Minimalist Tiki

Video: A look back at The Hukilau’s first 14 years

Marking its 15th anniversary, the East Coast’s largest and oldest Polynesian Pop event promises its biggest party ever in 2016. But before the rum-fueled bash gets into high gear, we’d like to pause and take a look back at the past 14 gatherings of the Tiki tribe.
Related: Tiki Kiliki: 15 years of The Hukilau, 15 years of memories

The Hukilau 2016

For more on the history of the modern Tiki revival, be sure to check out these two symposiums during this year’s event at Pier 66: “2001: A Tiki Odyssey with Otto von Stroheim (Saturday, 11:30 a.m.) followed by “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture” featuring an all-star lineup of the men and women who helped shape today’s scene. Click here for more info and here to buy tickets.

The Hukilau 2016: June 8-12, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
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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 2002

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 15-year mark as “Polynesian Pop” and “Tiki” inch out of the underground and into the mainstream. But for The Hukilau, it wasn’t always easy. 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 real Polynesian Pop, not the watered-down version that often infects the public consciousness.

Here then is a year-by-year recap of “the most authentic Tiki event 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.


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 and 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.
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(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.
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(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. In another exclusive, The Hukilau hosed the world premiere of Tikimentary, a film by Duda Leite.
Audio slideshow flashback: Los Straitjackets highlight a rockin’ 2009 Hukilau
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(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 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. This year also featured world premiere showing of the DVD of Tiki.
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 Disasternauts live at the Bahia Mar)

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Tiki Kiliki and her organizers pulled out all the stops with four full days of events at the Bahia Mar, Bahia Cabana and The Mai-Kai. Disney artists Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily were special guests, and new symposiums explored Tiki in Hawaii, mid-century mermaids and the history of tattoos (Paul Roe’s first appearance). On Thursday night, The Hukilau kicked off with a bang as five tropical drink mixologists created their own take on the classic Rum Barrel, squaring off poolside at the Bahia Cabana. The special event was hosted by Beachbum Berry and judged by some of the top rum authorities in the world: Ian Burrell, Martin Cate, Wayne Curtis, and Stephen Remsberg. On Saturday at The Mai-Kai, Berry’s “Rum Rat Pack” reunited on stage for one of the most memorable events in The Hukilau’s history, blending showmanship and rum cocktails into a spectacle that the several hundred guests will never forget. Just as memorable was Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s performance with The Tikiyaki Orchestra at the Bahia Cabana. The Intoxicators and The Disasternauts were back, of course, joined by Grinder Nova from Atlanta, The Exotics from Milwaukee, and The Fisherman from New York City. King Kukulele kept the party lively, as usual, and the Harold Golen Gallery’s art show was again one of the highlights of the Tiki Treasures Bazaar.
The Atomic Grog coverage
* ‘Rum Rat Pack’ starts a revolution at Hukilau 2011
* The Hukilau crowns a Rum Barrel Master Mixologist
Audio slideshow flashback: Cocktail contest was a Barrel of fun
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(The Martian Denny Orchestra live at the Bahia Cabana)

The Hukilau moved to April in 2012 and downsized to the Best Western Oceanside, but the event was no less festive for the hundreds who attended. It was a jam-packed four days of informative symposiums, live music, artists and vendors, and – of course – many tropical-themed cocktails. The Bahia Cabana again hosted many room parties, plus Friday night’s Main Event with The Martian Denny Orchestra, Angie Pontani, Dan Cunningham and Exotik-A-GoGo. At The Mai-Kai, Beachbum Berry’s symposium explored Tiki’s deadliest drink (the Zombie), while Tim “Swanky” Glazner presented a fascinating look at the early days of the Polynesian palace. Sven Kirsten also packed The Mai-Kai for a symposium, showing off rare slides from his archive. Dinner guests also got their first look at Plastic Paradise, the PBS documentary on the rise, fall and resurgence of Tiki culture that was still in early production. During his tattoo symposium, Paul Roe demonstrated his art live on Tiki Kiliki. Returning entertainers included King Kukulele, The Intoxicators, Stolen Idols, Pablus from the Crazed Mugs and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid. Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge made their debut, and special guests included mixologists from PKNY in New York City, who kept the rum cocktails flowing.
The Atomic Grog coverage
* A whirlwind weekend of tropical delights
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(Ìxtahuele at The Mai Kai)

Nostalgia was the unofficial theme of the 12th annual event, as The Hukilau moved back to June and also returned to the Yankee Clipper for the first time since 2008. Unfortunately, stormy weather also made a reappearance. Some of the poolside events at the Clipper were forced inside, including Friday’s main event featuring Sweden’s Ìxtahuele (making their U.S. debut), plus The Ding Dong Devils and The Hula Girls from California. Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her pod of aquaticats saved the day, giving several memorable shows for guests packed into the Wreck Bar. The Tiki Treasures Bazaar featured not only vendors, but mixologists showing off rum cocktails plus sizzling live performances by instro surf bands The NovaRays and The Disasternauts. The rain didn’t dampen any spirits at The Mai-Kai, where the party started Saturday and extended though most of Sunday. Lots of instrumental surf music kept the party rocking, thanks to The Intoxicators, and Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays. Beachbum Berry’s symposium (on the “Wild West Indies”) again sold out, while Tom Duncan hosted special guests from the Yankee Clipper’s past during his well-researched presentation. Also explored in symposiums were the history of the Hawaiian shirt, and “urban primitive” tattoos. Plastic Paradise has its world premiere during the finale at The Mai-Kai, where guests also enjoyed special “lost cocktails” from the early menus that hadn’t been served in decades.
The Atomic Grog coverage
* Photos and memories from The Hukilau 2013
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays at The Mai-Kai)

