Minimalist Tiki

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 16, 2015): Tiki cocktail showdown on South Beach, ukuleles and lost cocktails at the historic Mai-Kai

The Week in TikiSouth Florida appears to be the nexus of the Tiki universe this week. On Friday, Emeril Lagasse hosts a who’s who of Tiki bartenders and VIPs for “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The Mai Kai hosts special musical guests on Friday and an evening of “lost cocktails” on Saturday. This all comes on the heels of last week’s news that the Fort Lauderdale landmark has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Our weekly features spotlight Tiki Tiablo, Critiki, Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation, and Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas. The rum of the week, Tanduay from the Philippines, is featured in the Shark’s Tooth cocktail.
* 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

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS (Feb. 16-22, 2015)

Emeril Lagasse brings the ‘Art of Tiki’ to South Beach

Modern Caribbean Rum
Emeril Lagasse
Emeril Lagasse is hosting “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown,” featuring mixologists from across the country, this Friday during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Tiki cocktails are the centerpiece of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s signature event at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, a sure sign that tropical drinks have gained some long-overdue respect. The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown hits the Shore Club on Friday night (Feb. 20) from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for an evening of “Polynesian flare with Tiki-inspired cocktails from across the country.”

The sold-out event pays tribute to the “subculture enjoying a resurgence in popularity with bartenders across America.” Presented by Captain Morgan Rum and hosted by Lagasse, the showdown will feature eight cocktails from some of the most notable Tiki mixlogists, bars and restaurants from near and far: Lost Lake (Chicago), The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), Tiki Mondays With Miller (New York City), Frankie’s Tiki Room (Las Vegas), Royal Kona Resort (Hawaii), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach), and Spike Mendelsohn’s upcoming Miami restaurant.

Judging the competition will be Lagasse, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), and Lynnette Marrero (Diageo rum ambassador; DrinksAt6, New York City). Guests will also have a vote in determining the winner. To supplement those tasty cocktails, there will be tropical treats served by some top chefs and restaurants: the Shore Club, The Rum Line, Ian’s Tropical Grill (Stuart, Fla.), Coyo Taco (Miami), That Little Beet (New York City), and Red Ginger (Miami).

The event was curated and organized by mixologist Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, famed for his work at hotel bars around the globe. Lagasse, one of the world’s most famous chefs, gives the event its star power. The restaurateur, television personality and author is a regular at the annual festival, a massive four-day affair that features the world’s most renowned wine and spirits producers, chefs and culinary personalities.
* Official website: See the event preview
NEW: Full event preview on The Atomic Grog

The Mai-Kai presents ukulele duo on Friday, ‘lost cocktails’ party on Saturday

Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel
Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel

Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel are an acclaimed duo who have spent the past two years performing and teaching ukulele at festivals around the world. The San Diego-based couple, who are planning a September wedding, have fused their diverse backgrounds (Craig in indie pop, Sarah in jazz) to create a dynamic sound and style. South Florida will have a rare opportunity to catch these artists on Friday, Feb. 20, in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Don’t miss this free performance at 6 p.m. during the historic Polynesian restaurant’s famous happy hour.

The couple began collaborating in early 2013, quickly becoming sought after for both performing and sharing their knowledge of the ukulele. The couple’s Florida tour, which began Friday, includes five workshops and concerts. Their combination of ukulele and vocal harmonies has garnered much praise and fans, and their self-released album quickly sold out.

Craig and Sarah are considered two of world’s top ukulele players, renowned for their innovative new directions. Sarah has been hailed by critics as the “queen of jazz ukulele” while Craig gained a following by combining ukulele with pop-orientated sounds. They met on the ukulele festival circuit, gelling both professionally and personally. They’re currently writing and recording a full-length album that is being partially funded by fans via a successful Kickstarter campaign.


During Saturday’s happy hour, starting at 5 p.m., The Mai-Kai will serve a flight of cocktails that have never appeared on the acclaimed 58-year-old tropical drink menu. It’s a rare opportunity to sample three classics that were popular in the mid-century but probably haven’t been served at The Molokai bar for decades.

During the restaurant’s opening decades, the Fog Cutter, Singapore Sling and Suffering Bastard proved to be popular requests, so original mixologist Mariano Licudine created recipes that were used upon request. Manager Kern Mattei has resurrected these recipes for this special event presented by the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai.

The Singapore Sling is a classic gin-based cocktail that dates back to the early 1900s and was created at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Fog Cutter and Suffering Bastard were popularized by Trader Vic Bergeron at his worldwide chain of South Seas themed restaurants. Click here for a review of the Bastard, which has appeared at past events. The flight costs just $15, and no reservations are necessary. Ask to be seated near the FOM group, who will also be holding their usual charity raffle.

