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.
In the 21st century pop culture landscape, you typically gauge the health and success of a subgenre not by its mainstream success but by the vitality of its core audience. While Tiki has flirted with crossover fame for decades, it remains deeply rooted in the wants and needs of its devoted constituents. As evidence of this, we have the latest slew of new book and magazine releases aimed directly at this loyal demographic.
This year marks the publication of several new cocktail books along with continuing releases of a new quarterly magazine devoted to the revival of Polynesian Pop and mid-century culture. Who says social media and the Internet have killed off the printed word?
Hardcover book salutes Tiki home bartending community
The official U.S. release date is not until April 1, but The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails is already is among the top new releases in the alcoholic spirits category on Amazon thanks to relentless promotion by Reilly and the loyalty of her followers. Over the years, she’s probably served most of the California Tiki community at home parties, major events including Tiki Oasis and Tiki Caliente, plus a stint at Tonga Hut in North Hollywood.
A book release party was held on Sunday, March 10, at the Tonga Hut featuring live music by The Glasgow Tiki Shakers and special limited edition Mai Tai glasses. Joining the authors at the meet-and-greet and book signing were Kirsten, Murphy, Horne, and Geiger. Exotica Moderne magazine also joined the party, with artist Big Toe signing copies of the new issue featuring his cover artwork (see story below).
Reilly met Morgan – who teaches film, screenwriting and public speaking – through a shared interest in Tiki mugs. After many Rumpus Room gatherings, Morgan planted the seed for the book, but it was tough talking Reilly into sharing her secret recipes, according to an Exotica Moderne article on the book. This is a tradition dating back to the early days of Tiki cocktails, when mixologists feared others bars would steal their drinks, but Reilly also was leery about today’s free-for-all on social media. Luckily, she finally relented and the book was born.
Included among the 150 cocktail recipes are several created specifically for the book, plus the secrets to making your own exotic syrups such as ancho chili, lemongrass, sesame, and hibiscus. Full-color photos of a half-dozen home bars are splashed across the book’s pages. “These folks spend months and years and thousands of dollars on these bars, and it shows, we’re thankful,” Reilly told Exotica Moderne.
Spirits educator’s book puts modern spin on rum and Tiki cocktails
It’s no surprise that all three of the new books profiled here are written or co-written by female mixologists, long under-represented in the bar industry at large and Tiki subgenre in particular. But a new breed of talented professionals are quickly putting their creative mark on the Tiki and rum worlds, led by a Brooklyn-based cocktail consultant and spirits educator Shannon Mustipher.
Mustipher’s new 192-page hardcover book, Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (release date: March 19 on Amazon), is the culmination of her short but intensive journey from bartender at the Caribbean restaurant Glady’s in Brooklyn in 2014 to her current role as “spiritual adviser” and founder of the Women Who Tiki pop-up that spotlights women slinging some of the best tropical cocktails behind the bar. She’s also a founding member of Women Leading Rum, an industry organization dedicated to education and career development.
In a short 5 years, Mustipher has taken her passion for Caribbean rum and raised it to the next level via brand consulting and speaking engagements across the country. Her writing, recipes and opinions have appeared in publications including Imbibe, Punch, GQ, and Liquor.com. While overseeing the bar program at Gladys, she took her show on the road representing brands including Denizen(former brand ambassador) and Pusser’s (currently brand education specialist).
Mustipher is known for taking tropical drinks to the next level by incorporating flavors of Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Zombie, Mai Tai and Jungle Bird. Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (Rizzoli/Universe) also includes original recipes, techniques, tasting notes and recommendations plus tips on style and music. The book promises “a focus on refreshing flavors, fine spirits, and high-impact easy-to-execute presentation.” It also promises to be one of the most visually stunning cocktail books in recent memory, considering Mustipher’s prior career as a styling assistant in the photo industry.
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
Despite what you may have read in a local business journal, South Florida’s Polynesian palace is not going anywhere. Owner Dave Levy assures us not to worry and that everything will be fine. There has been no change in the daily operations of this classic establishment that promises to entertain, fascinate and satisfy us for years to come. In a tribute to its widespread appeal, Levy was recently interviewed for a feature story in The New York Times.
As a reminder of what makes this Fort Lauderdale landmark special, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why we love The Mai-Kai:
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai in 1969 and today. (Photos from Tim “Swanky” Glazner / Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
1. The architecture and design. This was a big one that helped it gain historic status but may go unappreciated by many. It was state-of-the art Tiki in 1956 and remains so today. Designed by noted South Florida architect Charles McKirahan, it was “a futuristic Polynesian A-frame 40 feet tall with wings on either side for dining rooms and inside and outside transitioning together via waterways and an open room,” wrote Tim “Swanky” Glazner in the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September. Following several expansions over the years, the size and scope of the restaurant today is jaw-dropping, seating more than 600 in the bar and eight dining areas both indoors and outdoors amid lush gardens and waterfalls.
