The Mai-Kai specializes in time travel, taking diners back to the mid-century heyday of grand Tiki temples by creating a spectacularly immersive feast of the senses. So it’s no surprise that the Fort Lauderdale restaurant successfully scared up a vintage Halloween party in 2020, transporting hundreds of Hulaween revelers to a vintage drive-in theater in its expansive parking lot for a physically-distanced celebration like no other.
The sold-out Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie on Oct. 30 creatively navigated the new pandemic reality, giving the occupants of the 60+ vehicles multiple treats to savor. From the screening of the infamous 1970 B-movie Beast of Blood, to the live costume contest projected onto the 33-foot screen, to the rockin’ pre-movie festivities fueled by classic tropical cocktails, the evening provided a frightening (but safe) good time for all in attendance.
Previous story: See the full event preview
Unfortunately, someone apparently played a trick on The Mai-Kai. After successfully navigating the scary new pandemic reality since late May, the historic restaurant faced a scare of its own just days before the 12th annual Hulaween when a massive storm caused damage that will require an extended, temporary closing for repairs and refurbishment.
Just announced: There will be a Virtual Tiki Bingo event to benefit The Mai-Kai employees on Dec. 10. Click here for info and updates.
MORE: Jump to special features below
Preshow: Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence appears via video
News: Latest on the temporary closing
Photos: Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie scene, costumes
Tribute recipe: Blood Island Green Potion #2
Videos: Selection of Hulaween 2020 music
The sudden closing caused some last-minute scrambling to keep the drive-in movie on track, but The Mai-Kai and the event’s driving force, director of public relations Pia Dahlquist, pulled it off with the usual aplomb. Since guests could not enter the restaurant, drinks were served from a pop-up bar behind the building, and portable restroom facilities were secured. With the kitchen closed, a food truck arrived to fill the need with finger-licking barbecue.
But all the innovative plans appeared to be in danger all afternoon as dark clouds literally loomed over the event. An afternoon storm blew through The Mai-Kai property on Federal Highway, but miraculously the entire event remained dry. It was a blustery evening, however, and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival staff had their hands full keeping the inflated screen stable. The dark and ominous weather was apropos, but not an issue at the end of the day.
The FLIFF crew was indispensable, not only handling the high-tech rear-projection screen but also guiding all the vehicles into parking spots the old-fashioned way. Some of us brought portable chairs, and my hurricane radio came in handy to tune into the FM frequency that broadcasted the clear and crisp audio.
Considering the weather and makeshift logistics of the entire endeavor, the 90-minute preshow video and 90-minute feature film were both professionally presented and easy to enjoy. The evening concluded, as usual, with a kooky costume contest that was up to the same creative standards of past Hulaween parties.
Guests were welcomed with the same high level of hospitality The Mai-Kai is known for. Quarts of cocktails ordered in advance were delivered to car windows personally by Dahlquist in the porte-cochere. Arriving vehicles also received goodie bags that included Beast of Blood swizzle sticks (courtesy of Drive-In-Sanity Films) and complimentary anti-virus masks provided by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s Broward County chapter. All 60 Beast of Blood 50th anniversary mugs, created by Thor, sold out in advance.
We brought Mai-Kai mugs from home and a bag of ice from Sonic to enjoy the signature Barrel O’ Rum and special Blood Island Green Potion #2 featuring sponsor Appleton Estate Rum. The food from Iron Butt BBQ was delicious, pairing perfectly with The Mai-Kai’s potent cocktails. More traditional drive-in fare (freshly popped popcorn) was also offered by roving Mai-Kai servers.
TRIBUTE RECIPE: Scroll down for our take on Blood Island Green Potion #2
Many spirited guests came in full costume, and some bedecked their vehicles with flaming Tiki accouterments. Those who chose to enter the contest were filmed as they arrived. The clips were later edited together, and the resulting video was shown after the movie. A panel of judges picked the top three winners: Dr. Paul Bearer and Dolly, Death By Swizzle, and Annubis & Isis. As usual, the costumes included many movie and TV references (The Witches, What We Do in the Shadows, Spirited Away, The Walking Dead, et al.) as well as just-plain-wacky get-ups.