The limitations of the convention space at the Yankee Clipper forced The Hukilau back to the Bahia Mar in June 2014. It became a bittersweet announcement for Tiki Kiliki, who decided to make the event her last when she could no longer juggle the responsibility of keeping the event at a high level, along with maintaining a full-time job. Luckily, several months after the announcement, two new partners joined her in creating a professional event company to ensure the future of The Hukilau. A final blow-out became a promising new beginning for the event, with an all-star lineup of entertainment from around the world including the Sweet Hollywaiians from Japan, Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, Grinder Nova from Atlanta, the Smokin’ Menehunes from California, plus burlesque star Angie Pontani. Mid-century Polynesian entertainer Nani Maka joined the Sweet Hollywaiians at the memorable Friday night main event. The Intoxicators and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid continued to be essential elements in The Hukilau experience, along with the ever-present King Kukulele. South Florida’s Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays and Slip and the Spinouts also joined the lineup along with Tampa’s Pablus and Georgia’s Kinky Waikiki, keeping the crowds rocking (and dancing) throughout the newly expanded five-day event. The schedule even included a special cruise aboard the historic Jungle Queen riverboat, which leaves the dock next to the Bahia Mar. Beachbum Berry again sold out his seminar at The Mai-Kai, taking guests on a colorful trip back to Tiki’s dark ages. The crew from Vintage Roadside joined Marina for a very special “Cocktails & Fishtails” symposium on porthole cocktail lounges that also featured several pioneer mermaid performers. A unique new symposium was hosted by, giving guests a how-to lesson in creating a “Suburban Savage Paradise” with the help of some of the scene’s best artists (Bamboo Ben, Tiki Diablo, Cheekytiki, and Basement Kahuna). Other symposiums were hosted by Philip Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail and tattoo historian Paul Roe. The success of 2014 re-energized Tiki Kiliki and pointed The Hukilau in a promising new direction.
The Atomic Grog coverage
* Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau in 2015 and beyond
* The Hukilau offers a deep dive into the history of porthole cocktail lounges
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive


(Alika Lyman Group at The Mai-Kai)

The Hukilau found a comfortable new home on its usual early June weekend at the historic Hyatt Regency Pier 66 on the south end of Fort Lauderdale Beach, which was originally built the same year as The Mai-Kai. The larger and more extensive facilities, along with top-notch hospitality, made for one of the smoothest and most enjoyable events to date. Nearly 1,000 villagers enjoyed the festivities as the 14th annual event made a seamless transition to its new home. Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island fame hosted a three-hour cruise from the hotel’s marina. The large ballroom in the iconic main tower was filled all weekend with vendors and rum sponsors presenting their wares and products to eager guests. The dockside event/meeting space hosted a wide range of educational symposiums and musical performances. The five-day event was filled with an eclectic assortment of entertainers, including Alika Lyman Group, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Pablus, Slip and the Spinouts, Kinky Waikiki, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Quiet Villagers, and host King Kukulele. Making his first East Cost appearance, Lyman paid homage to his uncle, the late exotica pioneer Arthur Lyman, as well as Robert Drasnin, who passed away in May. One of the highlights was the Tiki Tower Takeover in the 17th floor Pier Top Ballroom, bringing together Tiki’s best barmen (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Brian Miller, Martin Cate, Paul McGee) for a one-of-a-kind cocktail party. Symposiums continued to play a big role in The Hukilau, with six on the schedule and many selling out. Topics included Disney World’s original Polynesian Village Resort (hosted by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily), Florida’s Tiki Gardens, Southern California’s Pacific Ocean Park, and The Kahiki supper club in Ohio. Berry and Miller joined forces to explore (and mix up a few) Planter’s Punch cocktails, while Oscar-nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong discussed historic Chinese American nightclubs. Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid performed two exclusive, sold-out swimshows for guests at the nearby Wreck Bar. And The Mai-Kai remained its classic self, hosting the opening and closing parties as well as another full house on Saturday night. The event ended with everyone looking forward to 2016 and the 60th anniversary of The Mai-Kai, plus the 15th anniversary of The Hukilau at its new home at Pier 66.
The Atomic Grog coverage
* The Hukilau soars at mid-century marvel Pier 66 hotel
* Day-by-day recaps and photos: Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday/Sunday
* Go11 Events: Official photo archive

Related: Tiki Kiliki: 15 years of The Hukilau, 15 years of memories

2 Replies to “Video: A look back at The Hukilau’s first 14 years”

  1. great piece of writing. this was my first hukilkau after a few years of knowing about it. being a history, musci, architecture and cocktail buff, I am all in!

  2. I loved this article! I was finally able to confirm which year was my first one at The Hukilau. Also, thanks for picking my video of Ixtahuele at the Mai Kai.

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