NEW: Full event recap on The Atomic Grog

Also in South Florida: Celebrate surf and Polynesian culture

Surfing Florida grand opening reception

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History,” an exhibition of the sport’s rich and vibrant roots in the Sunshine State, has found a permanent home at the new Surfing Museum in Delray Beach. A grand opening reception will be held Saturday (Feb 21) from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will include appearances by surfing legends and VIPs, plus food and drinks. You can also buy the exhibit’s companion book that was published in May. The exhibit made its debut at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in March 2012. The collection of rare photos, surfboards, video, music and interviews then traveled around the state for several years before it was assumed by the nonprofit Palm Beach County Surfing History Project. The reception is billed as the first of many “Night at the Museum” events at the Surfing Museum. The museum’s collection is being called the most extensive in the eastern United States.
* On The Atomic Grog: Book makes waves by giving Florida’s rich surfing history its due
* Buy the book: Surfing Florida: A Photographic History (Amazon)

Polynesian Cultural Festival

The Polynesian Cultural Festival returns to Oakland Park’s Jaco Pastorius Park for its 12th annual event on Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 21-22). Polynesian entertainment will include hula dancers, a fire and knife dancer, island music, and a hula contest. There will also be a ukulele exhibition, South Pacific arts and crafts, and authentic Polynesian food. You’ll be able to enjoy Mai Tais, plus beer from the nearby Funky Buddha Brewery. Admission is just $7 for adults, free for children under 12. A portion of the proceeds benefit Broward Children’s Center and its affiliates. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event is presented by the non-profit Polynesian Culture Association, founded in 2004 and dedicated to expanding knowledge by “sharing, educating, promoting, and preserving ancient, traditional, interpretive and modern aspects of Polynesian culture and heritage.”
* Facebook events: Saturday | Sunday

LAST WEEK IN REVIEW (Feb. 9-15, 2015)

The Mai-Kai named to National Register of Historic Places

Florida’s secretary of state last Monday announced that several properties from around the Sunshine State were recently listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, including The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. “These properties represent the broad spectrum of Florida life and history, having served as homes or municipal centers, and as places of business, worship, recreation, and tourism,” Ken Detzner said.

The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai as it appears on the National Parks Service website that designates it a member of the National Register of Historic Places.

The announcement called The Mai-Kai “an excellent example of the Polynesian-themed dining experience.” Built and opened in 1956 by founders Bob and Jack Thornton, the expansive restaurant is still family owned and operated. The Mai-Kai was designed by architect Charles McKirahan and decorated by Wayne Davidson. Nationally-renowned designers George Nakashima and Florian Gabriel were also called in to consultant and ensure an authentic Tiki experience. “The restaurant survived beyond the waning popularity of Polynesian-Pop in the late 1970s and is now experiencing a resurgent interest,” the announcement notes.

The Mai-Kai’s page on the National Parks Service website calls its “period of significance” the 1956 to 1964 era, “when it largely achieved its present appearance.” The bio continues: “The Mai-Kai reflects national broad patterns of entertainment that began in the 1920s and thrived in the mid-20th century. The Mai-Kai is one of the few remaining Polynesian themed restaurants in Florida. The building, landscaped garden, interior decor, and the operational elements make The Mai-Kai exemplary of an exotic themed restaurant and tourist destination. In addition to its decor, The Mai-Kai maintains a Polynesian-Asian influenced menu, as well as the mandatory cocktail menu. 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. As a result, the restaurant is renowned for its expert tropical drinks. A review of The Mai-Kai’s drink menu indicates over a dozen registered trademark cocktails. The Mai-Kai has a permanent place in a holy trio of old-school holdouts dedicated to the careful construction of their libations.”
* See the other Florida sites added to the register

Press coverage: The Miami Herald | New Times | Sun-Sentinel | S. Fla. Business Journal
The Mai-Kai: Official site | Facebook page | Flickr group
On The Atomic Grog: Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Tropical drink family tree
Rich history and lost stories | Bar and kitchen tour | More history | All Mai-Kai posts

***** Links of the week*****
* Photo tour: Lost Lake & Thank You (RedEye)
* Construction permits filed for new Adventureland Veranda Restaurant (WDW Magic)
* The best World Showcase pavilions for drinking (Touring Plans)

