Minimalist Tiki

Got Tiki trepidation? Here’s a Hukilau survival guide

The 2012 Hukilau will be held Thursday through Sunday, April 19-22, at The Mai-Kai and several Fort Lauderdale beachside hotels. Official sites: | Facebook

The Hukilau

To the uninitiated, this week’s avalanche of Tiki culture, retro art and music, rum drinks and revelry may be a bit over the top. To the devotees, it’s a Polynesian paradise come to life. If you’re not quite clued in to what’s going on, it can be a bit overwhelming.

But the best part about The Hukilau and all the related events happening this week in and around Fort Lauderdale is that it’s set up like a buffet. You can sample as little or as much as you like. Just make sure to have a designated driver if you’re really going for the gusto. Below is a daily rundown on what to expect and a little guidance from a veteran. Or Click here for the full schedule. also offers these tips from the natives.

Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

First off, if you plan on attending more than one event, it might be in your best interests to buy a multiple day pass. All the various options are listed on the tickets page on If you don’t want to order online, they will also be available starting at noon Thursday at the registration booth at the new host hotel, the Best Western Oceanside Inn. The past two events were hosted by the nearby Bahia Mar. The new home base is smaller and homier, with Hukilau attendees taking most of the rooms and making for a more immersive experience.

Modern Caribbean Rum
The pool deck at the Best Western Oceanside Inn
The pool deck at the Best Western Oceanside Inn won't be empty this weekend. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2012)

The Best Western is at the south end of the strip, next to two other hotels that will host related events, the Bahia Cabana and Sheraton Beach Hotel. Also be aware that many of the events are at the legendary Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant, which is a good 30-minute drive to the northwest. So plan your itinerary accordingly. The Hukilau also offers shuttle buses for guests without transportation. And cabs are not too pricey, especially if you share. For more on the hotels, click here.

Now, put on that aloha shirt and let’s get moving …


Mai-Kai cocktails (Photo by
Mai-Kai cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Photo by

No official Hukilau activities today, but many attendees arrive early and The Mai-Kai is traditionally the meeting place for all the movers and shakers. Happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m. and it’s also a good time to enjoy this majestic mid-century marvel before the hordes arrive en masse.

But this year, it won’t be a terribly quiet evening since this is also the week of Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and Wednesday is the Tiki Time event at The Mai-Kai. A busload or two of rum connoisseurs will travel up from the Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach for a night of classic tropical drinks and the acclaimed Polynesian dinner show.

And starting at 6 p.m., retro and Tiki tunes will also be provided in The Molokai bar by DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones, so tonight’s a good opportunity to get get an early start on the festivities, sample what The Mai-Kai has to offer and meet many of the guests who have come from around the world to both The Hukilau and Rum Renaissance.

Check out our Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide to fully acquaint yourself with the one-of-a-kind tropical drinks you’ll be able to enjoy. also has more on The Mai-Kai.


The Hukilau officially opens for business with registration and ticket sales starting at noon in the lobby of the Best Western. If you’re staying at one of the hotels, it’s a good idea to register early, not only for the goodie bag full of free Tiki treasures, but also to get all your tickets and passes squared away. You can still show up later at one of the events, say a Mai-Kai symposium, without going to the hotel first but it’s advised that you do so if possible. Thursday registration runs into the late evening hours, so there’s plenty of time to check in. And check the official schedule for any late updates.

Official 2012 Hukilau glassware by Mookie Sato.
Official 2012 Hukilau glassware by Mookie Sato.

The Tiki Treasures Bazaar opens at 5 p.m., giving you first shot at all the vendors who have set up shop in the rooms on the third floor and the sun deck at the Best Western. Check out the cool merchandise before anyone else. DJs Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle will be spinning tunes while you browse.
* More information on the bazaar

Along with the vendors from around the world selling vintage merchandise, Miami’s Harold Golen Gallery will present the fine art show “Exotica Art in Hi-Fi” with artists paying tribute to the covers of classic exotica albums. And last but not least, The Hukilau 2012 event mug, designed and produced by Tiki Diablo, will be available for pick-up by those who pre-ordered. There should also be a limited number on sale. T-shirts and special glassware (see photo above) with art by Mookie Sato, an illustrator and graphic designer from Japan, will also be available along with a wide selection of Hukilau merchandise from past years.
Related: The 10 years of Hukilau Tiki mugs

A poolside fountain at the Best Western has been transformed into a Tiki paradise for Hukilau 2012
A poolside fountain at the Best Western has been transformed into a Tiki paradise for Hukilau 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The word is out that the free cocktails being served by special guests this year will be out of this world. At 6:30 p.m., the crew from New York City’s Lani Kai will be serving a flight of authentic Mai Tais while supplies last. You’ll need a Hukilau wristband to sample the drinks, all the more reason to register early.
* Hukilau announces mug, cocktails

From 6 to 9, the party will be poolside with performances by Pablus, Angie Pontani and The Intoxicators. Pablus’ repertoire ranges from songs he performs with his band, The Crazed Mugs, to Hawaiian, hapa haole and classic tunes from yesterday. Angie Pontani is a founding member of the World Famous Pontani Sisters and one of the most recognized and respected names in burlesque. The Intoxicators, an instrumental surf band from Tallahassee, are a revved-up throwback to the 1960s surf scene.