PHOTO GALLERY: Scroll down to see scenes from Hulaween, plus all of the costumes
Preshow video features Appleton’s Joy Spence
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the pre-movie video kicked off with the familiar sights and sounds of Hulaweens past. The presentation was chock full of photos from previous Hulaween parties, classic horror movie trailers, plus music videos and live clips with a Halloween bent. The Atomic Grog joined forces with Sergio Figuera of Prime Photo & Video to produce the pre-show to keep guests entertained and immersed in a party mood in classic Hulaween style.
The surprise of the night was a special appearance by Joy Spence, the acclaimed master blender of Appleton Rum. Spence, whose deft hand has made the Appleton Estate brand one of the rum world’s most respected, became the world’s first female master blender when she took the job more than 20 years ago.
“On behalf of the entire Appleton family, it’s exciting to see all of you enjoying a night at The Mai-Kai,” Spence said in a video recorded at the Appleton Estate in Jamaica’s Nassau Valley. “Hulaween is always one of our favorite events to sponsor, and we know that 2020 has been difficult for everyone. There’s no better way to forget your troubles than a night out at The Mai-Kai with a classic drive-in movie and some Appleton rum.”
Appleton is a longtime Hulaween sponsor and key rum in many Mai-Kai cocktails. Spence has made multiple appearances at the restaurant, including several exclusive rum tasting events. “I wish you all a safe and scary Hulaween and hope to see you soon at The Mai-Kai,” she said in concluding her short announcement before the movie.
Photos from every Hulaween event, from 2009 through 2019, were featured with special slideshows. The video also included The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween cocktail menu teased by kitschy drive-in movie snack bar promo clips. There were also shout-outs to all the sponsors, and the official 2020 poster by Pooch. Signed copies are available for $20 plus shipping, along with a slightly different un-signed poster for $10. Email [email protected] for info on how to order.
Frequent Hulaween guests may have recognized much of the featured music from past events, including multiple clips of Slip and the Spinouts, who performed at nine of the past 11 events. But there were also some new surprises. Other bands featured in videos and audio clips during the slideshows included Martin Denny, The Deadly Ones, The Surf Coasters, Jan Davis, The Cramps, Southern Culture on the Skids, Nekromantix, Horrorpops, The Ghastly Ones, The Wolfgangs, Rob Zombie, Messer Chups, The Guitaraculas, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, and Jason Lee and The R.I.P. Tides.
VIDEO RECAP: Scroll down to see a selection of music videos from Hulaween 2020
Between the music and photos was a carefully curated collection of classic horror movie trailers from YouTube. These short clips were perfect for the drive-in setting, chock full of both dramatic scares and cheesy moments. In addition to an extended preview of Beast of Blood, featured movies included Nosferatu, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Tarantula, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Horror of Party Beach, Psycho, The Blob, Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist.
By the time Beast of Blood hit the big screen after 8 p.m., the crowd had settled into their cars or private areas to enjoy the frightening feature. The plot involves a mad scientist who creates a monster, then keeps it alive with a serum he invented after it literally loses its head.
The movie was revived by Drive-in Sanity Films owner David Sehring, who has sponsored past Hulaween events and collaborated with Dahlquist on this year’s drive-in movie event. She had been looking for the opportunity work with the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival for some time, and this was it.
So with the pandemic prohibiting most social events from taking place and little time to plan, Dahlquist put her pedal to the metal and made the Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie happen. It’s fair to say the Oct. 30 party guests were sure glad she did, enjoying a much-needed respite from this year’s doom and gloom, Hulaween style.
The evening concluded with the annual costume contest, which took on a physically-distant and high-tech flavor this year. After video clips of all of the contestants were projected onto the big screen, Dahlquist was joined by manager Kern Mattei to announce the winners via the FM audio stream.
The Mai-Kai salutes ‘passionate, loyal fan base’ after temporary closure for renovations
The party mood turned melancholy near the end of the pre-movie video when The Mai-Kai’s official announcement about its temporary closing was projected onto the screen:
The unfortunate timing of the message, first posted on social media and via email on Oct. 27, caught many by surprise. We understand the thirst for information, especially among the “passionate, loyal fan base” who may have a heightened sence of dread in this age of instability in the hospitality industry. But there’s no reason to believe that anything other than the aforementioned “weekend flood” caused the damage that led to the closure and the owners “enhancing both the structure and design of one of the historic and unique dining and entertainment venues in all of South Florida.”
