Modern Caribbean Rum

The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender

The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender

Updated May 21

The East Coast’s longest-running Polynesian Pop weekender features an all-star lineup of musical, mixological and scholarly talent for its annual gathering in South Florida next month. In other words, The Hukilau 2024 is a top-tier smorgasbord of Tiki delights.

The Hukilau attracts retro and modern "villagers" from near and far. (Ash and Simona at The Hukilau 2023 / Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau attracts retro and modern “villagers” from near and far. (Ash and Simona at The Hukilau 2023 / Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

With the early June dates just around the corner, organizers have been busy finalizing all the various seminars, classes and expert presentations featuring some of the top names in the spirits world. Fans of the worldwide instrumental surf scene will happy to see the schedule features some of the top bands playing on multiple nights.

Along with the plethora of guest bartenders, nightly bungalow parties, and marketplace full of artists and vendors, the challenge (as usual) will be how much fun The Hukilau’s “villagers” can pack into the four-day event. Following is a handy guide that might help.

The Hukilau – June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (Messer Chups, Surfer Joe, L’Exotighost, Slowey and the Boats, Lords of Atlantis, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Mermers, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Daniele Dalla Pola, Spike Marble, Marie King, Lucky Munro), 20+ guest cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
More info below: Daily schedule and symposiums | Pre-order official mug | Tiki Treasures Bazaar lineup | Exclusive Mai-Kai tours
* The Hukilau on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group
Previous coverage: The Hukilau 2024 attracts bands, bars and VIPs from around the globe, returns to The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai will be the site of exclusive tours by The Hukilau passholders on June 7, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)
The Mai-Kai will be the site of exclusive tours by The Hukilau passholders on June 7, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)

This story will cover recently confirmed additions, including a day-by-day schedule, full lineup of classes and symposiums, the Tiki Treasures Bazaar vendors, plus the official 2024 mug. You’ll also find details on the exclusive tours of The Mai-Kai.

Our extensive preview story in March covered the announcement of the bands and presenters plus the full lineup of guest bars and news on the special events. We also detailed the host venue, and how to book a room at the Beachcomber Resort.

Rooms are still available, so if you plan on attending you should reserve now before they sell out. The Hukilau reservations are available only by phone at (954) 941-7830. Note: You must book three nights (Thursday-Saturday). If the Beachcomber sells out, or if you prefer a quieter hotel just 2 miles to the south, you can book a room at the Plunge Beach Resort via the link on The Hukilau website.

Author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry recalls a memorable past symposium during his appearance at The Hukilau in June 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry recalls a memorable past symposium during his appearance at The Hukilau in June 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After lodging is secured, you’ll want to start your Hukilau adventure on the tickets page, where you can secure your multi-day pass that will give you access to most of the fun at no extra charge. The passes page includes a breakdown of what you get with the South Seas ($599 + fees) and Aloha (379 + fees) passes. There’s also a Saturday-only Palm Pass ($169 + fees) that will get you into that day’s pool party (featuring all of the top bands), the Tiki Treasure Bazaar, and that evening’s bungalow parties.

While most presentations are included with a multi-day pass, premium tastings and classes require a separate tickets. All are listed on the site and noted below. Cocktails during the pool and bungalow parties are included with all passes.

Here’s a day-by-day breakdown that lists everything on the agenda. TheHukilau.com will be updated soon with a more detailed schedule with more events and exact locations, plus detailed symposiums descriptions.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender”

Minimalist Tiki

Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

Key members of The Mai-Kai team traveled to Orlando in early April to share updates and plans for the $15 million restoration project that is entering its final stages in South Florida. The beloved restaurant has been closed since late 2020, but new interest in its history and rejuvenation has never been higher.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Tiki-a-Go-Go: Panel discussion overview | New kitchen, bar details | Artists showcase their work | Landscape architect’s plans | Pop-up cocktails
Latest news: April refurbishment updates

Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)

An audience of several hundred attended the panel discussion Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again, moderated by The Atomic Grog at the first annual Tiki-a-Go-Go. It was an honor to interview and get insights from manager Kern Mattei, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, public relations director Pia Dahlquist, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Hukilau organizer Richard Oneslager, plus Jesse Muller from landscape architecture firm Perry-Becker Design.