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.”
EVENT RECAP: Tiki Caliente expands to four days of wall-to-wall Poly Pop parties in Palm Springs
Like the first major college football bowl game (but a lot more colorful), Tiki Caliente kicked off the annual Tiki event season in style with its eighth gathering of the tribe in the tropical mid-century splendor of Palm Springs on May 12-15. Expanded to four days at the historic Caliente Tropics resort, the intimate, sold-out event also featured a pre-party at Tonga Hut as well as more symposiums, an eclectic lineup of performers, art shows, vendors and the usual festive room parties. Tonga Hut also served as Tiki Caliente’s on-site bar all weekend, keeping the party going with authentic Polynesian-style cocktails from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m. * See below: Tonga Hut, bar of the week/month
Symposiums featured some of the most creative minds in Tiki cocktails, including “From the High Seas to High Tiki: Rum’s Cocktail Voyage” by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Finishing Touches” by Marie King of Tonga Hut, and “Punch and the History of the Communal Cocktail” by Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.
While not officially part of the event, the room crawl has become a fixture and allows guests to meet and mingle as well as show off their mixology skills. Many participants go all-in with full-blown Tiki decor, DJs, live music and more. Organized by the crew from the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast, this year’s crawl spanned three days and featured 15 rooms. Among the more noteworthy parties were hosted by Zen Tiki Lounge (celebrating their 10-year anniversary), Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast (serving a riff on the Cobra’s Fang/Cobra’s Kiss called The Snakepit), and the faculty and students from Poly Hai (serving the “Wake Your Tiki Ass Up Coffee Grog” with sponsor Deadhead rum at 9:30 a.m.).
The Mulders collaborated with Horne on the Tiki Caliente 8 War Club, one of the most creative event mugs we’ve seen in a long time. Horne also created the official event limited edition print and limited-edition war club pedants. The art of Shag was also featured in a special reception and party for the massive “Trousdale Twist” painting. Shag, who owns a mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, was on hand to meet guests and soak in the Polynesian Pop atmosphere.
EVENT PREVIEW: Step back into the WWII era at Tiki Kon in Portland
The northwest Tiki scene is gearing up for the 14th annual Tiki Kon, happening July 8-10 in Portland. Themed to Polynesian Pop’s roots in the post-World War II era and the USO, the eclectic event is centered at a new host hotel, the Red Lion Hotel On The River. Guests can enjoy Tiki-themed music, art and fashion, with a rollicking camp show, surf and lounge bands, educational symposiums, themed food and drinks, vendors from around the world, and the longest-running home bar tour of its kind.
Here’s a look at the schedule and highlights of the vintage weekend. Unless noted, all events are at the Red Lion Hotel. Some individual events have tickets available at the door, while others are free and open to the public. Check the online schedule for details.
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. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook | RSS feed | See all the past weeks | Archive 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.
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.
The summer Tiki event season reaches its climax this week with the big kahuna, Tiki Oasis in San Diego. We have a full preview, plus a recap of many other recent happenings: Texas Tiki Week, Hot Rod Hula Hop, the Surf Guitar 101 Convention, plus Shag at Disneyland and Tiki Night in Hollywood. There’s also news on the upcoming Mai Tai Festival in Hawaii, a Trader Vic’s rum tasting, and lots more. Our regular features spotlight Tiki mug creators PopTiki; the otherworldly music of Man or Astro-man?; the Bali Hai Restaurant in San Diego; and the website of Americana ambassador Charles Phoenix. The rum of the week, Angostura 5, is featured in The Morning After cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
EVENT PREVIEW: Tiki Oasis takes guests back to the retro future
San Diego becomes the center of the Tiki universe when the 15th annual Tiki Oasis presents “Yesterday’s Future Today” on Aug. 13-16 with four whirlwind days of 20 live bands and 20 DJs, 35 educational symposiums, art, mixology, book signings, a 100-vendor marketplace, 20 burlesque performers, comedy, vintage cars, fashion, food, kids events, and more. If you can’t find something to enjoy at Tiki Oasis, you’re following the wrong pop culture subgenre.
As a testament to the popularity of Tiki Oasis, it’s pretty much sold out. Organizers announced Monday that limited tickets will be available for Thursday night’s Bali Hai party starting at 6 p.m. And those with hotel room reservations will still be able to buy two tickets if they haven’t already. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. However, the festival marketplace, car show, and an assortment of other activities are free and open to the public.
Thursday’s’s Meet and Greet takes place at the legendary Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island, while ground zero for the rest of Tiki Oasis is the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly The Hanalei Hotel). Though it has suffered through renovations, the hotel still features waterfalls, lava rock pools and eight-story glass elevators, plus classic tikis featured in Sven Kirsten’s The Book of Tiki.
