The Hukilau is movin’ on up …. to the landmark Pier 66 hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach

When Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White said she had big plans for the revived and reinvigorated Polynesian Pop event she has organized since 2002, she wasn’t kidding. When The Hukilau returns to Fort Lauderdale for its 14th annual Tiki weekender in June, it will be headquartered at one of the area’s most distinctive landmark hotels, the towering Hyatt Regency Pier 66.
Related posts: Latest updates on The Hukilau 2015

The Hukilau

The Hukilau: June 10-14, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. More info at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.
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* Previous coverage: Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau

The 17-story Pier 66 tower was built 50 years ago and opened in 1965
The 17-story Pier 66 tower was built 50 years ago and opened in 1965.

Rising 17 stories on the south end of Fort Lauderdale Beach, the historic hotel has roots that date back to 1956, the same year The Mai-Kai restaurant opened its doors around 6 miles to the north. The historic Polynesian supper club has been the centerpiece of The Hukilau since 2003, when the event moved from Atlanta, but host hotels have not been as stable [see list]. The most popular have been the Bahia Mar, Yankee Clipper and Bahia Cabana, all located near the more lavish Pier 66, which dominates the skyline next to Port Everglades and the Intracoastal Waterway bridge. But none of The Hukilau’s previous hotels approaches its amenities or spectacular views.

Pier 66 was built on 22 acres adjacent to the port as a dock and marina by Phillips Petroleum (aka Phillips 66), hence the “66” moniker. In the late ’50s, a two story hotel and restaurant were added, but the site gained notoriety (and its lasting iconic status) in 1965, when the 17-story tower was erected. Containing 250 rooms, its signature touch was the penthouse, a mid-century modern space-age design that contained a rotating cocktail lounge. Celebrating its 50th year in 2015, the tower’s rooftop restaurant/lounge will be the site of a very special event at The Hukilau.
* See more hotel history below

Pier 66, now operated as a Hyatt Regency property, is a popular destination for conventions, weddings and special events. It features 384 rooms, five restaurants and lounges, a newly remodeled marina, and three pools and waterfalls. The luxury hotel also boasts a spa, fitness center, water taxi, boat rentals and fishing charters, two tennis courts, and a complimentary beach shuttle.

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Photos: A ghastly good time at The Mai-Kai’s sixth annual Hulaween party

Ghoulish, whimsical and Tiki-inspired costumes filled The Molokai bar on Halloween night during The Mai-Kai’s annual bash that celebrates all things creepy and kooky, aka Hulaween.

See below: Browse photos from the event

Slip and the Spinouts perform live music for the undead at Hulaween 2014
Slip and the Spinouts perform live music for the undead at Hulaween 2014. (Atomic Grog photo)

Popular South Florida rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts had the house rockin’ all night long with three sets of classic covers and retro-inspired originals. Frontman Slip Mahoney led his band through a wide range of genres, from country to swing to blues and kept the dance floor filled with costumed partygoers.

Costumes were as creative as usual, with many playing off The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian theme. The winner in the costume contest adorned himself with a giant evil green head that appeared larger than many of the restaurant’s famous Tikis. The Count (aka general manager Kern Mattei) and Minnie Mouse’s evil sister Millie (aka marketing director Pia Dahlquist) once again hosted the festivities, with many prizes provided by sponsor Appleton Rum.

Appleton reps were also passing our free samples of The Mai-Kai’s Mai Tai, which features the brand’s always tasty 12-year-old dark Jamaican rum.

It was the first time in the event’s six years that Hulaween fell on Halloween night, giving lovers of Tiki, tropical and retro culture the perfect venue for their annual night of frightening fun.

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10 reasons why you need Sven Kirsten’s new book, ‘Tiki Pop’

Pop culture phenomenons are routinely shunned by historians and academics. This is especially true in the case of 20th century Tiki culture, which has been typically dismissed as being kitschy and unauthentic to the native civilizations that inspired it. Of course, this critique entirely misses the point of the artistic movement that peaked in the 1950s and ’60s but has been the midst of a continuing revival during the past several decades.

The book's cover is a colorized version of a vintage photo from Tiki Gardens on Florida's Gulf Coast
The book’s cover is a colorized version of a vintage photo from Tiki Gardens on Florida’s Gulf Coast. © Sven Kirsten/Taschen

Luckily for fans of Polynesian Pop history and the current renaissance, we have Sven Kirsten. The contributions by this German-born, longtime Los Angeles film professional and self-proclaimed Tiki urban archaeologist are inestimable. His third hardcover book puts many pop culture historians to shame, exploring in rich and colorful detail the uniquely American phenomenon that permeated fashion, music, eating, drinking, and architecture for decades.

Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise, published by Taschen (English and French). Available via Amazon and at retail outlets.
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Published in connection with an elaborate exhibit at a museum in Paris, Tiki Pop traces the development of Tiki as romantic vision and cultural appropriation. It takes readers on a journey from James Cook’s first expeditions in the Pacific, through Gauguin’s exotic paintings, to Hollywood’s big-screen fantasies, to the modern “temples” (bars, restaurants, hotels, apartments) built to celebrate Tiki as the god of recreation.