The sold-out event at the at the Caribe Royale Resort ran from April 5-7 and also included a pop-up bar featuring Mai-Kai cocktails, served by Mattei and his son Cheyne. [See photos below] The veteran manager also joined us for the presentation Mai-Kai Cocktails: Tiki History in a Glass. Mahalo to everyone who attended the packed symposium.

The Mai-Kai's iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The Mai-Kai’s iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Following is a full recap of the panel discussion, including exclusive new images from the presentation. At the end of the month, we caught up with Mattei and Allsmiller for an update on all the work going on at The Mai-Kai, also detailed below.

The next major Mai-Kai event is planned for June, when The Hukilau will offer attendees holding Aloha and South Seas passes exclusive tours of the restored interior and a sneak peek at what’s still to come. The 22nd Tiki weekender is scheduled for June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort on Pompano Beach. Click here for our exclusive preview and click here to buy tickets.

Recent coverage
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
* Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead (February 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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Tiki-a-Go-Go welcomes The Mai-Kai for presentations, cocktails

It was fitting that the first presentation at the first Tiki-a-Go-Go was focused on Florida’s beloved Polynesian palace, established in 1956. This new Tiki weekender puts a heavy focus on vintage Tiki and Florida attractions in its programming. Click here for a photo recap of the event, which featured two days of live music and entertainment, vendors, guest Tiki bars, and more.

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando, April 5, 2024

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again kicked off the event on Friday, April 5 at 11 a.m. in the Caribe Royale Resort’s massive Caribbean Ballroom. The enthusiastic attendees applauded throughout the presentation as the panel of experts talked about the history and future of the historic restaurant.

The first to speak was Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant and the upcoming Searching for Don the Beachcomber. He admitted that he was “very skeptical” of a possible restoration after hearing about the scope of the damage caused by a roof collapse over the kitchen in October 2020.

Continue reading “Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)”

Photos, video: The first Tiki-a-Go-Go is a retro roadtrip through mid-century culture, appreciation

Photos, video: The first Tiki-a-Go-Go is a retro roadtrip through mid-century culture, appreciation

The first annual Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando delivered as promised. The April 5-7 event indeed was a trip back in time, taking guests on a rollicking ride through mid-century Florida theme parks, Tiki bars, and other retro touchstones.

As a bonus, the inaugural event at the picturesque Caribe Royale Resort also turned back the clock with a carefree vibe and spirit of aloha that harkend back to the early days of the Tiki revival. A good time seemed to be had by all during the Friday and Saturday activities at the hotel, spilling over into Sunday’s Magical Tiki Meet Up.

As evidence, we submit the photos and videos below. See you next year!

April 5-7 – Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando (Friday-Saturday). Featuring symposiums and classes (Sven Kirsten, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Ed Hamilton, Spike Marble, “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, Tiki Tom-Tom, Rocket Betty, David “Dr. Skipper” Marley, et al.), guest cocktail bars, live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Kreepy Tikis, Hot Rod Hornets, more), supper club and burlesque, artists and vendors, plus more. Magical Tiki Meet Up (Sunday) at the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World.
* Tiki-a-Go-Go on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group
Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender
BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida (April 2024)

The Atomic Grog photos

Continue reading “Photos, video: The first Tiki-a-Go-Go is a retro roadtrip through mid-century culture, appreciation”

Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)

Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)

It’s always thrilling to see and hear about the artistic restoration projects at The Mai-Kai, from the hundreds of vintage lamps to the reimagination of the porte-cochère. But just as important are many behind-the-scenes infrastructure projects that are now coming to fruition at the historic South Florida restaurant.

