Modern Caribbean Rum

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”

Minimalist Tiki

Miami Rum Congress is in session: First annual event presents top industry experts

Miami Rum Congress 2019

Updated Feb. 21

Some of the biggest names in the spirits world flocked to South Florida for the first annual Miami Rum Congress, a two-day event featuring tastings and educational seminars dedicated to the burgeoning booze that may finally have outgrown its “party like a pirate” image.
Atomic Grog photo gallery, event recap
NEW: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress

Feb. 8-9 – Miami Rum Congress at the Ronald W. Shane Center, 6500 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach.
MiamiRumCongress.com: Tickets, schedule, more | ShaneCenter.com
* Facebook:
Main events | Tiki Takeover | After party
The Tiki Times: See all the upcoming events

Miami Rum Congress 2019

About Miami Rum Congress

Rum has forever been touted as the “next big thing,” a more economical and (some would argue) tastier alternative to whiskey in the hearts and glasses of aficionados of brown spirits. But, perhaps to its advantage, rum’s popularity has come at a more slow and steady pace, built from the ground up through an expanding group of devotees, event organizers and well-regarded industry loyalists. All of those folks will converge on Miami Beach to network and learn more about the world’s most diverse spirit.

Rum’s diversified, worldwide appeal is what keeps it near and dear to many. Our 2019 events calendar includes rum gatherings around the globe, from Jamaica to Czechoslovakia to The Netherlands to Madrid. And that’s just the next four months. In the United States, the Rum Renaissance Festival (set for May 17-18 in Coral Gables) has been the torch-bearer since launching in 2009 and deserves credit for being ahead of its time and paving the way for what has followed.

The Rum Lab's 2019 Rum Festival Tour

Miami, always a top market due to its proximity to the Caribbean and historic appreciation for rum, has been a step ahead of the rest of the country. But the word is out. Rum is not only fun, but it’s incredibly diverse and quickly gaining traction as a premium spirit. Smaller boutique festivals have become the norm, appealing to premium tastes.

Enter Federico Hernandez (of TheRumLab.com) and Ian Burrell (the award-winning global “rum ambassador”), who have joined forces to bring South Florida its second major rum festival. It’s clear that the demand is warranted. Tickets are selling briskly and several price points are sold out.

Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)
Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)

Hernandez and Burrell are on the cusp of the explosion of rum festivals worldwide. In 2007, Burrell founded The UK RumFest, widely considered to be the godfather of all rum events around the globe. In the years since, the charismatic ambassador has been on a one-man crusade, traveling to every continent on Earth on behalf of spirits companies and earning the 2018 Spirited Award as Best International Brand Ambassador. The 13th annual UK RumFest is set for Oct. 19-20.

Meanwhile, Hernandez began eyeing the vast U.S. market after launching the Rum Lab as an educational initiative in Puerto Rico in 2007. He has grown his brand to include five boutique rum festivals across American soil, including San Juan (March 2), Chicago (April 27), New York City (June 15), and San Francisco (Sept. 7).

The next logical step for Burrell and Hernandez in their efforts toward the “premiumization and education of rum” is Miami Rum Congress. “After years of attending and hosting rum events, we are combining our experiences and expertise to bring consumers and tradespeople the finest rum event in the Americas,” said Burrell in a press release. “We are bringing in expert guest speakers from around the world so that Miami Rum Congress attendees will not only have the opportunity to taste a wide array of exotic rums but can interact with and learn from top industry experts and thought-leaders. This unparalleled spirit event will be an exciting moment for the industry and monumental in shaping the modern-day rum landscape.”

Miami Rum Congress is the newest addition and the first event of the 2019 rum festival circuit. It’s not hard to lure anyone to sunny Miami Beach in February, but the lineup of VIPs and experts is nevertheless extremely impressive.

Continue reading “Miami Rum Congress is in session: First annual event presents top industry experts”

The Year in Tiki 2015: Legends lost, but revival becomes renaissance with new bars, music, art and more

The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis
The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis.
It was a year of both sadness and elation, when some legends were lost but the world of Tiki made great strides. As we mourned the deaths in 2015 of musicians Robert Drasnin and Ernie Menehune, plus artist The Pizz, we were bolstered by the fact that a new generation of artists and musicians are taking inspiration from the past and creating an incredible new body of work. And Tiki culture was embraced and celebrated across the country at sold-out events and a whole new wave of bars. After our first year of The Week in Tiki updates, The Atomic Grog takes a look back at the memorable news of 2015.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook | RSS feed | See all the past weeks | Archive
See below: Month-by-month recap | The Year in Tiki 2015 Awards

The year 2015 marked a turning point in the 21st century Tiki scene. If there was ever a time to declare that the “revival” had become a full-blown renaissance, it’s now. It’s been building for some years now, but last year seemed to be the tipping point. Just look at the evidence in our favorite topics: Events, music, art, cocktails, and culture. Then, take a chronological look back at the biggest news of the year, month by month. Finally, find out our selections for the top artist, band, bar, website, rum, and cocktail of 2015 in our first Year in Tiki Awards.

****************** EVENTS ******************

The Alika Lyman Group's performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Alika Lyman Group’s performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Long gone are the days when you spent the entire year planning for Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau. Smaller events, such as Tiki Kon and Tiki Caliente, have risen up to challenge the trend-setters. And the Fraternal Order Of Moai has filled a gap by providing a plethora of regional events from Ohana: Luau At The Lake to the Chicago Area Tiki Tour, and more. All of the above were wildly successful in 2015, with many events selling out in advance.

