Minimalist Tiki

The Hukilau weathers many storms to celebrate 10 years of Tiki madness

The 10th anniversary Hukilau – featuring four days of music, art, cocktails, vendors, symposiums on Tiki culture and much more – takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, in Fort Lauderdale. Go to for the full schedule and more information on all the performers and guests.
* Related: Hukilau 2010 video preview | Mixologists vie to build a better Barrel

In the beginning …

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.

The Hukilau

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.

Both Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau show no signs of slowing, both hitting the 10-year mark as “Polynesian Pop” and “Tiki” inch out of the underground and into the mainstream. But for The Hukilau, it’s been 10 years of struggles to keep the spirit alive. Hit hard by Florida’s deadly hurricane season in 2004 and then nearly derailed by the near-closing of The Mai-Kai in 2008, The Hukilau has endured, thanks to the commitment of its organizers and attendees who consistently return to Fort Lauderdale for a one-of-a-kind taste of authentic Polynesian Pop, not the watered-down version that often infects the public consciousness.

Here then is a year-by-year recap of “the most intimate Tiki festival in the world” …


The brainchild of Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White and Tim “Swanky” Glazner, the first Hukilau grew out of discussions on the longtime online meeting place for Tiki devotees, Tiki Central. Their site of choice was the vintage Trader Vic’s location in Atlanta. Opened in 1976, it’s considered one of the last remaining “classic” Trader Vic’s locations and proved to be the perfect backdrop for the first major Tiki event on the East Coast. Featuring three days of entertainment and events at multiple Atlanta venues, the entire event sold out as the long-starved retro-loving underground descended in droves. It was such a success that an annual event was born.


By 2003, word was rapidly spreading through the Tiki world about the incredible Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Open since 1956, it remains virtually unchanged since its heyday as one of the great Polynesian Pop palaces of mid-century America. The Hukilau moved south and hasn’t looked back as attendees came from all over the world to solidify the event as a must-go destination.


(Hukilau Hurricane by Jochen Hirschfeld)

Just as The Hukilau was gaining critical mass it was dealt a setback in 2004 with the intrusion of Hurricane Jeanne. Even so, the event had an attendance of more than 800 guests and the storm proved to be a catalyst that brought everyone together, mainly out of necessity, as attendees who had been evacuated from their beachside hotels were forced to hunker down at The Mai-Kai. The gracious hospitality of The Mai-Kai staff paved the way for many successful events to come. The event also found a home at two long-standing hotels that remain involved to this date: The Bahia Cabana and Bahia Mar beach resorts. These hotels couldn’t be more different, but in tandem they give Hukilau revelers a full range of the Fort Lauderdale Beach experience.


Modern Caribbean Rum
Robert Drasnin performs at The Hukilau 2005. (Photo by Basement Kahuna)
Robert Drasnin performs at The Hukilau 2005. (Photo by Basement Kahuna)

The Hukilau came of age in its fourth year as Tiki Kiliki became the sole organizer. Attendance grew as this year began a long line of historic events and performances, with exotica music legend Robert Drasnin on hand to conduct a 16-piece orchestra. They played Drasnin’s groundbreaking LP, Voodoo, in its entirety for the first time since 1959. Another icon of exotica, the incredible vocalist Yma Sumac, also performed, and The Hukilau also introduced new talent with an appearance of an early version of Waitiki, now one of the mainstays of the new exotica movement. Surf bands also began to take the spotlight with great local and regional groups The Intoxicators and Haole Kats making their first of many Hukilau appearances.


The Hukilau helped The Mai-Kai celebrate its 50th anniversary with its biggest event to date as more than 1,300 Tikiphiles descended on Fort Lauderdale. Educational seminars were introduced to spotlight the importance of the growing Tiki culture and its history. Author and tropical drink guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry presented the first of many cocktail symposiums; and Sven Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki (credited by many with fully igniting the Tiki revival in 2003), presented a slideshow on his new book Tiki Modern. There were also interactive seminars featuring slideshows of Florida Tiki palaces and historic Americana, plus an exotica music symposium. An exhibit of hundreds of vintage Mai-Kai images and memorabilia was also on display throughout the weekend as The Hukilau expanded to the historic Yankee Clipper hotel (featuring its iconic Wreck Bar and mermaid show) on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The 2006 event set the standard and created a template for years to come, as The Hukilau reached its full potential and was also fully embraced by the growing Tiki revival.
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(A news report by the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

