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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

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”

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”

EXCLUSIVE: New details on The Mai-Kai renovations, new merchandise revealed at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta

New details on The Mai-Kai renovations, new merchandise revealed at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta

Tiki fans packed a conference room early on the first day of Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend on Jan. 20, eager to hear and see details of the upcoming multimillion-dollar refurbishments planned for the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in South Florida. The Atomic Grog was happy to oblige, presenting exclusive photos, renderings and video of the project that is poised to shift into high gear in the coming months.

Hurricane Hayward kicks off his presentation, "Okole Maluna! The Return of The Mai-Kai," at Inuhele in Atlanta on Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo by Tim Glazner)
Hurricane Hayward kicks off his presentation, “Okole Maluna! The Return of The Mai-Kai,” at Inuhele in Atlanta on Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo by Tim Glazner)

Jim “Hurricane” Hayward sprinkled the presentation on the 225-seat room’s large screen with new images and architectural plans. Appearing via pre-recorded video, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller took viewers on 10-minute walk-through of his work in The Molokai bar, one of the restaurant’s oldest dining rooms, plus a stroll through the gardens. The video received a great response after the interior designer and craftsman urged attendees to enjoy their Mai-Kai cocktails after the presentation.

Other upcoming projects were detailed for the first time, including new Mai-Kai mugs and other merchandise by contemporary Tiki artists, plus a signature rum blend from two historic Caribbean distilleries. After digesting all the news, the approximately 175 guests were invited to quench their thirst with authentic Mai-Kai cocktails in a poolside VIP lounge for a meet-and-greet event.

The fourth Inuhele event was held Jan. 20-22 at the Atlanta Sheraton Downtown, just two blocks from the historic Trader Vic’s location, where many attendees paid a nightly pilgrimage. Highlights included a wide array of presentations all three days, an authentic luau, rocking live bands, a marketplace featuring many top artists and craftspeople, daily room parties and special events, plus more. Check out our event preview for an overview of the diversity and creativity of Inuhele’s offerings. Event recap and more photos coming soon!

Jump to more below:
* Chapter 1: The Legacy
* Chapter 2: The Deluge
* Chapter 3: The Renewal
EXCLUSIVE: Updates, new images of the site plan
EXCLUSIVE: New rum, mugs, other merchandise
PHOTOS: Images of presentation, after-party | Video

Judging by the turnout for the presentation at Inuhele in Atlanta, there’s a great deal of interest in The Mai-Kai’s refurbishment plans. (Atomic Grog photo)

Recent coverage of The Mai-Kai
* Historic preservation board approves The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans, clearing way for project to move forward
* The Mai-Kai turns 66 as work progresses on multiple renovation projects

It was a pleasure to share all the latest exclusive information on The Mai-Kai refurbishment plans with an enthusiastic audience. It was the first presentation on the first day, and the line to enter the “Jungle Room” stretched down the hall and into the lobby.

Mahalo to Jonathan and Allison Chaffin and their expert staff for the great event. And okole maluna to hospitality director Lucky Munro and Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner for their help with the cocktails. The support staff at the presentation was also very gracious, helping us solve a few technical issues and get the event on track as fast as we could. We hope to see y’all next year!

Swanky pours the Black Magic while Hurricane Hayward handles the Barrel O' Rum.
Swanky pours the Black Magic while Hurricane Hayward handles the Barrel O’ Rum. (Atomic Grog photo)

Inuhele, which started in 2018 as the Atlanta Tiki home bar tour, means “cocktail journey.” So I thought it was only fitting to kick off the show by talking about my personal cocktail journey at The Mai-Kai. My fascination with the delicious drinks, and the Tiki revival in general, started there around 15 years ago and is still going strong. Go to The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide to see the results of this journey.

Past presentations at The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai have included deep dives into the cocktails, the menu, and the restaurant’s historic rum collection. In 2022, we turned our attention on the blog to the massive renovation project, posting exclusive news and photos as work progressed. When the opportunity arose to share our insights at Inuhele, we jumped at the chance.

