Modern Caribbean Rum

Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola’s cocktail and rum adventures

Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola's cocktail and rum adventures

The tropical drinks world became a less exciting and flamboyant place earlier this month when Italian master mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola closed up shop at Esotico Miami after nearly 5 years of crowd-pleasing cocktails and cuisine.

Daniele Dalla Pola puts on a show while making his signature cocktails during the final night at Esotico Miami. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)
Daniele Dalla Pola puts on a show while making his signature cocktails during the final night at Esotico Miami. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)

But his influence and creative flair will live on at the adjacent Kaona Room, which will continue to be operated by his son while Dalla Pola sets off on his next adventure. The remaining partners will transform the Esotico space into a new bar and restaurant concept, but the vintage Tiki-themed speakeasy remains open and serving some of the best exotic cocktails (and food) in Miami.

Dalla Pola’s exit was sudden but not unexpected under the circumstances. Legal issues with his work visa make it necessary for him to leave the United States and return to his native Italy, among other destinations, in the coming months. He eventually plans to return to help run the Kaona Room with Billy Dalla Pola when he can legally do so. But in the meantime, he has multiple projects in the works.

Full coverage below: Closing night at Esotico
The Kaona Room keeps torch burning | Dalla Pola’s further adventures
Photos, video: Esotico Miami memories
Cocktail recipe: Esotico Rum Cup

Esotico (left) has closed its doors but its secret speakeasy, the Kaona Room, will continue with its intimate and authentically Tiki vibe and decor. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)
Esotico (left) has closed its doors but its secret speakeasy, the Kaona Room, will continue with its intimate and authentically Tiki vibe and decor. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)

Esotico opened on Aug. 15, 2019, a joint venture between Dalla Pola and Miami’s Graspa Group. At 3,400 square feet, it took up a huge space in the ground floor of the Canvas Condominiums in downtown’s Arts & Entertainment District. [See opening photos]

It closed March 2, a little more than 6 months shy of its 5-year mark. Dalla Pola posted a heartfelt farewell on his Instagram page:

Aloha! Closing the bar today and writing these words is not easy, but this is a step I take because it’s time for a change, time to refresh, time to rethink, and to build something new. I step out from my project Esotico Miami which will move on under a new concept led by my trusted partners, Graspa Group.

Although I will leave Miami for some time, my son Billy Dalla Pola, will continue what I’ve started at The Kaona Room. … As I move forward, I’ll be excited to announce something new, hopefully very soon. Stay tropical!

Daniele Dalla Pola didn't waste any time hitting the road after the closing of Esotico Miami
Daniele Dalla Pola didn’t waste any time hitting the road after the closing of Esotico Miami.

Esotico was the next evolutionary step for the acclaimed bar owner, who made his name in the drinks world with Nu Lounge Bar in Bologna (in which he remains a partner). Dalla Pola first came to the United States more than 25 years ago, and his son was born in Miami in 1999.

Dalla Pola represented rum giant Bacardi while bartending in Miami before establishing himself as a force on the worldwide beverage scene. His presentations on Tiki cocktails have always been well received. Besides the bar in Italy, he owns a piece of the Alamea brand of liquors, which was founded in 2016 and is now distributed in 14 countries.

His career now comes full circle as he once again hits the road to attend events and spread the gospel about rum, cocktails and Tiki culture. His first stop after leaving Miami was Shanghai for the Asian Bar Awards, followed by more appearances across China sponsored by Bacardi.

We’ll detail more of his upcoming plans below, including a new signature rum and a cocktail book. But first, here’s what’s been happening in Miami.

Continue reading “Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola’s cocktail and rum adventures”

Minimalist Tiki

REVIEW: El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist’s secret weapon

El Dorado's new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist's secret weapon

I’m honored to have been chosen as a “rum influencer” of high enough stature to receive an unsolicited bottle of El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend (LBI / DHE). For non-geeks, those acronyms stand for “La Bonne Intention / Diamond High Ester,” signifying that this is a blend of never-before-released “high ester” marques from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

Specifically, we’re taking about high-ester distillate from the John Dore Double Retort Copper Pot Still and the La Bonne Intention marque from the four-column metal French Savalle Still. The former still dates back to the 1950s and is the only one of its kind at the historic distillery. The latter is much older, inherited from another distillery in Guyana that operated as far back as the 1800s.