Jump below: The Mai-Kai at Tiki-a-Go-Go, The Hukilau
* Latest refurbishment news | Update on permits, timeline

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in Oakland Park on March 28. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in Oakland Park on March 28. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

At the top of this list are the new back-of-house kitchen and bar, which both needed to be rebuilt following the October 2020 roof collapse that led to the closing and eventual sale of the 67-year-old landmark. While the design and decor are spectacular, The Mai-Kai is first and foremost a high-volume restaurant (and bar) that requires just as much TLC in areas guests may never see.

That’s why it’s exciting to report that new equipment is now being installed in both the kitchen and bar that were rebuilt in the old back-of-house areas that did not need to be gutted after the roof collapse. The footprint of the old kitchen will remain empty until Phase 2 of the $15 million restoration project, when it will be transformed into a bigger kitchen and an adjacent event center.

Manager Kern Mattei, who has overseen operations for the past three decades, was gracious enough to fill us in on the details when we spoke to him recently about progress on the site during the month of March. We also took some photos of the exterior spaces during a visit late in the month.

The wooden deck outside The Molokai lounge has been rebuilt for future guest use. More theming and enhancements are in the works. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
The wooden deck outside The Molokai lounge has been rebuilt for future guest use. More theming and enhancements are in the works. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

We’ll get into all the details in the updates section below, along with the contributions of creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his team of artists. Unlike the old 1970s era back of house, the 2024 version will include not only state-of-the-art equipment, but also a lot of traditional Ma-Kai and Polynesian theming where appropriate.

The state of the kitchen and bar gives us hope that the current timeline for a grand opening during the summer months will remain stable. The wildcard factor remains the ambitious transformation of the 2.7-acre grounds, which we detailed in our previous story.

Progress was not easily visible across the vast expanse during March as the complex project’s many moving parts still have not coalesced. Permits are pending while various crews continue to work on their specific projects, Mattei said. We did spot some more cool detail work by Allsmiller’s crew, also discussed below.

Mattei and the artists will get a much-deserved break in early April, but it won’t be all play and no work at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. Check out the preview below for details on all their activities.

Recent coverage
* Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead (February 2024)
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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A classic image of The Mai-Kai, captured by author Sven Kirsten in 2010. Also appearing at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando in April is Mai-Kai history book author Tim "Swanky" Glazner
A classic image of The Mai-Kai, captured by author Sven Kirsten in 2010. Also appearing at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando in April is Mai-Kai history book author Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

UPCOMING EVENTS: The Mai-Kai at Tiki-a-Go-Go and The Hukilau

While most guests eagerly await the grand opening this summer, those lucky enough to be attending two of the state’s major Tiki events will get exclusive info and access in the coming months.

First up is the sold-out Tiki-a-Go-Go, scheduled for April 5-7 in Orlando. The inaugural event leans heavily into symposiums featuring old-school Tiki, Florida and Disney topics. There will also be two days of live music and entertainment, vendors, guest Tiki bars, and more.
Previous coverage: Click here for our full preview
Follow The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go: Instagram | Facebook

We’re honored to be hosting two of the presentations featuring The Mai-Kai at the Caribe Royale Resort. Just announced: Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei and public relations director Pia Dahlquist will both be attending and participating in events Friday and Saturday. Here’s the latest on how attendees can get a taste of The Mai-Kai, including some new details:

Continue reading “Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)”

Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender

Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender

Updated May 9

More than a quarter century into the modern revival, the appetite for Tiki weekenders has never been more voracious. But if you’re creating a new event, how do you stand out on an ever-more-crowded calendar?

Tiki-a-Go-Go 2024 in Orlando

PHOTOS, VIDEO: The first Tiki-a-Go-Go is a retro roadtrip through mid-century culture, appreciation
More event recaps
* The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project
* Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

For the organizers of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando, it was simple: Go back to the roots of the revival with an emphasis on what inspired the fascination with retro culture in the first place.