Severe storms and torrential rains hit South Florida over the weekend of Oct. 24-25, causing damage in the back-of-house area. The epic deluge featured more rain than last year’s entire month of October. Extensive renovations are required that will keep the restaurant closed until all the work is done. We’re confident that The Mai-Kai will emerge with an even stronger foundation on which to provide “exceptional guest service, exceptional comfort and amenities and a memorable experience.”
At Hulaween, Dahlquist kept spirits high when introducing the costume contest following the movie. Speaking live to the crowd, she sounded confident that The Mai-Kai would be re-opening in the not-to-distant future, also teasing the possibility of more events similar to the Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie while the repairs are underway.
Later on Facebook, Dahlquist posted: “We are not sure at this time when we will re-open but we are sure we WILL re-open!”
* Mai-Kai Restaurant reveals reason for its sudden closure (Sun Sentinel)
* Historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant and Polynesian show shuts down — for now (Miami Herald)
* Mai-Kai Abruptly Closes — Then Assures It Will Reopen (New Times)
PHOTO GALLERY: Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie
Photos by The Atomic Grog, The Mai-Kai and Sergio Figuera
Blood Island Green Potion #2
Our interpretation of the frightening fall cocktail served at The Mai-Kai during the Hulaween Drive-In Movie.
* 1 1/4 ounces fresh Florida orange juice (with pulp)
* 1 ounce fresh Florida grapefruit juice (white if possible)
* 1 /2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 1 teaspoon blue curacao
* 1 1/2 ounces Appleton Estate Reserve 8-year-old rum
* 3/4 ounce red tea-infused rum float (see below)
Pulse the first six ingredients with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 4-6 seconds in a top-down mixer or blender. Dump into a Zombie glass, adding more crushed ice if necessary, leaving room for the rum float. Add a Beast of Blood swizzle stick or other gruesome garnish. Float the red rum. Devour.
Aromas of cinnamon and sharp spices enhance the enjoyment of this intoxicating blend of fresh juices and just a slight kick of rum. As you progress through the drink, the rum float becomes more pronounced, creating a unique flavor combination. Tart and fruity, with a dry and rummy profile. Very well crafted.
The opportunity to take home quarts of cocktails from The Mai-Kai on Hulaween was crucial in allowing us to fine-tune our tribute recipe and compare it to the orginal. Mahalo to manager Kern Matti for hooking us up with several to-go shots of the signature red tea-infused rum to complete the package. Here are some tips on how to best duplicate the flavor of the original:
* Fresh Florida juices are preferred, but we understand that’s not always possible depending on where you live. Freshly squeezed and pulpy OJ is essential, and while The Mai-Kai uses the Kennesaw brand (available in South Florida at Whole Foods), the rest of the world may need to look for the next best thing. Natalie’s is a fine substitute. Kennesaw’s pulpy grapefruit juice is hard to find in commercial outlets, so you may need to squeeze fresh fruit or find a suitable commercial version. We’re not opposed to red grapefruit juice when nothing else is available, especially if it’s all natural. Lime juice is less crucial here, but you should still freshly squeezed Persian limes. If you want that signature Mai-Kai tart lime flavor, blend with an equal amount of bottled key lime juice (natural and unpasteurized if possible).
* The Mai-Kai’s uses falernum extensively, and we’re fairly sure they still use the Fee Brothers brand or something similar. It’s a sweet, non-alcoholic syrup, providing a boost of flavor but not changing the alcoholic content of the drink. Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Formula Falernum from Orgeat Works is very similar. If your only have an alcoholic bottled brand, that’s pefectly fine.
* The drink’s green hue is accomplished through the addition of blue curacao, a phenomenon many Tiki mixologists have discovered while experimenting with this oft-maligned liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the bitter orange laraha, a citrus fruit grown on the Dutch island of Curaçao. It really tastes no different than orange curacao, but the color puts many off. Regardless, it’s essential here to give the drink it’s signature look, so we recommend a premium brand if possible.