El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana's Diamond Distillery.
El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

A side note here that the Diamond distillery and El Dorado share ownership (Demerara Distillers Ltd., aka DDL), so this release can be seen as El Dorado throwing its hat into the ring that independent bottlers have long dominated but has just recently gained at lot of traction in rum enthusiast circles: High-proof, high-ester, uncompromising rums with a pedigree. Rums from Jamaica, known for its “high-ester funk bombs,” have been most notable in this category.

This rum clocks in at a cask strength 57% ABV (114 proof), well above El Dorado’s normal (and industry standard) 40%, which I heartily applaud. It’s a different animal than El Dorado’s flagship aged rums (the 8-, 12- and 15-year-old blends) as well as the dark but lightly aged 151-proof rums (from Diamond, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, et al.) that are essential bottles in our Tiki arsenal. Just not as far removed as you might think. More on that shortly.

The bottle says it was distilled in 2012, which means it likely spent around 12 years in ex-Bourbon casks in Diamond’s aging warehouse. Indeed, the color as very similar to El Dorado 12. The nose, however, is another matter. The flavors are much deeper, with heady aromas of vanilla, toffee and honey most noticeable to my admittedly unsophisticated olfactory senses. There were some subtle cinnamon and fruit aromas as well.

At first sip, I immediately noticed the orange peel and spices prevalent in the blend, as advertised. Sweet vanilla is present, along with slight hints of chocolate and caramel. The spicy finish starts strong before fading slowly, perhaps the best feature of a neat sip.

Continue reading “REVIEW: El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist’s secret weapon”

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

If there were any doubts that the inaugural “next gen” Don the Beachcomber restaurant and tropical bar would not live up to the high standards of its namesake, they were quickly put to rest during last week’s grand opening in Madeira Beach on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast.

Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

In-depth coverage below
* Menus and overview: Cocktails | Food
* Decor, music & more | Tips and guidance
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Doctor Funk
Previous: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida
BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida (April 2024)

The first location in a planned national rollout of escapist establishments inspired by the founding father of faux Polynesian cocktails opened to the public on Friday, Feb. 23, after three days of private parties for friends, family and VIPs. Owned and operated by Tampa- based 23 Restaurant Services, the vast 298-capacity restaurant was firing on all cylinders from the get-go.

“We are thrilled with our opening weekend, starting with a largely attended VIP party on Thursday evening,” Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, said via email Monday. “We had over 1,200 guests join us Friday through Sunday.”

“We continue to be so excited to be a part of this community and look forward to sharing our amazing vibe and delicious food and drinks with you all,” he said, noting the huge social media reaction and “overwhelmingly positive” reviews.

The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

We attended Thursday’s pre-opening party as well as lunch and dinner seatings during Friday’s service, witnessing a nearly flawless launch by every measurable standard. The well-trained staff of managers, greeters, servers, food-runners, bussers, and bartenders operated like a well-oiled machine. And if there were any culinary or mixological misfires from the kitchen or bar, they were few and far between.

When we arrived late for the first official dinner service, all but one of the 20 tables and booths inside the highly immersive restaurant was full, and all of the 30 or so bar seats were taken. On the patio under a large thatched roof, at least a third of the tables were full despite a steady drizzle. Our Uber driver said he had been taking passengers there all day.

Customers were three deep at the bar for hours during the peak of service, beverage director Marie King told us later. “It was a good night.” And the crowds kept coming. The restaurant was just as packed when we left hours later, around 10 p.m.

The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)
The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)

Managing partner Sebastien Amoruso seemed very satisfied while surveying the scene and monitoring first-day operations. “It’s a good day,” he said during dinner service. “I’m happy. For the first day, we’re doing great.”

Amoruso estimated that 500 guests would be seated on opening day, but this might not include many who bellied up to the bar and didn’t register in the computerized point-of-sale system. I counted roughly 112 seats inside and 115 outside, plus lots of room for standing near the bar.

More seats could be added if needed, Amoruso, said. If opening weekend is any indication, that may be necessary. Saturday night was even busier than Friday, reported Donn Beach biographer Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who attended both.

The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

But the venue never seemed crowded, with plenty of room for guests to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Amoruso cited the expertise and experience of 23 Restaurant Services.

Continue reading “LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success”

Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

BREAKING NEWS: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

Updated Feb. 28

Nearly 100 years after its namesake founder developed and popularized the Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar concept, the Don the Beachcomber brand is re-launching this week with the first of multiple locations scheduled to roll out in Florida over the next several years.