Their location in Central Florida in the shadow of the theme parks also makes the perfect setting to focus on Florida’s role in 20th century kitsch in addition to the over-arching Tiki craze. The icing on the cake is a partnership with the annual Magical Tiki Meet Up that folds that Disney World gathering into the weekend.

The result is a distinctive new event that adds even more depth and nuance to the annual Tiki event calendar. Event passes sold out in late March, with only a few tickets remaining for additional activities for passholders.

Tiki-a-Go-Go will host Tiki revival veterans including author Sven Kirsten, beverage director Marie King of Don the Beachcomber, and clothing designer Margo "Rocket Betty" Scott. (Tiki-a-Go-go / Facebook)
Tiki-a-Go-Go will host Tiki revival veterans including author Sven Kirsten, beverage director Marie King of Don the Beachcomber, and clothing designer Margo “Rocket Betty” Scott. (Tiki-a-Go-go / Facebook)

April 5-7 – Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando (Friday-Saturday). Featuring symposiums and classes (Sven Kirsten, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Ed Hamilton, Spike Marble, “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, Tiki Tom-Tom, Rocket Betty, David “Dr. Skipper” Marley, et al.), guest cocktail bars, live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Kreepy Tikis, Hot Rod Hornets, more), supper club and burlesque, artists and vendors, plus more. Magical Tiki Meet Up (Sunday) at the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World.
More below: Personalize your experience | Q&A with the organizers
* Tiki-a-Go-Go on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group

The venue is the Caribe Royale Resort, which will host all the Friday and Saturday events. The property was recently completely reimagined with the perfect tropical atmosphere and amenities for Tiki-a-Go-Go guests. All the rooms are suites with the standard one-bedroom including a living room with a sleeper sofa. Maximum occupancy is five in a suite and six in a villa.

The Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. (Official photo)
The Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. (Official photo)

There’s a giant pool with a 75-foot waterslide, a spa and hot tubs, multiple fitness and sports activities, plus eight restaurants and bars (including the Rum Bar). Most important for the purposes of Tiki-a-Go-Go, the resort features more than 240,000-square feet of meeting space.

Continue reading “Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender”

Exclusive preview: The Hukilau 2024 attracts bands, bars and VIPs from around the globe, returns to The Mai-Kai

The Hukilau 2024 attracts bands, bars and VIPs from around the globe, returns to The Mai-Kai

Updated May 21

Proving that the modern Tiki scene is truly a worldwide phenomenon, The Hukilau has lined up one of the most geographically diverse groups of musicians, cocktail and rum experts, bartenders, and special guests in recent memory.

Tickets go on sale at 6 p.m. Monday, March 25, for The Hukilau 2024
Tickets are on sale now for The Hukilau 2024. Go to TheHukilau.com (click the logo).

When the East Coast’s longest-running Polynesian Pop weekender returns for its 22nd gathering in South Florida this June, its guests (aka villagers) will not only get an exclusive experience at the historic Mai-Kai, they will have a rare opportunity to traverse the globe … Hukilau-style.

Where else can you taste spirits with London’s “Rum Ambassador,” then rock out with a Russian band while enjoying tropical drinks from a Paris bartender? Follow that up with classic cocktails and a Tiki history class with an acclaimed New Orleans author and bar owner, poolside parties featuring mixologists from Los Angeles to Cozumel, and live surf and exotica music from Italy and Spain.

You would be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of entertainers and experts at a retro-themed Tiki event. The Hukilau’s organizers are also making a conscious attempt this year to include symposiums that spotlight the cultural diversity prevalent in today’s worldwide Tiki bar scene.

