Modern Caribbean Rum

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. 22

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.

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 Restaurants 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”

Minimalist Tiki

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.

NEW: 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”

Sunshine State emerges as epicenter of Tiki revival in 2024

Sunshine State emerges as epicenter of Tiki revival in 2024

Updated February 2024

While California may still be king of the hill with its abundance of classic and modern Tiki bars, constant events and confluence of Polynesian Pop’s movers and shakers, another sunny state on the opposite side of the country is quickly becoming a must-visit destination for more than its beaches and theme parks.

Worlds collide: The Mai-Kai's manager, Kern Mattei, runs into Don the Beachcomber beverage director Marie King backstage in the cocktail prep area at Tiki Oasis in San Diego in August. They will both be very busy in 2024 with their establishments in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Worlds collide: The Mai-Kai’s manager, Kern Mattei, runs into Don the Beachcomber beverage director Marie King backstage in the cocktail prep area at Tiki Oasis in San Diego in August. They will both be very busy in 2024 with their establishments in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This weekend’s return of Tiki Fever in Sarasota reminds us of all the things that make Florida a hot spot for seekers of a vintage experience. The event takes place at a classic retro resort and the state’s oldest Tiki bar (Bahi Hut). It includes four days of revelry featuring top bands, presenters, vendors, and more. It’s a relatively new event, celebrating its third gathering Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 5-8.

But next year is when it really heats up. A promising new weekender, Tiki-a-Go-Go, will debut in April in Orlando. The state’s vanguard Tiki event, The Hukilau, will return to southeast Florida in June.

Early 2024 should also mark the return of perhaps the state’s No. 1 destination for fans of classic Tiki, the revered Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show. If that’s not enough, Florida is ground zero for the resurrection of the Don the Beachcomber restaurant brand. The Florida-based parent company plans to open at least two new locations in the state between now and the end of 2025.

The Hukilau draws cocktail and Tiki experts from around the world, including David Wondrich (left) and Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)
The Hukilau draws cocktail and Tiki experts from around the world, including David Wondrich (left) and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)

Sure, we’re still home to the ubiquitous “Florida Man,” often oppressive humidity, and increasingly questionable politics. But for all the reasons above, and more outlined below, Florida deserves to become a must-visit destination for fans of classic Tiki as well as the modern revival.

*******************************************************

FLORIDA TIKI EVENTS

Here’s a preview of the state’s three major weekenders, plus a roundup of other events of interest. (Florida-based artists, musicians and businesses are highlighted throughout the rest of this story with links.)

Continue reading “Sunshine State emerges as epicenter of Tiki revival in 2024”

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”

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”

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

LATEST UPDATES
* Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida (February 2024)
* EXCLUSIVE: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024 (December 2023)
* Florida is ground zero for revival of iconic brand (October 2023)

The Feb. 22 birthday of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber (1907-1989) is typically a red-letter day for many bartenders and home enthusiasts, who celebrate by mixing up classic tropical cocktails to toast the originator of such iconic drinks as the Zombie, Nui Nui, and Three Dots and a Dash. This custom has intensified recently with the announcement of new book and film projects that celebrate the life of times of the creator of what’s now known as Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture.

Don the Beachcomber

Jump to more below
Sneak peek: Renderings, video of the new location near Orlando
Bonus recipe below: Don’s Beach Planter cocktail

But the occasion gained special importance this year with the announcement that a Tampa-based hospitality company will begin rolling out a chain of new Tiki-themed restaurants featuring the Don the Beachcomber branding in 2023. According to a press release from 23 Restaurant Services, “there are currently two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars under development in Central Florida, with the first slated to open by the end of the year.”

The company’s president, Marc Brown, said in the release that he expects as many as 10 to 15 restaurants to be spread across the Southeast over the next several years, with plans to expand nationally. Brown’s company bought the rights to the Don the Beachcomber brand in 2021, aiming to incorporate it into its successful Tiki Docks concept in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)
Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)

The birthday of Donn Beach, who legally changed his name from Ernest Raymond Gantt after the success of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants in the 1930s, seemed like a great time to announce the ambitious plan that 23 Restaurant Services calls “an expansive growth strategy.”

“Each of the restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and flamboyant, rum-based drinks that have become synonymous with Don the Beachcomber locations for more than 90 years,” the press release says.