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Sunakora Zombie
Previous coverage: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024

The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating.  (Don the Beachcomber photos)
The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating. (Don the Beachcomber photos)

The restaurant in Madeira Beach, between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is scheduled to open to the public on Friday, Feb. 23. Private events for friends, family and VIPs were held in the days prior. Partygoers no doubt will hoist a birthday toast Thursday to the Tiki bar pioneer.
* More Don the Beachcomber history

Ernest Raymond Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach and opened the first Don the Beachcomber as a speakeasy during Prohibition in 1932, was born on Feb. 22, 1907, in rural Texas. His colorful life story will be documented in an upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film The Donn of Tiki).

The new restaurant occupies an indoor-outdoor space at the Cambria Hotel at 15015 Madeira Way. It will be open seven days and nights, operating from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays through Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays.

“We’re fully staffed and ready to go” with more than 100 team members, said Lisa Longest, the director of marketing for Don the Beachcomber and other brands owned by Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services. Friday’s grand opening will include a ribbon-cutting attended by city dignitaries right before the 11 a.m. opening, she said in a phone conversation Thursday.

A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)
A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)

Call (727) 870-8454 or go to DonBeachcomber.com for more information. They are currently not taking reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served.

Originally planned for late 2023, then pushed to early 2024, the restaurant finally cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles and passed its final inspection, clearing the way for the grand opening. “We had to do a full build-out,” Longest said of the large space on the ground floor of the hotel. “It took time to get all the permits.”

This is a far cry from Don the Beachcomber’s tiny original bar in Hollywood. The restaurant has a total capacity of 298 with 92 seats inside and 120 outside.

Preview the food and drinks

The restaurant’s food is inspired by the faux Polynesian flavors pioneered by Don the Beachcomber, but the menu will also feature “elevated dishes that will appeal to all,” Longest said in an email following our phone conversation. Dishes will include a pupu platter featuring hand-made crab rangoon, chicken satay and sticky rib skewers, plus signature wings. “We will also feature tempura cauliflower, a variety of fried rice options, fresh grouper, and an array of gourmet burgers,” she said.

A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.
A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.

We got a sneak peek at the food and drink menus, which were designed by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson. The offerings are sure to please every taste – from hardcore Tikiphiles, to adventurous locals, to the hotel guests who simply stumble upon this slice of paradise. In fact, the main menu’s cover is emblazoned with Donn Beach’s mantra: “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”

Continue reading “Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida”

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Like many recent years, 2023 was defined by loss, from a deadly natural disaster to the passing of a beloved artist. But there are two other words that better sum up 2023: Aspiration and revival. Among the year’s highlights are the return of three historic restaurants, the resurrection of a legendary rum, a groundbreaking cocktail book that looks ahead by honoring the past, plus an overall renewed appreciation for Tiki culture and cocktails. If nothing else, it gives us hope for an eventful 2024.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2023: A look back at the top events in photos, video
Bonus recipes below: Beachcomber Punch | Ray’s Mystique

1. TRAGEDY IN MAUI: Lahaina devastated by wildfires

Wildfires ravaged Maui's historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)
Wildfires ravaged Maui’s historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wildfires swept across the island of Maui on Aug. 8, killing at least 100 people in one of the nation’s deadliest disasters. The fires destroyed most of Lahaina – the original capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom – on the northwest coast. Residents fled as the blazes incinerated thousands of structures, causing more than $5 billion in damage.

Among the historic structures lost were the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Waiola Church, Pioneer Inn, and Kimo’s restaurant. Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, planted in 1873, had most of its foliage charred, though was still standing after the wildfires.

Before the fires, the Lahaina Historic District was a bustling tourist destination with stores and restaurants attracting many visitors. The district included 60 historic sites with Front Street ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. Lahaina was also a popular whale-watching site. It has a long history as a shipping and whaling town.

The wildfires were attributed to dry, gusty conditions created by a strong high-pressure area north of Hawaii, and Hurricane Dora to the south. The death toll is the largest for a wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet Fire of 1918 in northern Minnesota, which claimed 453 lives.

The historic tree in Lahaina's Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)
The historic tree in Lahaina’s Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Biden ordered the mobilization of “all available federal assets” to respond to the wildfires, including the Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, and FEMA. Other countries pledged aid, and fund-raising efforts across the U.S. raised $30 million within 10 days. The Maui Strong Fund, which provides financial resources to support the immediate and long-term recovery needs for the people and places affected by the wildfires, has raised more than $177 million to date and awarded grants totaling more than $86 million.