None of this would have been possible without the crucial cooperation and assistance of several key members of The Mai-Kai team who have be extremely helpful over the years with all of our coverage: General manager Kern Mattei and public relations director Pia Dahlquist. Also mentioned at the top of the presentation was the leader of the new ownership team, Bill Fuller, a founder of both real estate development firm Barlington Group and restaurant management group Mad Room Hospitality.

I thanked Fuller for having the vision to restore and reimagine The Mai-Kai, and for providing access and graciously answering all my questions as I continue to cover the most magical restaurant in the world.

Images from the title slide show three eras of The Mai-Kai: The 1950s, when the restaurant was built in a desolate area far west of the popular beachfront. A recent view from what is now a very busy Federal Highway. And a rendering by "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller of the planned event center addition, coming in the second phase of the renovations
Images from the title slide show three eras of The Mai-Kai: The 1950s, when the restaurant was built in a desolate area far west of the popular beachfront. A recent view from what is now a very busy Federal Highway. And a rendering by “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller of the planned event center addition, coming in the second phase of the renovations.

CHAPTER 1 – The Legacy

While most Tikphiles in attendance knew quite a bit about the 66-year history of The Mai-Kai, we couldn’t discuss the significance of the current renovations without a brief tour through the past. Opened Dec. 28, 1956, in the small Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park, The Mai-Kai became a local and national historic landmark in 2014.

The dining rooms were outfitted with authentic artifacts from Polynesia, along with much work by budding restaurant decor firm Oceanic Arts. Massive Tikis by legendary carver Barney West were installed in the early 1960s. Sadly, only one survives. But it’s due to be restored as part of the refurbishments.

The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue was the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii) until the 2020 closing due to a roof collapse over the kitchen and back-of-house area. The show’s original bandleader, Toti Terorotua, came from Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii and continued to perform until shortly before his death in 2020. Inuhele guests were treated to the sounds of Terorotua & His Tahitians, his band from the 1950s, before and after the presentation.

A slide from the Inuhele presentation: The 1970 expansion increased the restaurant's capacity from 350 to its current 450, plus another 150 in The Molokai. For the next five decades, The Mai-Kai could service more than 700 diners comfortably at any one time during the busy season
A slide from the Inuhele presentation: The 1970 expansion increased the restaurant’s capacity from 350 to its current 450, plus another 150 in The Molokai. For the next five decades, The Mai-Kai could service more than 700 diners comfortably at any one time during the busy season.

Launched in 1962, the stage show is poised for a comeback under the leadership of Mireille Thornton. She started as a dancer, soon became the show producer and choreographer, then married owner Bob Thornton. The family, led by daughter Kulani Thornton Gelardi, remains part of the ownership team and will continue to run the restaurant and serve as its creative force.

The Mai Kai was already considered a landmark when it expanded in 1970. The $1 million project (see image above) included new dining rooms, lush landscaping of what is now the Tiki gardens, and the construction of the 7,000-square-foot back-of-house section that was compromised in October 2020. Also added were the kitchen’s rare Chinese wood-burning ovens, which were saved and will be relocated.

Also added: A redesign of The Molokai lounge using decor salvaged from the Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). The nautical theme extends to the entrance area and back of house. One of the bar’s signature features is windows that are covered in a constant faux rainstorm that adds to the illusion of being trapped in a turn-of-the-century seaport saloon.

The 1970 additions would be the last major construction project at The Mai-Kai until 2022. For the next five decades, the restaurant cemented its reputation as the most grand Polynesian palace built during the mid 20th century.

A slide from the Inuhele presentation shows the area damaged and later lost after the October 2020 roof collapse. Photos by The Atomic Grog (top) and The Mai-Kai
A slide from the Inuhele presentation shows the area damaged and later lost after the October 2020 roof collapse. Photos by The Atomic Grog (top) and The Mai-Kai.