Tiki Diablo's 2014 mug
Tiki Diablo’s 2014 mug that pays tribute to a fallen Tiki at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The distinctive artwork of Southern California’s Danny Gallardo, aka Tiki Diablo, is popping up everywhere these days. And he always seems to have his hands in the coolest projects. You’ll find his hand-crafted mugs at special events such as The Hukilau, classic Tiki bars such as The Mai-Kai, and neo Tiki bars such as Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans. If you visit the Berry’s new French Quarter haunt, also look for Gallardo’s massive three-dimensional, low-relief map of the Polynesian islands that hangs behind the bar. His latest effort is The Royal Hawaiian Estates Palm Springs Flying Seven Mug, created for Modernism Week (which continues through Sunday). But Tiki Diablo is about more than mugs and art pieces. He’s a talented and in-demand Tiki bar builder and craftsman.
* Visit Gallardo at and Facebook
* Past Atomic Grog coverage: Artists pay tribute to The Mai-Kai with one-of-a-kind mugs
* See past artists of the week


The definitive online guide to Tiki bars, restaurants and other vintage locations around the world, both past and present. Created in 2002 by a pioneer of the Tiki revival scene, San Francisco’s Humuhumu, Critiki has grown to more than 800 destinations, many with in-depth pages that include authoritative history, user photos and ratings, plus more. One of the more interesting features are the user rankings, which rate everything from decor and drink quality to mood and “Tikiness.” Users tend to be extremely knowledgeable, placing The Mai-Kai, Oceanic Arts, and The Enchanted Tiki Room atop the current Top 25 Overall list. Search by state or plug in your ZIP code to find the closest active Tiki locations. Until now, I didn’t realize that while I’m 168 miles from Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in Orlando, I’m also a mere 257 miles from El Polinesio, the former Trader Vic’s location in Havana, Cuba. The Critiki mobile website can even use your phone’s location feature to point you to the latest authentic Tiki watering hole.
* Check it out: and Facebook
* See past websites of the week

Koop Kooper
Koop Kooper has recorded nearly 350 weekly podcasts on the classic and neo lounge scene. (Cocktail Nation photo)

Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation

Instead of a band or musician, this week we spotlight a radio show/podcast and its host, a mellifluous Australian “lounge lothario.” The weekly Cocktail Nation show has become an invaluable source for great music, new and old. Koop Kooper has his fingers on the pulse of today’s retro scene, featuring the best in lounge, exotica, jazz, and all manner of Bachelor pad music. Broadcasting from his Sydney “penthouse,” Kooper manages week after week to present a fresh take on retro culture by spinning the latest releases, plus many great blasts from the past. He also interviews the scene’s movers and shakers, turning many of those talks into books you can buy via his website or Amazon.
* Official website | Radio stations | Subscribe in iTunes
* Past Atomic Grog stories on Koop Kooper
* See past bands/music of the week

Frankie's Tiki Room merchandise
Frankie’s Tiki Room merchandise includes: Prints of The Abominable Dr. Frankie, a painting by Doug Horne that hangs in the bar; Frankiestein mugs by Philippe Tilikete; and Liquid Vacation, the official cocktail recipe book. (Facebook photos)

Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas

Open since 2008, Frankie’s Tiki Room is one of America’s most popular new Tiki bars, thriving where many have failed on the competitive 24-hour-a-day Las Vegas bar scene. That’s not surprising, considering Frankie’s was conceived by P Moss, an author, musician and bar industry veteran who also owns the Double Down Saloons in Las Vegas and New York City. In creating Frankie’s, Moss enlisted a who’s who of modern Tiki artists (Bamboo Ben, Bosko, Leroy Schmaltz, Crazy Al Evans, Shag, Thor, Squid, Von Franco, et al.) to build the bar, carve Tikis, create artwork, mugs, and more. The goal was to combine South Seas exotica and modern primitivism with just a hint of Las Vegas kitsch. By all accounts, this was achieved in spades. The drink menu contains a wide assortment of creative original cocktails (in unique mugs with a Vegas twist), such as the Lava Letch and Tiki Bandit. In 2013, Moss authored Liquid Vacation: 77 Refreshing Tropical Drinks from Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas, a hardcover visual feast containing not only recipes but also an authoritative history of Tiki in Las Vegas. Like the rest of Sin City, Frankie’s is open 24 hours and features gambling, as well as freewheeling attitude.
* Visit Frankie’s: Official website | Facebook page | Critiki profile, photos
* Buy: Frankie’s merchandise | Liquid Vacation (Amazon)
* See past Tiki bars of the week