The disaster was also a call to action for many in the Tiki community, which united for fund-raisers and other special events. From bars and restaurants, to concerts and special events, supporters rallied to help in any way they could. Mark Riddle donated profits from the sale of his Lahaina Sunset album, which was inspired by a trip to Maui.

In mid-December, the heart of Lahaina reopened to residents and business owners as the historic banyan tree began sprouting new leaves. As of late December, Lahaina opened its remaining schools and welcomed tourists back to areas unaffected by the fires. Maui county officials say rebuilding the burned structures won’t begin for another 18-24 months, and big-picture plans are hazy. Rebuilding completely, including replacing all of the lost structures, will cost an estimated $5.5 billion.

With the exception of Lahaina, Maui is open and there is plenty to see and experience, according to the GoHawaii.com website. Guests are urged to “visit with aloha, compassion and empathy,” and to support local businesses. The MauiNuiFirst.com website offers many other suggestions.

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2. DON THE BEACHCOMBER: Anticipation for new restaurant chain, film and book reaches fever pitch

A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)
A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)

While slowly building for years, interest in the founding father of the 20th century Polynesian restaurant explosion went through the roof in 2023 as three major projects neared the finish line. By the end of the year, a new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Southwest Florida was hiring staff and putting the final touches on construction. The Donn of Tiki documentary was 99 percent complete as the filmmakers finished up the end credits and licensing rights. Meanwhile, the manuscript for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s book, Searching for Don the Beachcomber, was nearing the design and editing stages. After several years of non-stop work, these projects are now poised for a major splash in the new year and beyond.

The revival of the Don the Beachcomber brand took center stage after the announcement in February that Florida-based 23 Restaurant Services would be reviving the restaurant chain nationwide, beginning with multiple locations in the Sunshine State expected to open in the next several years. Skeptics were quickly assured of the legitimacy of the project when veteran bar manager Marie King was plucked from the venerable Tonga Hut to become director of beverage. In addition to leading the oldest Tiki bar in Los Angeles, King had previously built the cocktail program at the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., which closed in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2018. The design of the new restaurants is in the capable hands of artist Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, long admired for his expertise and craftsmanship in building traditional Tiki bar spaces.

Continue reading “Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss”

First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024

EXCLUSIVE: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in January 2024

Updated February 2024

The much-anticipated re-launch of the iconic Don the Beachcomber brand will kick off in early 2024, when the first of several new restaurants will open in Florida. All indications point to a February grand opening in Madeira Beach on the southwest Gulf Coast.

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success
* Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida (February 2024)

Don the Beachcomber

The indoor-outdoor space on the ground floor of the waterfront Cambria Hotel was originally scheduled to open in November or December. The Don the Beachcomber website currently says “early 2024.”

The space is still under construction, so more delays are possible. However, management started seeking employees several weeks ago, and photos shared on social media show the interior decor nearing the final stages of installation.

A reel posted Dec. 14 on the official pages on Instagram and Facebook provides “a sneak peek into paradise.”

If all goes according to plan, expect a public opening in February with a soft opening for “friends and family” a week prior. An official annoucement on an exact date likely won’t be made until after a certificate of occupancy is issued.

A general rule of thumb in the restaurant business is to begin hiring at least six weeks before a grand opening. The first “now hiring” post appeared Dec. 1 on the Don the Beachcomber Instagram page.

The “GOATS wanted” ad encourages “career seekers” and “badass dreamers” to apply via the website of parent company 23 Restaurant Services. Among the jobs posted on the website are bartender, cook, dishwasher, expeditor, host/hostess, manager, managing partner, server, and service assistant.

Detail photos of the interior decor at the Don the Beachcomber location in Madeira Beach, Fla., posted Nov. 13 on the official Facebook page.
Detail photos of the interior decor at the Don the Beachcomber location in Madeira Beach, Fla., posted Nov. 13 on the official Facebook page.

Jump to more below
YouTube preview: Marie King talks cocktails, upcoming locations
Sneak peek: Renderings, mission statement revealed at Tiki Oasis
Merchandise: Mugs, glassware, apparel, ephemera
Bonus cocktail recipe: Sunakora

The Madeira Beach space was originally slated to be a new Tiki Docks location, but 23 Restaurant Services shifted its strategy away from the Florida beach bar concept and accelerated its focus on the more traditional Don the Beachcomber brand. Additional Polynesian restaurants named for the tropical cocktail genre’s godfather have been announced for Viera in Brevard County on Florida’s east coast and Hamlin in Orange County just north of Disney World.