CHAPTER 2: The Deluge

The Mai-Kai managed better than most during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. While indoor service shut down, cocktails and food were available to go, and the restaurant fully reopened after two months. But the old adage “when it rains, it pours” proved to be true (literally) when a massive storm hit in late October at the same time a pipe burst in a main sprinkler system line, leading to the collapse of the roof over the 1970s-era kitchen.

Continue reading “EXCLUSIVE: New details on The Mai-Kai renovations, new merchandise revealed at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta”

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

After the suffering bastard of a year that was 2020, we were primed and ready for some relief and positive Tiki vibes. If 2020 was a house of horrors, then 2021 was a roller-coaster ride. But while we’re still mired in pandemic-related disruptions, many things achieved a “new normal” over the past 12 months.
RELATED: The Year in Tiki 2021 – A look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021.
Bonus recipe below: The Tiki Lover

1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS

Oceanic Arts closing after 65 years

As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.

While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.

PeekabooGallery.com: Pre-order the book now
Get social media updates: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
News: Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing
Online tribute: Quiet Village podcast dedicated to Oceanic Arts

Past coverage
* Video: Inside the Desert Oasis Room | A Moment of Tiki
Randomland | Huel Howser
* Van Oosting and Schmaltz on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
* The enchanting tikis of Oceanic Arts (Disney History 101)

2. PARADISE SAVED: NEW OWNERS REVIVE THE MAI-KAI

The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
When will the historic Polynesian restaurant be welcoming back guests? We’ll keep you updated with the latest news.

3. LET’S TIKI! THE RETURN OF LIVE EVENTS

The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events
The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events
Recap the year’s top happenings, including official artwork and links plus photos and video.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021”

The Atomic Grog 10th anniversary: Beware! Deadly Zombies ahead

The Atomic Grog 10th anniversary: Beware! Deadly Zombies ahead

Has it really been 10 years? For a humble blog focused on Tiki culture and cocktails, that’s an eternity. After a decade of existence, we continue to be humbled by the recognition and continued support from peers and supporters. Even so, we hope that the best is yet to come.
Special 10th anniversary recipe: Revenge of the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

The Atomic Grog launched in late April 2011 with coverage of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s “Zombie Jamboree” at The Mai-Kai, our participation in the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival’s deadly cocktail competition, our first published cocktail recipe, and lots more …

We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
The kickoff party for the 2011 Rum Renaissance Festival was a Tikiphile’s dream, featuring a Jeff “Beachbum” Berry cocktail seminar followed by a deadly mixology competition.
Recipe: Wake the dead, it’s time for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Now, 447 posts and more than 1 million page views later, it’s time to take a quick look back and offer a big mahalo to everyone and everything that has kept us motivated and writing. That includes all the folks who posted more than 600 comments on the site, overwhelmingly positive and informative.

The first post – on April 25, 2011 – was a Zombie recipe, so it’s fitting that we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this never-say-die blog with a horde of Zombies. While the Mai Tai seems to get all the attention, 10 years later we still maintain that Tiki’s original masterpiece, created by Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, is the most epochal tropical cocktail. Perhaps it’s apropos that the Zombie never becomes trendy and stays “underground,” but we’d like to see it get more attention.

The Atomic Grog

So in honor of our 10th anniversary, we’ll be posting 10 new Zombie recipes over the next 10 months. We’ve already kicked it off with the Hamilton Zombie, featured in the recent story on the new Zombie blend from Beachbum Berry and Hamilton Rum. It continues today with a reimagining of that first recipe. Get ready for Revenge of the Atomic Zombie Cocktail, even richer and more deadly than the original.

As usual, you’ll be treated to the recipe at the end of this post. Look for new Zombie recipes approximately every month, pushing the envelope of this classic template but remaining true to Donn’s inventive spirit. Unlike the Mai Tai, there’s no controversy in tinkering with the Zombie. We hope to prove this makes it even more enduring and classic. Lots more Zombie lore and discussion to come.