RUM OF THE WEEK: Tanduay Asian rum
Consistently ranked among the top-selling rum brands in the world along with the likes of Bacardi and Havana Club, Tanduay was until recently a mystery to most Westerners since much of its massive volume has been consumed in the Philippines, where it’s distilled and bottled. The brand hopes to make in-roads in the U.S. market with special export versions of its silver and gold rums, along with a high-profile marketing campaign that began in 2013. I received promotional bottles of both for review and was pleasantly surprised. Both have proved to be solid and versatile mixing rums. The silver rum (aged up to 5 years) is not filtered, so it has some subtle color and flavor. It’s a little grassy, with light vanilla and molasses notes. Overall, it strikes a nice balance between sweet and dry, adding just a bit of spice to a daiquiri. The gold rum (aged up to 7 years) features fruit and spice notes with just a hint of heat. It’s subtly exotic, and also can serve as a mixing workhorse.
* See past rums of the week

* From the original menu at Painkiller (later PKNY), New York City
* Based on the Tiger Shark (circa 1950s) by Tony Ramos of the China Trader, (published in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, 2007)

Shark's Tooth
Shark’s Tooth featuring Tanduay Asian rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 3/4 ounce gold rum
* 3/4 ounce light rum
* 3/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 1 ounce fresh pineapple
   (around 1/4 cup, cut into chunks)
* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce simple syrup
* 1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
Put ingredients in a blender and blend briefly to juice the pineapple. Add small or cracked ice and blend again for about 5 seconds. Pour into a goblet and serve with a large straw.

To showcase the Tanduay rums, I sought a drink that featured both silver and gold rums equally, and also had an Asian back story. I dug deep, back to the original Painkiller menu from 2010, before the Lower East Side Tiki bar became PKNY (then sadly closed in 2013). It’s a take on the old Tiger Shark from Burbank’s China Trader, a drink created by former Don the Beachcomber bartender Tony Ramos (originally from the Philippines).

The PKNY version of the Tiger Shark is a bit heftier than the original and features fresh pineapple instead of juice. The only thing different in the Shark’s Tooth is the addition of Cherry Heering, most famous for its inclusion in the Singapore Sling (another Asia reference). Lacking Cherry Heering liqueur, try to use a quality cherry brandy. Lemon Hart is the preferred 151 Demerara rum, but it’s become scarce in the U.S. Keep an eye out for a new 151 rum from Guyana coming soon from Caribbean Spirits.

I prefer this to the China Trader version, but beware: The combination of rums, fruit, syrup and liqueur makes for a super sweet and super potent cocktail. But it all starts with the solid Tanduay silver and gold rums, which blend well with the 151 Demerara to create a complex flavor punch to offset the sweetness. The Heering adds a layer of complexity and bold flavor missing from the original. And the fresh pineapple is superior to plain juice, adding pulp and texture.
* See past cocktails of the week

SAVE THE DATE: Upcoming events

The Hukilau

***** In Florida *****
* Feb. 27 – WMNF benefit with The Disasternauts and Switchblade Villain, Sarasota.
* Feb. 28 – Rockabilly Ruckus at Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa.
* March 14 – Dapper Day at Disney World.
* April 17-19 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. The ultimate rum festival and trade expo. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* June 10-14 – The Hukilau at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant, Fort Lauderdale. The world’s most authentic Tiki event. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* Oct. 1-3 – Ohana: Luau by the Sea, Fort Lauderdale. A weekend of ohana in sunny South Florida.

***** On the Eastern Seaboard *****
* May 15-17 – Instro Summit, Chapel Hill, N.C.
* June 25-28 – Ohana: Luau At The Lake at The Tiki Resort, Lake George, N.Y.
* July 15-19 – Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, La.

Tiki Oasis

***** Across the U.S. *****
* March 1 – Dapper Day at Disneyland.
* April 11-13 – Mojave Oasis, Newberry Springs, Calif.
* April 24-26 – Chicago Area Tiki Tour
* May 14-17 – Tiki Caliente, Palm Springs, Calif.
* July 10-12 – Tiki Kon, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.
* Aug. 8Surf Guitar 101 Convention, Los Alamitos, Calif.
* Aug. 13-16 – Tiki Oasis, San Diego, Calif.

***** Worldwide *****
* Feb. 27-March 1 – Festival RumBahamas, Fort Charlotte
* May 23-25 – RhumFest Paris, Paris, France.
* June 18-21 – Surfer Joe Summer Festival, Livorno, Italy.
* Oct. 3-4 – German Rum Festival,, Berlin
* Oct. 17-18 –
The RumFest: London, United Kingdom

Keep us informed: If you have news or events to report, simply e-mail [email protected] and let us know what’s happening, along with any appropriate links. Feel free to send photos and flyers. You can also send a message via the Facebook page. If you post news or updates on a regular basis, let us know how to follow you (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

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