The party shifts to The Mai-Kai at 9 p.m. for a special late-night bash for Hukilau attendees. There will be live music in The Molokai bar plus all your favorite classic cocktails. You must have a Hukilau pass to attend, though locals should be able to pay at the door.


The three-day weekend kicks into gear with a full day of activities. Hopefully, you’ve had a bit of rest after last night. Registration began at 10 a.m. at the Best Western and will continue until late in the evening for any late-comers.

Poolside festivities run all day with the Tiki Treasures Bazaar again taking over the sun deck and part of the third floor. Be sure to explore all the nooks and crannies of all the vendor rooms. You might find a rare collectible you’ve been looking for. And the artwork from Harold Golen Gallery is always fun to check out. His prints are reasonably priced.

The Mai-Kai

Around 11:30 a.m., the first cocktails will be served on the sun deck. Mixology Symposium Coordinator George Jenkins will be mixing St. George’s Punch, free to everyone with Hukilau passes. Buses start leaving around noon for anyone headed to The Mai-Kai for the day’s symposiums.

“Mai-Kai: History, Mystery & Adventure” will be presented at 1 p.m. by Tim “Swanky” Glazner. This rare inside glimpse at the grand Polynesian Palace’s history will feature slides and video, plus special guest from the restaurant’s past.
* Full preview: Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and long-lost stories of The Mai-Kai

At 2:30 p.m., it’s “The Golden Age of Tiki Archeology” with influential author Sven Kirsten, author of the Book of Tiki and Tiki Modern. He’ll share previously unpublished slide images of lost Tiki temples and will also be available to sign copies of his books.
* More: Tiki godfather Sven Kirsten added to Hukilau 2012 lineup

Advance ticket purchases will receive priority seating at the symposiums, but walk-up tickets will be available. Following these events, there will be a meet-and-greet in The Molokai bar. Feel free to hang out for happy hour, or head back to the Best Western for more events. Make sure you don’t miss your bus if that’s your mode of transportation. If you stay at The Mai-Kai, you’ll be able to catch local rockabilly favorites Slip in the Spinouts from around 6 to 9 p.m.

Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge
Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge

Over on the beach, the party cranks up for the evening with live music at the Best Western from Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge. This hip combo is an amalgam of surf, jazz, spy-fi and spaghetti western, filtered through a film noir lens with a bit of groove. The vendors will again be selling their wares from 5 to 6:30 and another special cocktail will be served from another group of New York City’s best Tiki bartenders. The mixologists from PKNY will have a special recipe featuring Sailor Jerry and other tasty rums.

At 6:30 p.m., be sure to wander next door to the Wreck Bar on the first floor of the Sheraton Beach Hotel for Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s Underwater Swim Show. This event is free for all and should be a special version of Marina’s regular Friday night performance with her team of mermaids. You never know who or what will show up in the pool during Hukilau!

The Martian Denny Orchestra

It’s just another short walk to the other side of A1A for the Hukilau Main Event at the Bahia Cabana, which runs from 7 to 11 p.m. Emceed by King Kukulele and featuring live musical performances by Dan Cunningham as Elvis, Exotik-A-GoGo, The Martian Denny Orchestra with Angie Pontani, DJs Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle, plus more.

King Kukulele is a comedian, actor and ukuleleist who never fails to keep the energy level high with a his one-liners, hapa haole and novelty songs. Dan Cunningham has been channeling Elvis Presley for 15 years, performing everywhere from The Mai-Kai to Graceland. Exotik-A-GoGo from Minneapolis combines jazz instrumentation with jungle rhythms and tropical birdcalls mixed with vibraphone. The Martian Denny Orchestra blends surf, spy and space sounds while covering instrumental classics by Duane Eddy, the Ventures, the Rockin’ Rebels and Santo & Johnny. Led by acclaimed guitarist Eddie Angel (Los Straitjackets, The Neanderthals), the band features a who’s who of top Nashville musicians, who boast resumes that include work with Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp, NRBQ and others.
* Martian Denny Orchestra profile | More the performers

If you’re driving in, there’s plenty of hourly parking in the beachside lot just east of the Bahia Cabana.

And don’t forget to cap off the evening from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. at The Mai-Kai’s late-night party, “Dance You Savages!” featuring DJ Heelgrinder. Shuttle passes are available between the Best Western and The Mai-Kai.