We’re digging up another popular old concept for our 10th birthday: The good old-fashioned Top 10 list. It may be a cliché of the blogosphere and something we’ve avoided for a decade, but there’s nothing wrong with a carefully crafted Top 10. We’ll start with five in this post, with more “Tiki Top 10” lists to come over the next 10 months (and maybe continuing into the future) …

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Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020.
Bonus recipe below: The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)

1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers

Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores
Get updates on closings and openings, plus the latest on mugs and merchandise, plus more resources.

2. EVENTS CANCELED, POSTPONED

It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.

The Year in Tiki 2020: Recap the top virtual and in-person events
The Year in Tiki 2020: Top virtual and in-person events
Take a look back at the major happenings, featuring artwork and links plus photos and video.

3. FLOODING AT THE MAI-KAI

In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events.
The Mai-Kai for sale: See the official statement NEW
UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
Check out all the details
on The Mai-Kai’s sold-out 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28.
Photos: The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
News: Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

4. THE PASSING OF TOTI

Toti Terorotua of The Mai-Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue

In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.”
* Buy Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians

Continue reading “Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020”

Support Tiki bars: Visit their online stores, buy merchandise

Support Tiki bars: Visit their online stores, buy the latest merchandise

Updated Nov. 29, 2022

The coronavirus pandemic is not yet in our rear-view mirror, but we’re happy to report that most establishments on this list have been back in operation for quite some time now. While “new normal” continues to be a way of life for everyone in the bar business, we’re happy to see many favorites again operating with an eye on a successful future.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores

We’ll continue to update this list periodically, concentrating on some key bars and restaurants that are still in transition periods. For the rest, we’ll leave most of the past news and updates documented below as a sobering reminder of what could happen again if we’re not diligent.

There’s never any guarantee of a fruitful future, so we encourage everyone to continue to patronize the online stores linked below and show your support in any way possible. This resource was created to throw a lifeline to struggling businesses in a trying time. Some would argue that’s the new normal.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores

Original story:

Check the following list for links to many of the Tiki bars and restaurants across the country with merchandise and gift cards for sale online. Below that are links to crowd-sourced fundraisers for employees along with other organizations working to aid bar and restaurant workers. It’s sad, but we’ve also compiled a list of bars that have announced permanent closings.

We also urge you to also support the artists and merchants who are key parts of the industry, designing and producing many of the products listed below. You can find links to our favorites in the right rail of this blog post. You can also support them at events that have recently returned around the world.

SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE

The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).

Invisible Man mug by Doug Horne for Aku Aku, Orlando

Aku Aku, Orlando This small and inviting mid-mod Tiki oasis near downtown has an online shop featuring gift cards, T-shirts, stickers and mugs. Artist Doug Horne signed his newest mug release, Invisible Man, on Jan. 22, 2022. It quickly sold out, but more were released in early March. Follow the Aku Aku pages onInstagram and Facebook for updates.

Archipelago, Washington, D.C. The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December 2020 for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February 2021, followed by patio seating. In mid-June 2021, Archipelago resumed indoor seating after 452 days.

The new Sneaky Tiki mug, designed for Sarasota's Bahi Hut by RoboTiki.
The new Sneaky Tiki mug, designed for Sarasota’s Bahi Hut by RoboTiki.

Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark has shirts, pins and mugs available in its online shop. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, with version 2.5 held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 2021. The bar reopened in October 2020 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January 2021, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released. The mug was designed by RoboTiki crafted by Eekum Bookum.

Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home. Latitude 29 reopened in September 2021 after closing in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Before the storm, Latitude 29 had been open consistently since October 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. An exciting new mug release commemorated Spookilau 2021, when Oakwash produced 150 limited-edition Cursed Coconut mugs. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa also returned again for another winter holiday season. The bar closed after ringing in 2022 but returned on Jan. 6. Before you visit, reserve a seat via Latitude29Nola.com.