A photo posted Dec. 11 on Facebook by Daniel "Tiki Diablo" Gallardo shows the entrance to the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla.
A photo posted Dec. 11 on Facebook by Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo shows the entrance to the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla.

Though not yet listed on the official website, there’s also a stand-alone Don the Beachcomber bar planned for Tampa, revealed in October by Marie King, the 23 Restaurants Services director of beverage. King is a respected veteran in the tropical drinks world after managing California’s historic Tonga Hut from 2012 to early 2023. She also ran the bar program at the last Don the Beachcomber in California from 2009 to 2011.

According to the official timeline, the waterfront Viera location at the corner of Viera and Lake Andrews boulevards is set to open in 2025. But King said the smaller Tampa bar could open its doors first, likely in 2024.

Continue reading “First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024”

NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023

NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023

Updated Nov. 3

The pursuit of dangerous Zombies and other potent libations served in ominous mugs is a year-round pursuit for many of us. But the Halloween season is prime time for mixologists to conjure up creative new potions for the not-so-faint of heart.

To meet that challenge, we offer up a flight of three deadly drinks with a dark and foreboding flair. And, of course, more than a touch of Tiki.

Go directly to the recipes
Round 1: The Black Magic Cocktail
Round 2: Shrunken Pumpkin Head
Round 3: Return of the Zombie Dolphin NEW

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai
Hulaween on hiatus: Relive the madness at The Mai-Kai
With the Tiki temple closed for refurbishment, take a look back at 12 years of Halloween events in The Molokai bar.

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First, let’s warm up with a new twist on the ever-popular classic from The Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant

The Black Magic Cocktail
(A tribute to The Atomic Grog’s tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic)

The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

• 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
• 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
• 3/4 ounces freshly brewed and chilled coffee
• 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (Mai-Kai blend or substitute)
• 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum
• 1/2 ounces dark rum
• 1/4 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7
• 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram
• 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Strain into a chilled 6-ounce cocktail glass.

There’s a symphony of flavors packed into this small sipper. It’s rich and heavy on the spice and coffee, even more so than its big brother. Without the ice in the glass, it stays robust to the last drop. The bitters and allspice balance the sweet and sour notes, leaving the rums to form a solid but not overwhelming backbone.

Continue reading “NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023”

The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

Forget the hurricane season. For the better part of two decades, early June has become The Hukilau season in South Florida.

The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from 2023 Tiki weekender in South Florida NEW

The Hukilau

This year’s forecast calls for four days of Category 5 revelry at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach, plus extracurricular activities that span nearly a full week.

It’s far too early in the year for any significant storms, so why not kick off the summer early with an epic Polynesian Pop party on the beachfront? The 21st live version of the East Coast’s largest Tiki weekender blows ashore June 8-11, featuring some top names in the tropical cocktail world, noted live surf and exotica bands, a marketplace featuring more than 30 vendors, educational symposiums, plus more.

The Hukilau 2023 – June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, The Swingin’ Palms, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham, The Ohana Hawaiian Jazz Trio), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Garret Richard, Spike Marble, Tiki Tom-Tom, Doc Parks), guest bars and industry professionals, pop-up cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* TheHukilau.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group

JUMP BELOW: SEE THE FULL SCHEDULE
MORE: Before and after parties | Official mug revealed | A taste of The Mai-Kai | Berry & Wondrich symposiums
Bonus cocktail recipe: Special Daiquiri No. 1 from Tropical Standard

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry serves up a signature Latitude 29 cocktail during the Tiki Tower Takeover event at Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale during The Hukilau in June 2016. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove)
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry serves up a signature Latitude 29 cocktail during the Tiki Tower Takeover event at Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale during The Hukilau in June 2016. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove)

Following is the latest news and updates as we count down to the event. Check out our previous blog posts for a detailed preview:
* The Hukilau announces 17 guest Tiki bar teams
* The Hukilau 2023 preview: 21st Tiki weekender in June is nirvana for cocktail fanatics

In our first story, we cover the big news of Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry returning to The Hukilau for the first time since 2016. He’ll join four other notable writers with new books on the shelves: David Wondrich (The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails), Matt Pietrek (Modern Caribbean Rum), Garret Richard (Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes), and Tiki Tom-Tom (Polynesiacs – Tiki at Home).