The last time The Hukilau held an event at The Mai-Kai in September 2021, villagers celebrated the sale and upcoming preservation of the Polynesian palace (left). Now, with a reopening likely this summer, organizers are planning special experiences for the 2024 event June 6-9. At right is the new porte-cochère in October 2023 after its reimagination by creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The last time The Hukilau held an event at The Mai-Kai in September 2021, villagers celebrated the sale and upcoming preservation of the Polynesian palace (left). Now, with a reopening likely this summer, organizers are planning special experiences for the 2024 event June 6-9. At right is the new porte-cochère in October 2023 after its reimagination by creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

All this – plus a chance to be among the first to see the restored Mai-Kai – await guests at the June 6-9 event. With the restaurant in the final stages of its multi-year, multimillion-dollar refurbishment, it’s unclear if it will be fully open. But even if not, The Hukilau ticket-holders will get exclusive access and tour. Note: An Aloha or South Seas pass is required to join the tour.

Event tickets are now available via TheHukilau.com website. Rooms are also available for booking at the host hotel, the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort.

Following is a sneak preview:

The Hukilau – June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (Messer Chups, Surfer Joe, L’Exotighost, Slowey and the Boats, Lords of Atlantis, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Mermers, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Spike Marble), 20+ guest cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
More info below: Bands | Presenters | Guest bars | Special events | Hotel
* The Hukilau on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group

UPDATED PREVIEW
Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

The Hukilau 2023 featured an authentic Polynesian show on the poolside stage at the Beachcomber Resort in South Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau 2023 featured an authentic Polynesian show on the poolside stage at the Beachcomber Resort in South Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This will be the event’s fourth straight year at the lush and tropical Beachcomber in Pompano Beach, just northeast of Fort Lauderdale. The boutique hotel offers a laid-back atmosphere and beachy vibe, which sets The Hukilau apart. There will also be events at The Mai-Kai, with details still to be determined (more info below).

Continue reading “Exclusive preview: The Hukilau 2024 attracts bands, bars and VIPs from around the globe, returns to The Mai-Kai”

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”

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

The light at the end of the tunnel is about to become much brighter at The Mai-Kai in South Florida as the historic restaurant prepares for an ambitious transformation of its sprawling 2.7-acre grounds.

Jump below: Latest refurbishment news | Landscape reimagination imminent |outside Update on permits, timeline
* The Mai-Kai at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Preview: The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Meanwhile, the artists working in and around the vintage A-frame building have turned the energy level up a notch in anticipation of the home stretch of Phase 1 of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar project. All available information points to a summer reopening, with the most optimistic estimate being June.

Excitement for the reopening was fueled in late February by an article in the Wall Street Journal that proclaims Fort Lauderdale a “cool” destination for “hip, hungry travelers.” While extolling the city’s “booming food scene and throwback architecture,” the article mentions the reopening of The Mai-Kai:

Fans of midcentury design are waiting for June, though, when the Mai-Kai will reopen after a 30-month, $15 million renovation. The Polynesian-style restaurant, built in 1956, was arguably the apotheosis of tiki culture. Partnering with distiller Maison Ferrand to resurrect the high ester rum used in classic tiki cocktails like the Jet Pilot, it hopes to retake that honor.

New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Journal got that information directly from owner Bill Fuller, who assembled the team that purchased The Mai-Kai in September 2021 after a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen forced the October 2020 closure that has now stretched past three years. Fuller’s historic preservation firm, Barlington Group, spearheaded the purchase. Another company he owns, Mad Room Hospitality, will operate the restaurant along with the founding Thornton family. The new Mai-Kai Rum No. 1 is a blend of Barbados and Jamaican rums created by master distiller Don Benn at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados, where it will will shipped directly to Florida to be bottled.

That $15 million figure is new, a much higher number than we’ve previously seen reported. It speaks not only to the extra time spent on the detailed restoration, but also the unwavering commitment from the ownership group. Back in June 2022 during a presentation at The Hukilau, Fuller told the faithful fans of The Mai-Kai: “If we need to spend an extra million dollars or two, we’re going to do it because we want it to be perfect.” He has obviously doubled down on that promise.

And while a June reopening date is far from certain, it’s a goal that Fuller and his team have set. Like everything else involving this restoration, it doesn’t hurt to set the bar high and reach for the stars.