Continue reading “Support Tiki bars: Visit their online stores, buy merchandise”

The Year in Tiki 2019: Recap all the top events with photos and video

The Year in Tiki 2019: Recap all the top events with photos and video

The Tiki Times

Once again, The Atomic Grog documented an entire 12 months of events in 2019, following the top Tiki and rum events, plus mid-century modern, surf and rockabilly music, Disney and other happenings of interest to the Tiki community. Check below for official artwork and links to the official sites along with our own unique coverage. Under many events, you’ll also find images and videos from social media plus links to news sites.
NEW EVENTS: UPDATED 2020 CALENDAR
Social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

THE TIKI TIMES: 2019 EVENTS RECAP

Jan. 12 – The Original Tiki Market Place 7th Anniversary in Garden Grove, Calif.
* Atomic Grog event preview
The Original Tiki Market Place 7th Anniversary print by Clee Sobieski

Jan. 17 – Tiki Bingo at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
* Atomic Grog event preview
Tiki Bingo at The Mai-Kai

Jan. 19 – The Mai-Kai Takeover in Fort Lauderdale.
Special event: ‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’
Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019, at The Mai-Kai The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion.

Continue reading “The Year in Tiki 2019: Recap all the top events with photos and video”

New cocktail books, magazine prove Tiki underground is alive and thriving

New cocktail books, magazine prove Tiki underground is alive and thriving

In the 21st century pop culture landscape, you typically gauge the health and success of a subgenre not by its mainstream success but by the vitality of its core audience. While Tiki has flirted with crossover fame for decades, it remains deeply rooted in the wants and needs of its devoted constituents. As evidence of this, we have the latest slew of new book and magazine releases aimed directly at this loyal demographic.

More details below:
* Hardcover book salutes Tiki home bartending community
* Spirits educator’s book puts modern spin on rum and Tiki cocktails
* Fans fund bartender’s Tiki cookbook adventure
* Exotica Moderne celebrates release of Issue 3
Bonus recipe: Lost Treasure by Syd Thomas of Tonga Hut

This year marks the publication of several new cocktail books along with continuing releases of a new quarterly magazine devoted to the revival of Polynesian Pop and mid-century culture. Who says social media and the Internet have killed off the printed word?

Hardcover book salutes Tiki home bartending community

The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia’s Hidden Tiki Temples

The most ambitious and anticipated Tiki cocktail book in years is being unleashed to a thirsty and ever-growing home bar community. The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia’s Hidden Tiki Temples from Koreo Press is the culmination of decades of work by Southern California mixologist Kelly “Hiphipahula” Reilly. She co-wrote the 272-page hardcover opus with longtime home bartending cohort Tom Morgan.

It features a forward by Polynesian Pop godfather Sven Kirsten (author of Tiki Pop and The Book of Tiki) plus artwork by Tiki Tony Murphy, Jake Geiger and Doug Horne. You can find 150 original recipes that were served in legendary home bars, such as Kirby’s Rumpus Room in Los Angeles, plus photos of these secret lairs.

The official U.S. release date is not until April 1, but The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails is already is among the top new releases in the alcoholic spirits category on Amazon thanks to relentless promotion by Reilly and the loyalty of her followers. Over the years, she’s probably served most of the California Tiki community at home parties, major events including Tiki Oasis and Tiki Caliente, plus a stint at Tonga Hut in North Hollywood.

The new book by Kelly "Hiphipahula" Reilly and Tom Morgan, profiled in the new issue of Exotica Moderne magazine, pays homage to the Tiki home bartending community.
The new book by Kelly “Hiphipahula” Reilly and Tom Morgan, profiled in the new issue of Exotica Moderne magazine, pays homage to the Tiki home bartending community.