The Intoxicators from Tallahassee are making their 17th appearance at The Hukilau in 2023.
The Intoxicators from Tallahassee are making their 17th appearance at The Hukilau in 2023.

We also outline what’s new for 2023, including Wednesday’s pre-party at Esotico Miami. And we spotlight all of the musical performers, from those traveling long distances (California’s The Hula Girls and Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts; New York’s The Swingin’ Palms) to those from around the Sunshine State (The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham).

The story also previews the symposiums and classes. There’s a complete rundown on tickets, plus a detailed description (and photos) of the Beachcomber Resort plus the overflow hotel, the nearby Plunge Beach Resort.

The Luau Lads (Kurt Rogers and Michael Bloom) man their booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at The Hukilau 2022. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Luau Lads (Kurt Rogers and Michael Bloom) man their booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at The Hukilau 2022. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Finally, there’s a section on The Hukilau’s history, from its beginning in 2002 in Atlanta to its many years at Fort Lauderdale Beach hotels and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Oakland Park. The name refers to the traditional Hawaiian gathering of family and friends to cast a giant net into the sea to catch fish. It’s fitting that The Hukilau lures Tikiphiles from around the globe to it’s beachfront locale in our own tropical paradise.

The second story, posted in May, runs down the full list of 17 guest bars and bartenders who will be slinging delicious drinks all weekend. This includes legendary names (The Mai-Kai, Don the Beachcomber, Tonga Hut), many returning favorites (Dirty Dick, Hidden Harbor, The Inferno Room, Tiki Underground), plus some notable newcomers.

The story also lists all 32 booths confirmed for the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, including 16 participants who didn’t attend last year. The roster includes artists, craftspeople, collectors, and a variety of other vendors.

BEFORE AND AFTER: Parties extend The Hukilau revelry to six days

Wednesday’s rum dinner at Esotico Miami, sponsored by Plantation, is sold out. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the pre-party if you won’t have a ticket.

Gold Dust Lounge at Kaona Room on June 7

The tropical cocktail hotspot owned by flamboyant mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola has plenty of space for guests to meet and mingle all night. The event is also sponsored by Hi-Tide Recordings, which likely means we’ll also enjoy some vintage tunes by label owners and DJs Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell.

You can partake in the exotic fare in the main restaurant, then move into the mysterious speakeasy next door for the late-night party. Dalla Pola’s new Kaona Room will host Miami favorites Gold Dust Lounge performing its unique melding of surf, spy and experimental rock.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches”

Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm

Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm

When you gaze into the signature artwork by lowbrow king Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, you’re immediately transported to a surrealistic land of insane roller coasters traversing impossibly twisted tracks in a dark but fantastically fun theme park. Until recently, that imaginary place was limited to canvas, tattoos, and Pooch’s vivid imagination.
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* Toast the Tropical Thunder Express at The Hukilau unofficial preparty on May 25
Exclusive cocktail recipes: Pooch Punch | Tropical Thunder Express

The new Tropical Thunder Express mug set from Tiki Farm, designed by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli
The new Tropical Thunder Express mug set from Tiki Farm, designed by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli.

Now, thanks to Tiki Farm, Pooch’s wild world has taken on three-dimensional form with the release of an ambitious four-mug set: Tropical Thunder Express. Packaged in a colorful box adorned with Pooch’s distinctive artwork, it’s almost like four roller-coaster cars from one of his paintings jumped out of two-dimensional world and came to life.

You can find the mugs in their native habitat in the 2021 digital art piece “The Rum Ride”, but the idea for the real-world mugs actually came first. Pooch reached out to Tiki Farm with his first mug design, a moai, earlier that year.

Tiki Farm owner Holden Westland, who was aware of Pooch’s reputation in the lowbrow art world, loved the “Tiki mug as ride vehicle” concept. Pooch seized the opportunity. “I said, because it’s a (roller coaster) car, maybe we should have more,” Pooch said of his conversation with the mug mogul.

In short order, they joined forces to create a distinctive coaster train featuring four colorful mugs: Grey Moai, Blue Lono, Green Marquesan, and Orange Ku. Westland needed promotional artwork to promote Tiki Farm at Tiki Oasis in August 2021, so Pooch quickly brought “The Rum Ride” to life.