“Don the Beachcomber is the most iconic brand in Tiki history, so it’s impossible to overstate how excited we are about what lies ahead,” Brown said. “We look forward to leveraging our expertise in management and operational excellence to reintroduce the world to the legend that is Don the Beachcomber.”

Searching for Don the Beachcomber by Tim "Swanky" Glazner

To accomplish this, 23 Restaurant Services will be guided by an advisory board featuring some of the top artists, writers, and bartenders from the current Tiki scene:

Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)
Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)

“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”

In addition to the advisers, Brown has taken a huge first step in bringing back Don the Beachcomber’s classic cocktails by , former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, as director of beverage for 23 Restaurant Services. King also served as beverage director of the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., located in Huntington Beach, Calif., from 2009 to 2018. Like 23 Restaurant Services, the owners of this location purchased the name and did not have any connection to the original company.

Continue reading “New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast”

The Surfrajettes, Eddie Angel, The Hi-Risers to headline The Hukilau 2020

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

*******************************************************

Passes and tickets for The Hukilau 2020 are selling briskly after last week’s announcement of the full entertainment lineup for the 19th annual Tiki weekender June 3-7 at the B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

The Surfrajettes perform at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale during last year's Hukilau preview party on March 2
The Surfrajettes perform at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale during last year’s Hukilau preview party on March 2. The Canadian group is one of the 2020 headliners. (Atomic Grog photo)

Our previous report hinted at many of the headliners and new participants while offering up key details on the East Coast’s largest and longest-running gathering of Polynesian Pop culture enthusiasts. Now, with the launching of The Hukilau’s updated website, we can run down the full list of bands, symposium presenters, guest pop-up bars and more.

THE MUSIC

The biggest news was the reveal of the musical headliners. Returning for their second appearance at The Hukilau are The Surfrajettes from Toronto, Canada. Rising stars on the instrumental surf circuit, these four women have lived up to the hype after exploding onto the scene in 2015. Viral videos propelled their popularity, but their subsequent live performances and signing with Hi-Tide Recordings have proved that this band is more than just an Internet sensation. We were treated to their blend of classic surf, unique covers, and their own originals at The Hukilau 2018, followed by a special appearance at The Mai-Kai last March. Appearances last year at such high-profile events as Nashville Boogie, the Surf Guitar 101 Convention, and Tiki Oasis solidified their place as an event headliner. Look for a new single on Hi-Tide in April.

Eddie Angel (left) and Greg Townson (right) perform with Los Straitjackets in The Mai-Kai's Tahiti room during The Hukilau 2018
Eddie Angel (left) and Greg Townson (right) perform with Los Straitjackets in The Mai-Kai’s Tahiti room during The Hukilau 2018. The guitarists will be jamming, sans masks, at The Hukilau 2020. (Atomic Grog photo)

Perhaps the best known and most popular band to ever play The Hukilau is Los Straitjackets, who graced the festival in 2009 and 2018. While the masked marvels of instrumental rock won’t be returning in 2020, two of its key members will jam out this June in Fort Lauderdale. Guitarist Eddie Angel, who co-founded Los Straitjackets in 1988, also played The Hukilau with two other bands, The Martian Denny Orchestra and The Neanderthals. The Nashville-based guitarist has also had a longtime career as a sideman and solo artist, appearing on dozens of albums by some of the retro rock scene’s greats, dating back to 1978. At The Hukilau 2020, he’ll perform a solo set at Friday’s High Tide Party, backed the The Hi-Risers. On Saturday at The Mai-Kai, he’ll sit in as a fourth member of the roots rock band from Rochester, N.Y., for a few songs.

The Hi-Risers were formed by guitarist Greg Townson, a member of Los Straitjackets since 2010, and bassist/vocalist Todd Bradley back in 1998. The three-piece band will join forces with Los Straitjackets guitarist Eddie Angel for their first appearance at The Hukilau. For 20 years, the band has been constantly touring, recording and releasing rock ‘n’ roll records with a retro spin. Hi-Tide dropped a new single, Christmas with The Hi-Risers, in December and plans another record before June.

Another Hi-Tide band, Argentina’s Los Freneticos, is making its first appearance at The Hukilau. Founded in 2008, this foursome went against the grain of what was popular in their home country to establish a worldwide following with their mash-up of instrumental rock, surf, spaghetti western, and even a bit of punk. A 2012 debut album, El Playa, was followed by another album and global touring. Hi-Tide put out a third record, Teletransportación, in 2019, propelling the band through a full summer of U.S. festival dates. Another recording is due this spring.