It’s a full plate of activities so pace yourself and enjoy everything The Hukilau has to offer.


It’s your last chance to visit the Tiki Treasures Bazaar from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third floor and the sun deck at the Best Western. If you’re at the hotel or nearby, don’t miss the group photo at 11 a.m. on the sun deck.

The 2011 group shot. (Photo by
The 2011 group shot. (Photo by

The Best Western will host a very special symposium at 11:30 a.m. – “Ta-ta-u: The Mark of Civilization” by Paul Roe of Britishink Tattoos in Washington, D.C. This hands-on presentation will look at the importance of the male and female tattoos in Samoa, culminating in a demonstration of a traditional tatau. The recipient will be Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White herself. This symposium requires an individual ticket or all-access pass.

Next up is a free presentation at 12:30 p.m., “Sailor Jerry Presents the History of Spiced Rum.” The Hukilau sponsor will tell us where this blend originated and how it’s grown. Then, the team from New York City’s PKNY will demonstrate classic spiced rum cocktails using Sailor Jerry for everyone to enjoy.

Shuttles will then take guests to The Mai-Kai for a spectacular day and evening of classic rum cocktails, authentic Polynesian dinner shows, and live music into the wee hours. Click here for details on dinner reservations and shuttles.

Beachbum Berry is the world's foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak,
Beachbum Berry is the world's foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak,

This unique experience begins at 2 p.m. with author and cocktail archaeologist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s interactive, multimedia symposium – “Revenge Of The Zombie: The Tale of Tiki’s Deadliest Drink.” Berry will unearth the fascinating history of this infamous cocktail, from the 1930s to the present. The author of five books – from Grog Log (1998) through Beachbum Berry Remixed (2009) – will also mix up several classic Zombies for attendees to sample. This is a special ticketed event.
* Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies

The evening party starts early with a 4 p.m. happy hour in The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar featuring live music by Exotik-A-GoGo. Admission is free to see the band and enjoy the half-priced drinks in the bar.

At 4:30, guests are seated in the grand dining rooms for the special Hukilau dinner show. But first, there’s a another treat. At 5 p.m., there will be a sneak preview of the film Plastic Paradise, a new documentary on the rise, fall and resurgence of Tiki culture. The project by Miami filmmakers Common Machine was commissioned by PBS with much footage shot at Hukilau 2011 in June. You must have dinner reservations to see the film.
* More: Kevin Kidney named art director of Plastic Paradise

The Mai-Kai’s dinner show is extremely popular, and there will be two more later in the evening. But most Hukilau guests will attend the first. If you don’t have reservations and/or are just hanging out to enjoy the bands, you can still take a peek as you walk to the Tiki gardens. It’s a lively and hugely authentic Polynesian review that everyone needs to see at least once. To make reservations, call The Mai-Kai directly at (954) 563-3272.

The music will continue through the evening in The Molokai: Pablus from The Crazed Mugs, The Intoxicators, Exotik-A-GoGo and perhaps a special surprise or two. This is many attendees’ last night to enjoy The Mai-Kai, so the Saturday Main Event is typically a festive grand finale.
* More on The Mai-Kai | Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide


Unfortunately, the exclusive Tiki bowling event at a vintage condo complex west of Fort Lauderdale was canceled. But if you’d like to tour the facilities in cyberspace, you can still do so on this post on the Tiki Central message board.

The Grand Tasting at Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, 2011
The Grand Tasting at Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, 2011 (Photo from

With Hukilau wrapped up, there are a few other events for rum and surf music fans interested in extending their revelry one more night. The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival concludes with the Grand Tasting from 1 to 7 p.m. For $40, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to sample from among more than 200 rums on display in the Deauville Beach Resort ballroom. You can also rub elbows with industry VIPs, browse vendors selling island-themed merchandise, see cocktail competitions, and attend seminars and lectures by acclaimed mixologists and rum experts. Tiki cocktail fans won’t want to miss “The Piña Colada Paternity Test,” a fun-filled presentation at 4 p.m. by U.K. RumFest producer Ian Burrell.
* Related post: Get a Ph.D in rum appreciation this week at Miami festival

And if you have any gas left in the tank after this long weekend, the King of the Surf Guitar just happens to be playing his first Miami concert in five years on Sunday night at Churchill’s Pub. The legendary Dick Dale hits the stage around 11 p.m., headlining a six-band bill that also includes South Florida legend Charlie Pickett.
* Related post: South Florida welcomes Dick Dale this weekend


Next year’s dates were announced in this year’s event program as June 6-9 in Fort Lauderdale. That’s nearly 14 months to gear up for another celebration of Polynesian Pop and retro culture set in the vacation capital of the world. After this year’s wall-to-wall schedule of events, you’ll probably need the rest. We’ll see you next June.

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