The Rum Ride, a digital print by Pooch that shows the Tropical Thunder Express mugs in their native habitat.
The Rum Ride, a digital print by Pooch that shows the Tropical Thunder Express mugs in their native habitat.

Like his other classic thrill ride paintings, this new piece takes the viewer into a vibrant nether world filled with skulls, Tiki imagery, A-frame huts, a giant moai, and Tiki mugs on wheels happily riding an impossibly angled roller-coaster track.

He said he intended to paint it, but creating it digitally was essential to meet the deadline. The piece is available online as a giclee-quality matte paper print for $50.

Working off of Pooch’s two-dimensional drawings, Tiki Farm’s sculptors have perfectly captured the whimsical world of his paintings, mashing up Tiki, tattoo, and Kustom Kulture into one cool package. In keeping with the theme, the mugs are not sold separately and must be purchased as a set for $125 directly from Tiki Farm online.
* Click here to buy Tropical Thunder Express box of four mugs

Pooch added digital art to his repertoire about eight years ago, but he said he approaches the format much the same as his other art. The main benefit, he said, is speed. “It’s not that different, other than it’s faster,” he said.

Pooch's original designs for the Grey Moai that inspired the Tropical Thunder Express set
Pooch’s original designs for the Grey Moai that inspired the Tropical Thunder Express set.

He created three different views of each mug in two dimensions rather than using 3-D software. Pooch said he could have done the same thing on paper, it was just more efficient to use digital tools.

No matter the medium, Pooch has carved out his own distinctive style over the past quarter century, simultaneously building a loyal following for his colorful ink work at Altered State Tattoo in South Florida (est. 1996). A longtime fan of Tiki culture, he often includes the imagery in his work, channeled through his own unique lowbrow-inspired lens.

Turning his Tiki coaster cars into actual mugs was the next logical step. Finally, Pooch’s work has made it into the vast catalog of Southern California’s Tiki Farm, the world’s premiere mug manufacturer since 2000.

Pooch parlayed his new relationship into an opportunity to create a new custom mug for The Mai-Kai when the historic South Florida restaurant reopens later this year. He’s also working on other potential designs for Tiki Farm.

The Tropical Thunder Express box from Tiki Farm, featuring mugs designed by Pooch, arrives at The Atomic Grog in March 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Tropical Thunder Express box from Tiki Farm, featuring mugs designed by Pooch, arrives at The Atomic Grog in March 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Tropical Thunder Express mugs are made in China like most of the Tiki Farm releases, but they feature a matte finish like many of today’s artist-driven custom mugs. The entire set is priced around the same as some single-mug releases, making it a definite deal.

Released in February, the mugs are 2 pounds each and range from 19 to 21 ounces. The tallest, the Orange Ku, stands 7.6 inches tall. According to Tiki Farm, “Tropical Thunder Express is the perfect gift for any Tiki aficionado and an even better gift for someone who needs to discover the world of Tiki!”

Continue reading “Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm”

The Hukilau announces lineup of 17 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event

The Hukilau announces lineup of 15 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event

As if symposiums and cocktails from luminaries including Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and David Wondrich weren’t enough, The Hukilau has added a flamboyant garnish to its 21st Tiki weekend: An all-star lineup of 17 guest bars that will serve tasty tropical drinks throughout the June 8-11 event on the South Florida oceanfront.
NEW: The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

The Hukilau

The list includes some historic names (The Mai-Kai, Don the Beachcomber, Tonga Hut), key bars in the modern Tiki revival (Dirty Dick, Hidden Harbor, Inferno Room), plus many returning favorites (Esotico Miami, Tiki Tatsu-ya, Tiki Underground). All will be crafting drinks throughout the four days of pool and beach parties, symposiums, nightly bungalow parties, plus more.
Pop-up bars and bartenders: See the full lineup of participants
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Passport to Martinique from VenTiki

Also confirmed this week is a list of more than 30 artists and vendors who will be selling their wares in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. They range from noted artists (Kymm! Bang, Robert Jimenez, Tom Fowner), to longtime Tiki merchants (Aloha Art and Alligators, The Modern Historic), to event newcomers (Bamboo Betty Wear, Trader Van’s).
Tiki Treasures Bazaar: See the full lineup of participants

The Hukilau 2023 – June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, The Swingin’ Palms, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham), symposiums (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Garret Richard, Spike Marble, Tiki Tom-Tom), guest bars, rum tastings, pool parties, beach parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* TheHukilau.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group
Previous coverage: The Hukilau 2023 preview: 21st Tiki weekender in June is nirvana for cocktail fanatics

Among the Tiki cocktail authors scheduled to appear at The Hukilau 2023 are (from left) Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Garret Richard, and Matt Pietrek.
Among the Tiki cocktail authors scheduled to appear at The Hukilau 2023 are (from left) Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Garret Richard, and Matt Pietrek.