A book release party was held on Sunday, March 10, at the Tonga Hut featuring live music by The Glasgow Tiki Shakers and special limited edition Mai Tai glasses. Joining the authors at the meet-and-greet and book signing were Kirsten, Murphy, Horne, and Geiger. Exotica Moderne magazine also joined the party, with artist Big Toe signing copies of the new issue featuring his cover artwork (see story below).

Reilly met Morgan – who teaches film, screenwriting and public speaking – through a shared interest in Tiki mugs. After many Rumpus Room gatherings, Morgan planted the seed for the book, but it was tough talking Reilly into sharing her secret recipes, according to an Exotica Moderne article on the book. This is a tradition dating back to the early days of Tiki cocktails, when mixologists feared others bars would steal their drinks, but Reilly also was leery about today’s free-for-all on social media. Luckily, she finally relented and the book was born.

Included among the 150 cocktail recipes are several created specifically for the book, plus the secrets to making your own exotic syrups such as ancho chili, lemongrass, sesame, and hibiscus. Full-color photos of a half-dozen home bars are splashed across the book’s pages. “These folks spend months and years and thousands of dollars on these bars, and it shows, we’re thankful,” Reilly told Exotica Moderne.

The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia’s Hidden Tiki Temples
ORDER NOW: Amazon.com | Koreo Press (UK)
* Hiphipahula: Official website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
* Related: Hear Kelly Reilly and Tom Morgan on Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation podcast

Spirits educator’s book puts modern spin on rum and Tiki cocktails

Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails

It’s no surprise that all three of the new books profiled here are written or co-written by female mixologists, long under-represented in the bar industry at large and Tiki subgenre in particular. But a new breed of talented professionals are quickly putting their creative mark on the Tiki and rum worlds, led by a Brooklyn-based cocktail consultant and spirits educator Shannon Mustipher.

Mustipher’s new 192-page hardcover book, Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (release date: March 19 on Amazon), is the culmination of her short but intensive journey from bartender at the Caribbean restaurant Glady’s in Brooklyn in 2014 to her current role as “spiritual adviser” and founder of the Women Who Tiki pop-up that spotlights women slinging some of the best tropical cocktails behind the bar. She’s also a founding member of Women Leading Rum, an industry organization dedicated to education and career development.

In a short 5 years, Mustipher has taken her passion for Caribbean rum and raised it to the next level via brand consulting and speaking engagements across the country. Her writing, recipes and opinions have appeared in publications including Imbibe, Punch, GQ, and Liquor.com. While overseeing the bar program at Gladys, she took her show on the road representing brands including Denizen(former brand ambassador) and Pusser’s (currently brand education specialist).

Shannon Mustipher is a Brooklyn-based bartender, cocktail consultant and spirits educator. (ShannonMustipher.com)
Shannon Mustipher is a Brooklyn-based bartender, cocktail consultant and spirits educator. (ShannonMustipher.com)

A book tour is planned, along with classes at Arizona Tiki Oasis April 12-14 (“Like a Hurricane – Flavor Hacks and Remixes on Iconic Tiki Cocktails”) and The Hukilau June 5-9 (“Attack of the Zombie Women” with Jeanie Grant). An April 7 book signing at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, Calif., will be hosted by Ladies Who Tiki and will include a panel discussion featuring Pagan Idol‘s Grant, rum expert Suzanne Long, Michelle Perez, and Critiki.com creator and blogger Humuhumu.

Mustipher is known for taking tropical drinks to the next level by incorporating flavors of Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Zombie, Mai Tai and Jungle Bird. Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (Rizzoli/Universe) also includes original recipes, techniques, tasting notes and recommendations plus tips on style and music. The book promises “a focus on refreshing flavors, fine spirits, and high-impact easy-to-execute presentation.” It also promises to be one of the most visually stunning cocktail books in recent memory, considering Mustipher’s prior career as a styling assistant in the photo industry.

Continue reading “New cocktail books, magazine prove Tiki underground is alive and thriving”