The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Recent coverage
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

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FEBRUARY 2024: Restoration efforts reach new heights, expand in new directions

As detailed in our previous reports in January and February (see links above), we’re limited from showing the exquisite interior renovations during the final stages of work, but we did get a chance to chat in late February with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, who filled us in on what he and his crew were up to during that month. Fellow Central Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared some images of their work on social media, which you can find below.

We also paid a visit to 3599 N. Federal Highway in Oakland Park to document the work on the exterior, briefly chatting with manager Kern Mattei and South Florida artist Tom Fowner, who recently joined the restoration team full-time. Fowner has worked with The Mai-Kai previously, most notably on one of the three Tiki carvings that greet guests near the porte-cochère.

Overall, February was very productive. “I feel that we’ve done more this month,” Allsmiller said. Following are some of his thoughts on what was accomplished, along with what’s still to come.

The addition of Fowner has helped Allsmiller, Scheidly and artist Conrad Teheiura Itchener expand the scope of their work in their central workshop in the Hawaii dining room. “We needed help, and he was free,” Allsmiller said.

Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai's A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai’s A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

Fowner, who recently contributed his Tiki-carving talents to the build-out of the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, went right to work at The Mai-Kai refurbishing some of the massive lamps that hang high under the 40-foot A-frame. We caught him out front, stripping everything off one of the well-worn frames. He said they’re trying to restore them “in a similar fashion” to the originals.

Reaching these uppermost areas filled with vintage lamps, many created by Oceanic Arts in the 1950s and ’60s, has been the most challenging. The crew used scaffolding to reach the ceiling in the rear of the building, above the Tonga dining room. Allsmiller said they removed the large signature fish trap and cleaned it up. “It’s ready to go back up,” he said.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead”

Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer

Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer

The multimillion-dollar reimagination of The Mai-Kai is an unprecedented project in its size and scope as a local and national historic landmark restaurant. Since worked kicked off in 2022, projects have touched nearly every corner of the 67-year-old, 2.7-acre property in South Florida.

Jump below: Latest news on the refurbishments | Timeline of current projects

The first phase of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration of The Mai-Kai is expected to be completed in summer 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)
The first phase of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration of The Mai-Kai is expected to be completed in summer 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)

Now, as 2024 brings us into the home stretch, interest is building not only for updates on the status of the renovations, but also for news on a potential reopening date. Closed since an October 2020 roof collapse irreparably damaged the 1970s-era kitchen, The Mai-Kai is on track to have guests return this year. The only question is exactly when?

Unfortunately, that question will probably not be answered with accuracy until it’s much closer to the finish line. Project timelines can change on a dime, and most of the final hurdles will be left in the hands of inspectors and government officials in Broward County and the city of Oakland Park.

Until then, we’ll take any news we can get. We were able to confirm the accuracy of the latest projection, shared on the restaurant’s official Instagram page: “We are now looking at this summer,” said the comment on a Jan. 23 posting in response to questions about the reopening date.

Recent coverage
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline
* Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

Artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly shared photos on Instagram of his work cleaning up one of The Mai-Kai's last remaining Oceanic Arts wooden masks
Artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared photos on Instagram of his work cleaning up one of The Mai-Kai’s last remaining Oceanic Arts wooden masks. “Luckily this was protected under the porte-cochère out front but will be relocated to the inside for preservation,” he wrote.

Organizers of The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender in nearby Pompano Beach, are making two sets of plans for their June 6-9 event. Plan A would include events at a fully reopened Mai-Kai, while Plan B would feature limited access and sneak previews, perhaps cocktails and entertainment. The general consensus among Hukilau organizers, which include Mai-Kai investor Richard Oneslager and public relations director Pia Dahlquist, is that there’s a 50-50 chance of either plan happening. In the coming weeks, we’ll have more news on The Hukilau, which has included The Mai-Kai in its festivities since its second year in 2003.

In the meantime, we made our first visit of the new year to the property that straddles the Oakland Park border with Fort Lauderdale on Federal Highway. You can find our observations and photos below, along with updates from manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer”

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”