Modern Caribbean Rum

The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!

The Week in Tiki Exciting news this week for fans of The Mai-Kai with the release of new Tiki mugs and pre-orders for a long-awaited history book. News on The Art of Tiki event in South Beach includes a new rum sponsor and the return of last year’s champ. We recap events from N.Y.C. to L.A., including new Doug Horne Tiki mugs. Upcoming events include a tribute to Steve Crane, South Florida’s Polynesian Cultural Festival, and a new Trader Vic’s seminar. In other news, a tree crashes the party at VenTiki, plus Bacardi and Havana Club duke it out. Regular features spotlight eclectic artist Sam Gambino; groundbreaking exotica ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica; Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance; and online group Poly Hai. The Rum of the Week, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15, is featured in the Pineapple Express cocktail.
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Note: For 2016, The Week in Tiki will remain bi-weekly, but we’ve simplified the schedule. Look for blogs recapping the first and second half of each month.

New Mai-Kai mugs released, history book coming in July

Tiki Diablo's new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.
Tiki Diablo’s new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.

As promised, the new mugs inspired by The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale have been released to the general public by California-based artist Tiki Diablo. The mug is available in three different glazes for $75 each and can be purchased online via Tiki Diablo’s store. They should also be available in the restaurant’s gift shop, The Mai-Kai Trading Post, within the next week.

In December, a limited number of artist proofs were released and quickly sold out. The mug, which comes with its own pendant, pays tribute to the historic Polynesian Palace’s iconic Tikis. Tiki Diablo, aka Danny Gallardo, has previously created mugs that pay homage to memorable Tikis at The Mai-Kai in 2014 and 2015 (see story). He’ll also be crafting the official mug for the upcoming book on The Mai-Kai by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant

UPDATE: The book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, will be released Sept. 28. The 176-page hardcover book (11 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches high) is being issued by Schiffer Publishing. It’s available for pre-order online via Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Glazner will be hosting a release party and special events at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 17-18. Advance copies of the book will be available at the release party.

In the book, the longtime Mai-Kai historian reveals never-before-seen photos and stories that he’s gleaned from more than 13 years of research on the 59-year-old Tiki temple, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a fascinating story of the brash young men who in 1956 created The Mai-Kai for a million dollars, making it one of the most expensive restaurants of its day. By sparing no expense and creating a one-of-a kind Tiki paradise, Bob and Jack Thornton created an acclaimed playground of celebrities and playboys during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian Pop.

The Mai-Kai's original mystery girl. Find out more in "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant," coming July 28.
The Mai-Kai’s original mystery girl. Find out more in “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant,” coming July 28.

Glazner also spotlights the beautiful women who worked there, many who used the experience as a jumping-off point for adventure and fame. The book includes exclusive first-hand stories on more than 400 images, documenting not only The Mai-Kai but the history, allure, and enduring legacy of the original Tiki era. Focusing on 1955 to 1971, the book traces the genesis of the restaurant and its key employees back to Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s original key managers and employees came from the Beachcomber outpost in Chicago, where the Thorntons called home. This includes bartender Mariano Licudine, who created the acclaimed bar menu (based on Donn Beach’s original “rum rhapsodies”) that remains intact at The Mai-Kai today.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!”

Minimalist Tiki

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The late Dr. Fong has a funky and famous history

Updated March 2024
See below: Ancestor recipes UPDATED | Tribute recipe | Dr. Fong review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

The concept of a “Polynesian” cocktail is somewhat of a misnomer. While most tropical drinks have names and imagery that recall Polynesia, most are actually Caribbean rum concoctions reinvented by American restaurateurs. One notable exception is the distinctive Doctor Funk, also sometimes known as Dr. Fong.

Bernhard Funk
The real Doctor Funk (from The Cyclopedia of Samoa, via TikiCentral.com)

Doctor Funk was an actual person as well as a real Polynesian drink. Born in 1844 in Germany, Dr. Bernhard Funk migrated to Samoa around 1881 and was reputedly the first medical practitioner in the capital city. He became friends with Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and was the bedside doctor when Stevenson died in 1894 in Samoa.

Dr. Funk was not only a skilled doctor but also a mixologist of some note. The Doctor Funk was a notorious drink that became known throughout the region. It was mentioned by travel writer Frederick O’Brien (1869-1932) in his books White Shadows in the South Seas (1919) and Mystic Isles of the South Seas (1921). The latter calls the drink “a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine – a syrup of the pomegranate fruit, the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water.” It was apparently served by the doctor as a “medicinal tonic.”

Doctor Funk
From a Don the Beachcomber menu.

Dr. Funk thrived in Samoa, marrying the daughter of a chief, but health problems caused him to return to Germany, where he died in 1911. After his death, a granite stone was placed in his honor on the shore of the mysterious Lake Lanoto’o in Samoa, where Funk had built a health resort. The secluded lake still contains goldfish, illegally introduced to Samoa by Dr. Funk. For a lot more on the life and times of Bernhard Funk, check out this great research on Tiki Central by Sven Kirsten (bigbrotiki), Tom Duncan (TikiTomD), and many others.

A drink this legendary and rooted in the South Pacific was perfect fodder for Tiki bar pioneers Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic’s). Both created Doctor Funk cocktails in the 1930s and ’40s with pretty much the same flavor profile. But over the years there became so many different versions by Beach, Bergeron and many others, it became impossible to pinpoint a definitive “original” version.

The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Doctor Funk also inspired variations with names such as Dr. Fong and Dr. Wong. Many of these became synonymous with the (now somewhat politically incorrect) Fu Manchu-style Tiki mug that was widely produced in the mid-century. Restaurants across the country simply invented their own drinks called Doctor Funk or Dr. Fong to go into the mug (see “bilge” at the very bottom of this review).

When The Mai-Kai opened in 1956, the menu included a Dr. Fong cocktail based on one of the Don the Beachcomber versions of Doctor Funk. This is where bartender Mariano Licudine worked for nearly 20 years, mixing the drinks that became the template for most of the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai menu.

Luckily for us, Tiki historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has over the past 15 years decade published two of Beach’s Doctor Funk recipes, which I’ve included below. In 2016, thanks to another author, guests at The Mai-Kai were finally able to taste the authentic Dr. Fong after an absence of more than 40 years.

Dr. Fong was featured on a special lost cocktails menu in September 2016 during the book release party for Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

The special event also featured several other long-lost cocktails (Hanalei Bay and the Demerara Float) plus two days of gatherings of Mai-Kai enthusiasts from across the country.

Dr. Fong, August 2017

The book chronicles the history of the iconic restaurant, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. [Pick up a copy on Amazon]

Dr. Fong returned again in August 2017 as part of The Mai-Kai’s monthly Flashback Friday promotion, including a special new recipe. See more below under the Tribute recipe notes.

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