The top dogs continue to raise their game: The Hukilau moved to the iconic Pier 66 Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach and attracted some of Tiki’s biggest names, most notably the gathering of four of the world’s top bartenders for the Tiki Tower Takeover. Tiki Oasis keeps getting bigger, breaking its own attendance records, while newer events such as Mod-Palm Springs and Ohana: Luau by the Sea have carved out their own niche. Rum and cocktail events – such as Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and Tales of the Cocktail – have refined their successful formulas, spreading their message to an even wider audience.

Continue reading “The Year in Tiki 2015: Legends lost, but revival becomes renaissance with new bars, music, art and more”

The Week in Tiki (July 13-26, 2015): Your guide to all the sizzling summer events, from Hot Rod Hula Hop to Tiki Oasis

The Week in Tiki There’s no such thing as summer doldrums in the world of Tiki with plenty of major events spanning coast to coast this summer. We take a look back at July’s Tiki Kon and Tales of the Cocktail and preview August’s Texas Tiki Week, Hot Rod Hula Hop in Ohio, plus the Surf Guitar 101 Convention and Tiki Oasis in Southern California. Also upcoming are the Trader Vic’s Portland anniversary party, Tiki Monday With Miller in New York City, and the Tahitian Terrace Diamond Luau at Disneyland. Our regular features spotlight the artwork of Ken Ruzic; the fuzzed-out sounds of Davie Allan and the Arrows; the Grass Skirt Tiki Room in Columbus, Ohio; and the Dionysus Records Empire website. The rum of the week, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, is featured in an original creation, the Merchant’s Mai Tai.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

EVENT RECAPS: Tiki Kon, Tales of the Cocktail

New Iron Tikitender Sierra Kirk is crowned by Blair Reynolds, owner of Hale Pele and B.G. Reynolds' Syrups
New Iron Tikitender Sierra Kirk is crowned by Blair Reynolds, owner of Hale Pele and B.G. Reynolds’ Syrups. (Facebook photo)

The summer event season got into high gear in July with the 13th annual Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest, themed to mid-century air travel. “Tiki Kon Air” was held July 10-12 at the Red Lion Hotel in Vancouver, Wash., and included a tour of commercial and home bars in nearby Portland, Ore. Festivities included eclectic live music and entertainment, symposiums, art and vendors plus the action-packed Iron Tikitender contest. Emerging as the new champion was Sierra Kirk from Hale Pele in Portland. Beginning Friday, Aug. 1, Tiki Kon merchandise will be available in the online store for those who weren’t able to attend. Tiki Kon has already announced plans for the 2016 event, which will return July 8-10 to the Red Lion with a World War II theme. Follow the Facebook page for updates.
* Inside the magical world of Tiki Kon (Punch)

Some of the rum and Tiki events at Tales of the Cocktail, as posted on Pintrest.
Some of the rum and Tiki events at Tales of the Cocktail, as posted on Pintrest.

While Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove (Best American Cocktail Bar nominee) and Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 (Best New American Cocktail Bar nominee) did not take home Spirited Awards, the 13th annual Tales of the Cocktail held July 13-19 in New Orleans certainly did not disappoint. The gathering of 20,000 bar professionals, industry reps and enthusiasts offered a little something for everyone with hundreds of events and seminars, many touching on Tiki and rum topics. Miami Beach’s tropical-themed craft cocktail oasis, The Broken Shaker in the Freehand Miami hotel, was honored with the Spirited Award for Best American Hotel Bar. Bar partners Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi, who recently opened a second Broken Shaker in the Freehand Chicago, accepted the award to “thunderous applause,” according to press reports. They had been nominated for the award in the past, but this was their first victory. See all the winners on a special Pintrest page.
* More on The Broken Shaker’s win: Miami New Times | Sun-Sentinel
* Tales of the Cocktail press coverage: New Orleans Times-Picayune
Wall Street Journal | The Daily Beast
* Blog coverage: A Mountain of Crushed Ice | Cocktail Wonk

EVENT PREVIEWS: Texas Tiki Week, Hot Rod Hula Hop, Surf Guitar 101 Convention, Tiki Oasis

Texas Tiki Week

One of the lesser known events on the Tiki calendar rolls into Austin on Aug 2-9, which has been declared Texas Tiki Week. Now in its fourth year, the event is geared toward bar professionals across the state and is organized by members of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. Many events, such as educational classes and a bus tour, are for USBG members and industry trade only. But others, including a Lost Lake pop-up bar and other cocktail events, are open to the public. Check the schedule for more info. Sponsors include a host of rums and spirits, including Appleton, El Dorado, Flor de Caña, Mount Gay, Plantation, Zacapa, and B.G. Reynolds. Get updates on the Facebook page.

Hot Rod Hula Hop

The Midwest’s biggest summer Tiki weekender, Hot Rod Hula Hop, is revving up for its seventh annual bash Aug. 7-8 in Columbus, Ohio. Presented by the Kahiki and Kon-Tiki chapters of the Fraternal Order Of Moai, the event features two days and nights of live music, hot rods, a luau dinner, and a burlesque show. Friday’s “Feast of the Tiki Gods” luau will be held at the Grass Skirt Tiki Room, this week’s Tiki bar of the week. Saturday’s festivities and climatic “rock ‘n’ bowl show” headlined by Unknown Hinson will be held at Sequoia Pro Bowl, a 32-lane bowling center. Other performers include an assortment of regional surf and country rockers, including The Revomatics (Wisconsin), the Hellroys (Arkansas), Hypnotide (Ohio), The Whiskey Daredevils (Ohio), and The Digs (Ohio). A portion of the proceeds will benefit Cure CMD. Click here for ticket info and get updates on the Facebook page.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (July 13-26, 2015): Your guide to all the sizzling summer events, from Hot Rod Hula Hop to Tiki Oasis”