In keeping with the theme, many events are centered around mid-century modern primitivism (think the jet age meets Tiki). Musical acts include spacy surf band Man or Astroman?, out-of-this-world rockabilly band The Phenomenauts, and ’60s garage legends The Chocolate Watchband. Other notable bands include The Phantom Surfers, Tikiyaki Orchestra, Clouseaux, and Project: Pimento.
Symposium educators include original Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston, Rodenberry Entertainment CEO Rod Roddenberry, author and Tiki historian Sven Kirsten, and mid-century historian and entertainer Charles Phoenix. The art show features more than 30 top Tiki artists from around the world. The first San Diego Tiki Bartenders Challenge will be held during a beefed-up Sunday schedule that also features a special garage band showcase.
Guests always get in on the fun, so look for lots of retro and mod fashion, and appropriate Tiki space age decor for the famous room parties. Of course, everything is bigger at Tiki Oasis, including the Friday-Saturday room crawl. For example, Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach is hosting a two-night bash featuring live music from The Hula Girls and the Jimmy Psycho Experiment. New Las Vegas bar The Golden Tiki will also host a massive room party with live music and the owner himself DJing in his suite at the Crowne Plaza. Branden Powers is actually no stranger to the hotel, having DJ’d a weekly lounge event called Taboo 20 years ago when it was still the Hanalei Hotel.
Tiki Oasis is also a collector’s and shopper’s paradise, with some 100 vendors selling hand-crafted Tiki art, vintage clothing, records, collectibles and more. The marketplace is free and open to the public for most event hours Friday through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza. The vintage car show, also free, is held Saturday and Sunday in the hotel parking lot.
Here’s a day-by-day preview of all the headlining entertainment:
The arrival of new signature Tiki mugs marks the official opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort this week. Also in the news is a seminar at Trader Vic’s in Atlanta, the new Tiki Magazine, the New England Tequila & Rum Festival, and a list of the 150 best bars in America. Weekly features spotlight artist Basement Kahuna, the Exotic Tiki Island website and podcast, exotica supergroup Tiki Joe’s Ocean, and the adventurous Oakland bar and restaurant Longitude. The rum of the week, Plantation Barbados 5-year-old Grande Reserve, is featured in Julie Reiner’s Plantation Mai Tai. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events
Mugs arrive: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto now officially open
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto has been entertaining guests since March 28 at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but it didn’t “officially” open until Monday, April 27, when the Tiki bar’s custom mugs finally arrived.
You can now take home the new Tiki mugs after drinking the Shrunken Zombie Head, Uh-Oa!, Krakatoa Punch, and Nautilus at the immersive, interactive bar and adjoining Tiki Terrace. The first three drinks were imported from Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in Anaheim, along with the mugs. The new mugs are slightly different than their Disneyland brethren.
The giant Nautilus mug is unique to the Grog Grotto and is now for sale for the first time. The drink – a massive concoction featuring Barbancourt Pango Rhum, Appleton Estate Reserve rum, Combier Creme de Peche de Vigne Liqueur, tropical juices and falernum – is a tribute to the infamous submarine in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film and extinct attraction. Also available for the first time are the shot glasses that accompany the rum flight (Bacardi 8, Pyrat XO Reserve, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23).
You can also still pick up unique vessels that have been available since the soft opening with the Polynesian Pearl (a Grog Grotto original) and HippopotoMai-Tai (a favorite from the Disneyland bar that opened in 2011). The new mugs will likely only keep the crowds flocking to the intimate 50-seat bar designed by Disney’s Imagineers to pay homage to 20,000 Leagues, the Polynesian Resort, and mid-century Tiki culture.
Since it opened on an undeveloped stretch of Federal Highway on Dec. 28, 1956, The Mai-Kai has stood proudly as an icon of mid-century Tiki culture, supported by some of the most loyal guests any restaurant could hope for. Every year on that date, the Fort Lauderdale institution gives back with its Customer Celebration Party, which includes live entertainment and great deals on food and drinks.
The Mai-Kai’s Customer Celebration Parties: Saturday, Dec. 27, and Sunday, Dec. 28. Featuring live music by the Aloha Boyz, plus food and drink specials in The Molokai lounge. Location: 3599 N. Federal Highway, between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Valet and paid self-parking. Call (954) 563-3272 or go to MaiKai.com.
For its 58th birthday, The Mai-Kai is adding an additional night to the festivities, making it a two-day bash in The Molokai bar with live music both nights beginning at 6 p.m. Food and drink discounts have also been increased beyond the usual 50 percent, with most items on the lounge menu available at 58 percent off all night long. (There are some restrictions, such as bottles of wine, champagne, and the large communal cocktails.)
Guests can also enjoy the eclectic trio the Aloha Boyz, featuring former musicians from The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue. Derek Suzuki (guitar/vocals), Buki Teheiura Itchener (bass/vocals) and Ty Olopai (ukulele/vocals) cover many styles including Hawaiian, pop oldies, reggae, calypso, and country.