In 2007, The Hukilau moved back to June, where it has remained. Robert Drasnin returned to perform his newly released Voodoo II album for the first time. Beachbum Berry was back to mark the debut of his new book, Sippin’ Safari; and another Tiki bar historian, James Teitelbaum, took attendees on a visual tour of some of the sites he visited in his book, Tiki Road Trip. Disney historian and artist Kevin Kidney, designer of the Hukilau logo, presented a seminar on the history of Tiki through Disney’s eyes. Musical performers included Waitiki, The Crazed Mugs, Haole Kats, The Intoxicators (and their alter ego The Disasternauts), plus the Hukilau debut of budding surf guitar hotshot Laramie Dean. New features, such as a fashion show, were introduced as attendance continued to climb.
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(Laramie Dean performing at the Bahia Cabana)

The seventh Hukilau was shaping up to be incredibly bittersweet. Now reaching full stride, organizers were rocked by the news that The Mai-Kai was facing financial, legal and logistical difficulties and would likely be forced to close some time after the event. Vowing to not continue without the iconic presence of Tiki’s flagship location, Tiki Kilki announced this as the last Hukilau. Scenesters came from far and wide to bid farewell and enjoy a full slate of entertainment, including first-time performances by The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Martini Kings, and The Fisherman. Symposiums featured Tiki luminaries such as Beachbum Berry, Kevin Kidney, carver and artist Bosko and more. Amidst the revelry, the Tiki gods intervened and Mai-Kai owner Dave Levy took the stage during Saturday’s main event to announce that The Mai-Kai had been saved, loans had been secured and a multimillion-dollar renovation would be taking place. It also meant the survival of The Hukilau and further reason to celebrate.
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(Special video presentation by

The Hukilau was feeling the pinch of the economic downturn and wisely downsized in 2009 to just one hotel (the Bahia Cabana) but this also made for a much more intimate event for the loyal attendees. Despite the recession, attendance was strong and the musical lineup was one of the best ever, featuring the first-ever Hukilau performance by Grammy-nominated surf band Los Straitjackets. Guests were treated to a boat cruise (earlier introduced in 2004), the Harold Golen Gallery returned for its second Tiki Art Show, and new bands such as The Stolen Idols joined the party, which also included the first “Room Crawl” hotel bash. Longtime emcee King Kukule kept the fun flowing as he has every year with his combination of Spike Jones-inspired comedy, hapa haole (Hawaiian music) and novelty songs performed on his trusty ukulele. He’s like The Mai-Kai: The Hukilau wouldn’t be the same without him.
Audio slideshow flashback: Los Straitjackets highlight a rockin’ 2009 Hukilau
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(Random clips including The Woggles performing at the Bahia Cabana)

The Bahia Mar returned as host hotel and along with the Bahia Cabana and (of course) The Mai-Kai gave last year’s guests a full plate of performances, symposiums, art, culture and vendors from which to choose. The Tiki Treasures Bazaar has long been a mainstay of The Hukilau and in 2010 vendors filled the main ballroom with their exotic wares. Acclaimed retro artist Josh Agle (aka Shag) was the special guest and designed a colorful Aloha shirt for the occasion. Official Hukilau merchandise, another cornerstone of the event, again featured a mug designed by Kevin Kidney as well as a hand-crafted pendant and T-shirts. Some new faces hit the stage including The Sweet Hollywaiians, who came all the way from Japan to perform; notorious Atlanta party band The Woggles; and retro rockers The Neanderthals. The ninth Hukilau proved the staying power of the event and left everyone looking forward to the surprises that lie in store for the 10th anniversary in 2011.
Audio slideshow flashback: Opening party reached a new level of overindulgence
Special report, photos, recipes: Room Crawl and Master Mixologist Cocktail Challenge
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive

The 10th anniversary Hukilau – featuring four days of music, art, cocktails, vendors, symposiums on Tiki culture and much more – takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, in Fort Laudedale. Go to for the full schedule and more information on all the performers and guests.
* Related: Mixologists vie to build a better Barrel