Los Freneticos
Los Freneticos from Argentina will be making their first appearance at The Hukilau. (TheHukilau.com)

Also new for 2020 is a recently formed “surfxotica” combo, The Manakooras from Charlotte, N.C. Featuring members of surf stalwarts The Aqualads, The Intoxicators, The Penetrators and Satan’s Pilgrims, the band combines their love of exotica, surf, and Hawaiian music by employing distinctive instrumentation including lap steel guitar. The band is joining forces with Hi-Tide to release a record by the time The Hukilau rolls around.

Previously announced bands who will be performing at the B Ocean and The Mai-Kai during the rocking five days of festivities are The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Gold Dust Lounge, and Skinny Jimmy Stingray. Once again, King Kukulele will emcee the festivities while DJs spinning eclectic tunes will include Brother Cleve, Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell from Hi-Tide, Spike Marble of The Hula Girls, and Hukilau favorite James Brown’s Sweat from South Florida.

The bands and DJs can be found at the B Ocean on Thursday through Saturday during daily Rum Island pool parties and Friday’s High Tide Party in the hotel’s distinctive Point Room. The Mai-Kai hosts performances during Wednesday’s pre-party, Saturday’s main event, and Sunday’s finale. Performance times will be announced Feb. 15.
More below: Symposiums, classes and pop-up bars

Previous story: Passes and tickets for The Hukilau: 10 things you need to know
The wait is over! The Hukilau 2020 dates and host hotel revealed

The Hukilau 2020 will be held June 3-7 at the B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music and retro-themed performances, educational symposiums, vendor marketplace, rum and Tiki cocktail classes, plus 20 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
Go to The Hukilau.com for tickets, event passes and complete info
* Social media: | Facebook page and Group | Instagram

SYMPOSIUMS & CLASSES

While the live performances keep the party rocking, there’s more to The Hukilau for attendees thirsty for “edutainment” covering everything from rum cocktails, to Tiki history, to vintage clothing. A new symposium, Alfred Shaheen: Iconic Hawaiian Textiles ($10), will offer a deep dive into the largest and most innovative mid-century aloha wear manufacturer. Pull Your Head Out of Your Glass! Secret Treasures of Tiki Bars Hiding in Plain Sight ($10) will offer a deep dive “to uncover the wild, weird and wonderful artifacts found in Tiki bars.”

Ayme Harrison prepares cocktails with her Death or Glory bartender Cassidy Moser during the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2019
Ayme Harrison prepares cocktails with her Death or Glory bartender Cassidy Moser during the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2019. She’ll teach a class in 2020 on how to make a fun and easy party punch. (Atomic Grog photo)

Previously revealed were presentations by music and Tiki historian Brother Cleve (Exotica! The Sound of Tiki, $10), rising New York City bartender Garret Richard (New Traditionalist – Can Cutting-Edge Science Revive Tiki’s Forgotten Cocktails?, $59), and The Atomic Grog’s Hurricane Hayward (How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail, $59).

For the fourth straight year, The Hukilau will offer hands-on cocktail classes as part of its Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy. Students will be treated to an all-new slate of courses, such as Where’s the Proof? with bartender and Tiki ambassador Oriol Elias of Spain. Death or Glory owner Ayme Harrison will join forces with Tiki TNT owner Todd Thrasher for Punch Up Your Party – Less Work, More Fun. The most ambitious new class is My Zombie Is Killer!, a “cage match” featuring four bars competing to see who has the best Zombie cocktail. Expanding beyond rum is a new class titled Waiter! What is This Tequila/Whiskey/Gin Doing in My Tiki Cocktail? Tickets for all classes are $59. The symposiums by Richard and Hayward will also count as credit toward a diploma from the academy.

Continue reading “The Surfrajettes, Eddie Angel, The Hi-Risers to headline The Hukilau 2020”

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

NOTE: The Hukilau 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. A series of online events was held in its place. The 2019 recap below was posted before the pandemic. The Hukilau is returning to a live format in September 2021.

*******************************************************

The Hukilau’s 2020 entertainment lineup will be announced on Feb. 3, when event tickets and passes go on sale for the 19th annual Tiki weekender June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale. While The Mai-Kai remains the nerve center of the Polynesian Pop celebration for the 18th straight year, most of the festivities will be centered at the B Ocean Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

After five years as host hotel, the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina closed for a years-long refurbishment and re-imagining on the day after The Hukilau 2019. To give you a preview of what you can expect during the whirlwind weekend, following is a look back at last year’s festivities. While this Top 10 list is nowhere near complete in capturing the diversity of activities that encompassed the five-day bash, it offers a snapshot of some of the more memorable moments.