Beachbum Berry (an influential Tiki drink historian, author and owner of Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Wondrich (award-winning author and cocktail historian) are the marquee names, but the other symposium presenters also bring a great depth and breadth of expertise on Tiki bars and cocktails.

Garret Richard, who leads the cocktail program at Brooklyn’s Sunken Harbor Club, has a new book coming out May 16 (co-written with Ben Schaffer). Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes is eagerly anticipated by both home and professional bartenders for its innovative yet reverential approach to modern mixology.

Matt Pietrek (author of Minimalist Tiki and Modern Caribbean Rum) will discuss classic tropical drink recipes, past and present. He’ll take today’s “authentic” golden era recipes and demonstrate how things changed without us realizing it. Author and photographer Tiki Tom-Tom will talk about his first book, The Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home, scheduled for release this month through Pietrek’s self-publishing company.

Matt "Spike" Marble is the host of Spike's Breezeway Cocktail Hour on YouTube.
Matt “Spike” Marble is the host of Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour on YouTube.

Last but not least, YouTube video host Matt “Spike” Marble will be on hand to record a live episode of Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour and also peform with his band, The Hula Girls.

Previous coverage: Symposiums | Bands and music

Joining Southern California’s The Hula Girls are two other bands from the New Jersey-based Hi-Tide Recordings label. Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts (Long Beach, Calif.) will be promoting a new vinyl LP, Surf Shack Shindig, scheduled to be released this summer. The Swingin’ Palms (Albany, N.Y.) will perform their signature lei’d back Hawaiian instrumentals, while Hi-Tide owners Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell will join the party with their distinctive DJ sets.

Rounding out the musical lineup are four Florida-based acts. The Intoxicators (Tallahassee), The Disasternauts (parts unknown), and Skinny Jimmy Stingray (Deerfield Beach) all perform hard-driving instrumental rock, liberally mixing original tunes with surf classics. South Florida’s Dan Cunningham, on the other hand, is a classic crooner and one of the area’s top Elvis tribute performers.

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)

The Hukilau is centered around pool parties featuring live music and cocktails at the scenic Beachcomber Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. There will also be two beach parties and nightly bungalow parties. The Tiki Treasures Bazaar and the symposiums are held under tents and thatched huts around the resort property. The overall vibe and festive atmosphere creates a legitimate South Seas paradise in the tropics.

All 140 rooms at the Beachcomber are sold out, but The Hukilau’s villagers can get a special rate at the Plunge Beach Resort, about 2 miles south in Lauderdale By the Sea. Reserve a room via the link on The Hukilau website or call 407-536-2763. Use group code “HUKI” to get the discount.

Event tickets range from $149 (plus service fee) for the Saturday-only Palm Pass, to $599 (plus fee) for the four-day South Seas Pass. The top-tier pass includes many perks, including a VIP lounge, reserved seating at symposiums, and early access to the bazaar. The South Seas and Aloha pass ($359) include all presentations and parties, plus unlimited cocktails.

Previous coverage: Hotels | Tickets | Schedule

Among those returning to The Hukilau in 2023 are the Inferno Room (left), Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick, and Daniele Dalla Pola of Esotico Miami. Photos from The Hukilau 2022 (left) and 2018 (right) by Hurricane Hayward; center photo by Chris Kridler, 2018)
Among those returning to The Hukilau in 2023 are the Inferno Room (left), Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick, and Daniele Dalla Pola of Esotico Miami. Photos from The Hukilau 2022 (left) and 2018 (right) by Hurricane Hayward; center photo by Chris Kridler, 2018)

GUEST BARS: 17 top bar teams serve up signature drinks

A staple of The Hukilau, cocktails crafted by some of the world’s top Tiki bartenders are available throughout the event at no extra charge. Indulge freely (and responsibly) as you enjoy the music, symposiums and many other happenings around the Beachcomber resort. Here’s the lineup of bars for 2023, which includes many returning favorites:

Continue reading “The Hukilau announces lineup of 17 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event”