vision of The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. She enlisted several key people to make the dream a reality: Securing two Florida Black Olive tree trunks and transporting them to South Florida, then erecting the finished carving at The Mai-Kai. * See previous coverage
Those responsible are credited on a plaque that adorns King Kai’s base: White, Anders, Lonnie Dryden (who donated the heavy equipment used to transport the logs and helped install King Kai), Lee Cicchella of Paradise Found Landscaping (who donated the two trees), Pete Ginn (who also donated heavy equipment), plus Virginia Decker. That second giant log is sitting in Anders’ workshop, awaiting a future project. Stay tuned.
As if that weren’t enough, however, White also spearheaded a project to replace the three crumbling Tikis that greeted guests upon their arrival by car in the porte-cochère of the landmark restaurant, recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. In the first project of its kind at The Mai-Kai, three Florida artists joined forces to each carve a distinctive new Tiki.
The Tikis carved by Anders, Fort Lauderdale’s Tom Fowner and Tampa’s Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29, just in time for The Hukilau. The Hawaiian Lono (Anders), Marquesan (Chouinard) and Tangaroa-style (Fowner) Tikis were carved by the artists from Central Florida Cypress. The Tikis they replaced were historic, believed to date back to the restaurant’s inception in 1956, but were in a serious state of decay. We’re told that the remnants might find a place inside the restaurant amid the many other South Seas artifacts.
As Anders and Fowner installed the new Tiki trio on the morning of May 28, The Mai-Kai’s longtime owner Mireille Thornton (wife of late founder Bob Thornton and choreographer/costume designer of the beloved Polynesian Islander Revue, arrived to see the new additions. “You guys are doing a great job,” she exclaimed when she first saw the Tikis.
The addition of the Ku and Lono by Anders are distinctive at The Mai-Kai since there aren’t many Hawaiian-style Tikis on the property. Bob Thornton, who founded the restaurant with his brother Jack, preferred other styles, Mireille said. If Fowner’s Tangaroa-style Tiki seems familiar, it’s because it was based on the design of The Mai-Kai’s vintage decanter. Chouinard, known for his public “guerilla” Tikis in the Tampa Bay area, previously donated a Tiki to The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2014. You can find it behind the stage in the main dining room’s garden.
The work of Anders, though largely uncredited, is ubiquitous at the 59-year-old Polynesian palace. For years, he has re-cast many of the smaller Tikis that are found throughout the property. Bob Thornton was wise enough to have molds made for most of the original pieces, but they sat in storage for decades until Anders volunteered to put them to good use. [See photos of Anders’ work on Tiki Central] He also created a giant Tiki based on The Mai-Kai’s Mara-Amu mug that can be found in another prime sport the garden next to King Kai. [More info and photos, Mara-Amu recipe]
The hot, wet and humid Florida weather is not kind to outdoor Tikis, but luckily The Mai-Kai’s molds and the work of Anders will keep the restaurant’s many Tikis in good condition. His latest project, completed just before The Hukilau on June 7, was the replacement of the stylized Tiki ash trays that guard the main entrance. They were stolen, so Anders jokes that his new castings contain a GPS chip. They’re also fastidiously secured in place (as are all the new Tikis), and cast using Anders’ usual method. Known as Portland cement (also called 123), it’s 1 part cement, 2 parts coarse sand, and 3 parts rock. He also puts steel inside for strength.
The wooden Tikis are a different story, however. Anders says he and Fowner hope to maintain them so they don’t meet the same fate as many of the larger carvings that date back to the early days of the restaurant. Famed California carver Barney West created many massive Tikis that were added in the early 1960s. Only two remain, both on the exterior of the property facing Federal Highway: An imposing 20-foot Moai stands just outside the fence near King Kai on the south side, while a smaller though no less impressive carving stands guard north of the main entrance. After more than 50 years in the elements, some worry how long these historic carvings may last.
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.