NOTE: Color is a major factor in any accurate tribute recipe, but there are always variables. As you can see in photos posted here, our version is a brighter green than The Mai-Kai’s Blood Island Green Potion #2 that we brought home. However, we feel our flavors are very close, so we’re writing off the difference in hue to the brand and/or amount of curacao, plus the all-important grapefruit juice. The bottled juice that we employed is likely much different (in color, if not in flavor) than what The Mai-Kai used.
Red rum and tea float
The use of the excellent new Appleton Estate Reserve 8-year-old rum aside, the key to this cocktail is the bloody red rum float. This spicy and colorful ingredient is the coup de grace, adding both visual impact that’s perfect for Halloween and a boost of flavor that elevates the cocktail above the ordinary. Duplicating this unique element was a fun experiment. Following are our recomendations:
* Preferred: Hibiscus tea infused with cinnamon, blended with Appleton 8 rum. This method will provide something very close to the flavor and color of the “hibiscus-infused red rum” touted in the menu description. The tea should provide the deep red color and hibiscus notes. Brew it extra strong if necessary. Steep with several cinnamon sticks for several hours to add plenty of spice. Let it cool, then combine with an equal amount of Appleton 8. Keep at room temperature or slightly chlled. The tea/rum combination should be the correct density to float on top of the cocktail before slowly dispersing.
* Alernate #1: 4 parts Monin Hibiscus Syrup, 1 part cinnamon syrup, blended with Appleton 8 rum. If you lack hibiscus tea and happen to have a bottle of hibiscus syrup, like I did, you might want to try this. I also had a bold homemade cinnamon syrup, which I added to the hibiscus. Before floating, I combined equal parts of the combined syrups and the rum, just shy of 1/2 ounce of each. The flavor is very close to the preferred version using tea, just a bit sweeter and thicker. The only problem is that weight of the syrups cause the mix to quickly sink the the bottom of the glass, and you don’t get the same bloody red float effect. I may use this syrup mix in another cocktail, but it may not be the best option here.
* Alternate #2: Passion fruit tea (or other deep red tea) infused with cinnamon, blended with Appleton 8 rum. Similar to the preferred mix, simply brew the tea and steep with cinnamon sticks. [See photo] Then combine with an equal amount of rum after it cools. The passion fruit tea that I had on hand was nice and red, and the final result looks exactly like the hibiscus tea blend. The flavor of the tea is different, of course, but it’s not too off base. Of course, passion fruit is a classic Tiki cocktail ingredient, so it works well in bringing a familiar flavor to the party, mixing well with the cinnamon and rum.
If you have other tea preferences, give them a try as long as the color matches. The trick to making the “red rum” float lies only with the consistency of the tea.
Hulaween 2020 music videos
Below is a selection of some of the many music videos from YouTube that were featured in the 90-minute preshow curated by The Atomic Grog. Enjoy the tunes and please support all the artists!
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau
After 10 years, we know what to expect from The Mai-Kai’s infamous Hulaween party: Kooky costumes, rockin’ tunes and many cocktails consumed in The Molokai bar. The 2019 bash lived up to those standards.
>>> Full recap and photo gallery
More Hulaween recaps, photos
* 2018: Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering
* 2017: Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party
* 2016: A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
* 2015: The undead get lively at The Mai-Kai’s seventh annual Hulaween
* 2014: A ghastly good time at The Mai-Kai’s sixth annual Hulaween party
* 2013: Partygoers raise hell at The Mai-Kai’s fifth annual Hulaween
* 2012: Hulaween was hoppin’ all night at The Mai-Kai
* See all the past Hulaween coverage
More photos on Facebook: 2011 | 2010 | 2009
More on The Atomic Grog
What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting
What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum. Full recpap and photos.
* The Mai-Kai re-releases signature rum, plus new glassware and spirits menu
Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
Hurricane Hayward reviews and rates the historic restaurant’s current and past tropical drinks, plus reveals a treasure trove of ancestor and exclusive tribute recipes.
>>> A DEEP DIVE INTO THE COCKTAILS OF THE MAI-KAI
>>> List of all 100+ recipes
UPDATES: The Tiki Times: Exclusive 2020 events guide
The Tiki Times calendar features live online meet-ups, interviews and happy hours, plus benefits helping those in need.