If you’re not sold yet, here are 10 good reasons why everyone with an interest in Polynesian Pop and mid-century culture needs to waste no time in picking up Kirsten’s latest hardcover opus:

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Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau in 2015 and beyond

After coming precariously close to saying aloha and goodbye to The Hukilau, the long-running Tiki event she has organized since 2002, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White is sure glad things turned out differently. “For me, it was the best event in the history of The Hukilau,” she said of the five-day festival in June that not only marked the 13th annual gathering of vintage culture devotees from around the world, but also a new beginning.

The Hukilau's Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White introduces her new partners, Richard Oneslager (left) and Mike Zielinski, during Saturday night's Main Event at The Mai-Kai.
The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White introduces her new partners, Richard Oneslager (left) and Mike Zielinski, during Saturday night’s Main Event at The Mai-Kai.

Just months before she planned to close the books on The Hukilau for good, White was approached by two fans of the event who also happened to be experienced businessmen and event organizers who were eager to strike up a partnership. “I consider myself a very lucky person,” she said of the serendipity of the happenstance that led to The Hukilau not only surviving to see 2015, but becoming poised to thrive and reach new audiences across the country.

I sat down with Tiki Kiliki recently at The Mai-Kai, the beloved 57-year-old Polynesian restaurant that serves as the inspiration for the event, to get the lowdown on what she and her new partners, Richard Oneslager and Mike Zielinski, have in the works for The Hukilau and how their mutually beneficial partnership came about. But first, a look back at that memorable event in June that was expanded to five days in anticipation of a last hurrah. Instead, it turned into a celebration of what’s to come.

The Hukilau 2014 was held June 11-15 at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
See below: Gallery of 62 photos from The Atomic Grog. Click on bold links below for galleries by the official photographers at Go11 Media.
Related: The Hukilau offers a deep dive into the history of porthole cocktail lounges
The Hukilau 2015 will be held June 10-14. Get updates at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.

In the waning hours of The Hukilau on Sunday, artist Crazy Al Evans and author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry get one last chance to savor The Mai-Kai, its cocktails and its tropical garden.
In the waning hours of The Hukilau on Sunday, artist Crazy Al Evans and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry get one last chance to savor The Mai-Kai, its cocktails and its tropical garden.

“This is going to sound really strange, but sort of like Disney, it was kind of like magic this year,” Tiki Kiliki told me. “You can’t really explain it, but everything just fell into place in a magical way. We talked about it afterwards. We don’t really know what the magic formula was, it just happened.”

The magic started on Wednesday, June 11, when what was formerly an informal night at The Mai-Kai became the Unofficial Official Pre-Party. South Florida roots/rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts jammed in the sold-out Molokai bar while other attendees enjoyed many of the bar’s 47 classic Tiki cocktails and the restaurant’s extensive appetizer and dinner menu in the more sedate dining rooms. Logistical problems at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper forced the cancellation of Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s scheduled midnight swim show, but that just gave some attendees the opportunity to begin their room parties early. Disappointed guests were heartened by the fact that there was much more Marina to come.

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Modern Retro Disney World: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

MODERN RETRO DISNEY WORLD

This is the first in a series that will spotlight The Atomic Grog’s picks of the top “modern retro” features at the world’s top tourist mecca. Disney World is a vast ocean of fun and frolic for all ages, but it’s easy to overlook the classic, timeless elements that make the massive resort special. It can be enjoyed on many levels – from the totally immersive, escapist experience in the theme parks to the many unique restaurants, bars and hotels. But what makes the fantasy complete is the incredible innovation, artistry and attention to detail that spans more than 40 years. The Atomic Grog is dedicated to celebrating and preserving cool mid-century kitsch, and there’s much of this to admire and embrace in “the happiest place on earth.” Is Disney World hip? Hardly. But it can still be enjoyed by geeky hipsters (and hipster geeks) with not a shred of irony. We hope you enjoy the ride with us.
Related: Disney World is still cool at 40 thanks to retro artists Shag, Kevin & Jody
July 2013 update: Tiki Room celebrates 50 years of enchantment

WALT DISNEY’S ENCHANTED TIKI ROOM
Photos: Jump to the gallery

José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre perform on an elaborate bird-mobile that descends from the ceiling (November 2011).
José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre perform on an elaborate bird-mobile that descends from the ceiling (November 2011).

Location: Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom theme park.

What is it? An indoor attraction themed to a Polynesian paradise featuring a colorful menagerie of flowers, Tikis and 200 performing Audio-Animatronic birds.

Origins: An opening-day attraction On Oct. 1, 1971, the Enchanted Tiki Room was originally known as Tropical Serenade. It was re-imagined and re-opened in 2011 under its current name with a show that pays tribute to the original Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland.

Claim to fame: The Disneyland attraction was the first to feature the Disney invention of Audio-Animatronics and was reportedly Walt Disney’s favorite.

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