See below: Bonus cocktail recipes from the Rum Island Pool Parties
Passion Fruit West Indies (Pagan Idol) | Playboy (Tiki Underground)

The Hukilau 2019 was held June 5-9 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram
Previous recap: The Hukilau 2019 photos and video from social media

Mahalo to the venues, the organizers, all the participants and (especially) all the villagers who attended. Special thanks to those who provided photos for use below. Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed, in no particular order …

Continue reading “Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale”

The Tiki Times – September 2017 Events Calendar: Texas goes Tiki, Deep South surf rock, rum fests from coast to coast

Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki

The Tiki Times
The Tiki Times: Archive of past events, monthly recaps
Social media: Follow our Facebook page for updates | Pinterest

SEPTEMBER 2017 TIKI EVENTS CALENDAR
Spotlight events: Texas Tiki Week (Sept 11-17)
Southern Surf StompFest (Sept. 15-17)
Ongoing events | Upcoming events

Sept. 3 – Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki, a special panel during the 30th annual sci-fi and comic convention in Atlanta. Guests discover how the primitive past of Polynesia influenced pop culture for generations. Moderated by Michael Gordon (Tiki Zombie comics) and featuring artists Shag, Derek Yaniger, Robert Jimenez and Jonathan Chaffin (Horror In Clay mugs).

Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki
The Art of the Tiki panel at Dragon Con (from left): Robert Jimenez, Jonathan Chaffin, Shag, Derek Yaniger, and Michael Gordon

Sept. 8-9 – California Rum Festival in San Francisco showcasing rums from large, micro and boutique distilleries. The Rum Lab hosts the third annual brand showcase at the SOMArts Cultural Center with industry VIPs such as Roberto Serralles (Don Q Rum, Puerto Rico), Richard Seale (Foursquare Distillery, Barbados), and Bryan Davis (Lost Spirits Distillery, Los Angeles) presenting seminars.

Sept. 9 – Dapper Day Autumn Outing at Disneyland Paris.

Sept. 9 – The Original Tiki Market Place End of Summer Extravaganza in Garden Grove, Calif. Featuring vendors, live Hawaiian entertainment, food, friends, and more at the Garden Grove Elks Lodge.

Sept. 9 – Don’s Tiki Makeke “End of Summer Beachcomber Roundup” at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, Calif. More than 50 vendors selling their wares, plus authentic Polynesian music and hula dancers, live bands, food and drinks, plus more.
Don's Tiki Makeke

********************* SPOTLIGHT EVENT *********************
***********************************************************

Sept 11-17 – Texas Tiki Week, a celebration of Tiki cocktails and culture in Austin hosted by the local chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. Launched in 2012, the gathering brings together bars, restaurants and brands for an exotic mix of educational, social and philanthropic events. While Texas Tiki Week is centered in Austin, there are satellite events in other cities across the state.
* Press coverage: Austin’s turning into a tropical paradise for Texas Tiki Week

Continue reading “The Tiki Times – September 2017 Events Calendar: Texas goes Tiki, Deep South surf rock, rum fests from coast to coast”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull

The Mai-Kai's Shrunken Skull, from ancestor to tribute

Updated October 2023
See below: Our Shrunken Skull review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe | Bonus recipes
NEW: Shrunken Pumpkin Head is a sinister, seasonal spin on the classic
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.

The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.

In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.

The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design by Al Kocab. The artist had his hand in many projects at The Mai-Kai, from furniture to advertising design.

It was replaced some time in the 1980s by a modern version based on Kocab’s design that remains to this day. The modern version features the details painted under the glaze, while the vintage version has the details painted over the glaze.

Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The above links and info come courtesy of My Tiki Life, a website featuring a user-generated database of mugs past and present. This highly recommended resource is so robust, in fact, it lists nearly 300 mugs (as of October 2023) with a tag of “skull.” Featuring photos, designer and manufacturer info, plus a full description of the mugs, mytiki.life is essential even if you don’t register as a member.

In recent years, the Shrunken Skull is also often served in a modern Abelam mug, which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. The original was also designed by Kocab.

Both mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The Shrunken Skull mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.

When the restaurant reopens in 2024, look for both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull”