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The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders

Updated June 10

There’s probably no better tour guide through the exotic landscape of carvings, masks and other Oceanic art contained within The Mai-Kai than Will Anders. The South Florida artist first explored the historic property as a child in the ’60s, became its exclusive cigarette vendor for decades, then transitioned into an artistic career that saw him carve the most significant large tikis added during the new millennium.
See below: Audio walking tour with Will Anders, Kern Mattei (2018)

Artist Will Anders is a self-taught expert at recreating Mai-Kai carvings in cement using molds made from the originals. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)
Artist Will Anders is a self-taught expert at recreating Mai-Kai carvings in cement using molds made from the originals. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)

But some of his most important contributions to the restaurant’s 2.7-acre property aren’t original creations at all. Over the past 20 years, Anders took on a unique role as a sort of “keeper of the tikis.” If you see a small or medium-sized figure or art piece in the back garden and other outdoor areas, it’s likely it was replicated by Anders in his nearby compound with his own cement mix using molds curated by the founding owners.

It’s a fascinating story that will be explored during a presentation on June 8 at The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender that has been joined at the hip with The Mai-Kai since 2003. Anders will share a tale or two during The Mai-Kai from the Outside In, which will reveal the artist’s back-story, his carving tips, his approach to creating cement tikis, plus lots more.

The Atomic Grog is honored to be hosting this exclusive look at Mai-Kai history with Anders. It starts early (10:30 a.m.), the perfect way to kick off The Hukilau’s Saturday schedule. We may even have a special cocktail for attendees to enjoy and start their day right. The presentation is included in all multi-day passes.

Carvings by Will Anders featured at The Mai-Kai include King Kai (left) and Hiroa Nui, shown sporting new coats of sealant in June 2023. His Hawaiian Lono (left) stands with tikis carved by fellow Florida artists Jeff Chouinard and Tom Fowner at the entrance to The Mai-Kai in September 2021. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Carvings by Will Anders featured at The Mai-Kai include King Kai (left) and Hiroa Nui, shown sporting new coats of sealant in June 2023. His Hawaiian Lono (left) stands with tikis carved by fellow Florida artists Jeff Chouinard and Tom Fowner at the entrance to The Mai-Kai in September 2021. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Below you’ll find more info on The Hukilau and Anders, including photos and audio of a special walking tour we conducted with manager Kern Mattei in 2018. The walk-through of much of The Mai-Kai property in suburban Fort Lauderdale was recorded for an episode of Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast. Now, as the restaurant nears the final stages of its multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration project, it’s an interesting look back at the state of the property around six years ago.

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.
* The Hukilau on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group
NEW: The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau
Previous coverage: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

Mai-Kai from the Outside In – Saturday (June 8), 10:30 a.m.
Don’t rush inside – learn about the history of the gardens and tikis outside from artist and carver Will Anders. Forty years of personal Mai-Kai stories up to and including the current restoration of the historic tikis. Will’s tales are woven with threads of passion and reverence, offering a glimpse into the soul of this sacred sanctuary. So, linger a while, and let the whispers of history caress your senses, for in these moments of reflection lies the true essence of our enchanted realm.From TheHukilau.com

Will Anders teaches a carving class during The Hukilau 2016 in the lounge at the top of the Pier 66 hotel. (Photo by Sherill Gross)
Will Anders teaches a carving class during The Hukilau 2016 in the lounge at the top of the Pier 66 hotel. (Photo by Sherill Gross)

In addition to his long history with The Mai-Kai, Anders has been associated with The Hukilau for decades. His art pieces gained a cult following after he showed them in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. He then began sharing his knowledge as a presenter and instructor. His hands-on classes have included DIY – Carving 101 (2016) and Carve Your Own Tiki Pendant (2017- 2019).

Anders is a true old-school artist with no website and little social media presence. You can easily find him, however, on the Tiki Central message board, where his long-running “Will carve” thread is chock full of photos of his latest work. For a deeper history on The Mai-Kai’s Tiki carvings, click here.

Some wider exposure came recently when Anders was featured in Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home, the popular book on home bars and collectors from author Tiki Tom-Tom, published by Wonk Press in 2023. The peek inside Anders’ home studio tells the origin story of the veteran carver, who discovered The Mai-Kai in sleepy Oakland Park, Fla., as a bike-riding youth who had to be chased from the Tiki gardens by restaurant staff.

As Tiki Tom-Tom tells it: “Will was nine years old, living just a few blocks away with his parents. His family, like many others, were Jersey transplants. For Will, it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with tikis at the Mai-Kai.”

Just a few of the many tikis created by artist Will Anders in his home studio. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)
Just a few of the many tikis created by artist Will Anders in his home studio. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)

The affair later included decades of seemingly mundane work: Filling the cigarette machine inside the historic restaurant. But this was not only a thriving business for Anders, it kept him coming back to study more than just the cocktails. He became enamored with the rich decor and artistry of The Mai-Kai, especially the large carved tikis.

Anders became a carver relatively late in life at age 40, but just in time to put his indelible stamp on The Mai-Kai. His early carvings caught the attention of management, and he eventually contributed two giant tikis to the rear garden: King Kai and Hiroa Nui. A notable third carving became part of a trio that greets guests under the porte-cochère.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders”

Minimalist Tiki

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”

Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

When guests return to The Mai-Kai in 2024, they will be treated to a detailed restoration of the interior of the historic South Florida restaurant, which celebrates its 67th anniversary today (Dec. 28). Walking into the elaborately themed dining areas and rear garden will be like stepping back in time to the early 1970s, when the last major renovation was completed at the Polynesian palace.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in 1968 shows the lush landscaping around the new building that later became a gift shop and Bora Bora banquet room. The Tiki carving remains in the same spot today. (Photo courtesy of Tim Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in 1968 shows the lush landscaping around the new building that later became a gift shop and Bora Bora banquet room. The Tiki carving remains in the same spot today. (Photo courtesy of Tim Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)

But before they even enter the building, they will be greeted with a new entryway and lushly landscaped parking lot that will completely immerse them in a South Seas fantasy world. The design will shield vehicles from the outside world, and vice versa.

While the details of these plans are new, the inspiration comes from original owners Bob and Jack Thornton, and their early vision for the property on the north side of the entrance driveway. Only now, with a new ownership team joining forces with the Thornton family and backed by a multimillion-dollar investment, can that vision be fully realized.

Recent Mai-Kai coverage
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline
* Fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight
* Restoration Guide: Past news, refurbishment photos

The new entrance driveway to The Mai-Kai will take guests into the area north of the giant banyan trees and away from the porte-cochère. This is the former location of the Bora Bora building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2023)
The new entrance driveway to The Mai-Kai will take guests into the area north of the giant banyan trees and away from the porte-cochère. This is the former location of the Bora Bora building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2023)

There has been little visible change in the landscaping of the sprawling 2.7 acres surrounding the original 1956 building and its soaring A-frame since the removal of the Bora Bora building in April. Some projects were completed, most notably the restoration and reimagination of the porte-cochère, which will be turned into an outdoor seating area and bar after the driveway is rerouted.

The work on the parking lot began in earnest in mid-September after county and state permits were finally approved. This sweeping project is the final major piece in the restoration puzzle that kicked into high gear in early 2023 after its approval by the Oakland Park Historic Preservation Board.

Unlike the work on the interior, which is steeped in mystery, the transformation of the new entryway will be visible to passersby on Federal Highway, aka U.S. Highway 1. The rear of the property has begun to take on an air of secrecy, however, after construction crews recently completed the installation of a new 8-foot-high privacy wall.

The Mai-Kai's old 4-foot wall was replaced with a new 8-foot privacy wall, shown in views looking south from Northeast 20th Avenue. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / October and December 2023)
The Mai-Kai’s old 4-foot wall was replaced with a new 8-foot privacy wall, shown in views looking south from Northeast 20th Avenue. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / October and December 2023)

Bordering the entire west side of the property along Northeast 20th Avenue, which runs parallel to U.S. 1, the new concrete wall is twice as high as the old one and serves as a visual and noise buffer between The Mai-Kai in the abutting neighborhood of single-family homes.

From the outside, the wall shields the parking lot entirely. You can see the A-frame and the top of the main building, but not much else. Once new trees and vegetation are added and grow in, the restaurant will be totally hidden.

The wall is currently covered with an undercoat of green primer. The final color will be similar, and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is working on themed designs for the inside of the wall.

Inside, the lot is still a huge expanse of dirt with landscaping and hardscaping yet to begin. But that will change soon. Manager Kern Mattei reports that more crews and heavy equipment should be arriving early in 2024 to begin transforming the exterior spaces of The Mai-Kai into a truly immersive tropical paradise.

The Mai-Kai's new privacy wall hides all but the A-frame and top of the building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / December 2023)
The Mai-Kai’s new privacy wall hides all but the A-frame and top of the building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / December 2023)

Our next story will include an update on the renovations and restoration, plus a full recap of the work completed in 2023. Below, we’ll turn back the clock and look at the legacy of what became known as the Bora Bora Room, plus more photos and details on its removal. Then we’ll catch up with all the parking lot work over the past several months.

Continue reading “Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision”

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts ramp up

The structural footprint of The Mai-Kai changed dramatically last month with the demolition of the long-dormant Bora Bora building, which will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and fully immersive tropical-themed parking lot, outdoor seating area and porte-cochère at the historic South Florida restaurant.

Previous coverage
* Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023
* The Mai-Kai officially begins work on first phase of $8.5 million renovation projects

The Mai-Kai's Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)
The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)

Amid the ruckus outside, the restoration efforts inside the main building advanced quietly but deliberately. Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and fellow Orlando-area artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed the New Guinea dining room, a vintage space that dates back to The Mai-Kai’s 1956 opening. They also restored the ceiling and walls near the Tonga dining room, and by the end of the month were full immersed in the Hawaii room.

Laser-focused on The Mai-Kai’s hundreds of custom lamps, they cranked out replicas and refurbished many originals created 50 years ago. After they finish, it will be impossible to tell which lamps are rebuilt and which are vintage, an over-arching theme of the restoration efforts.

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
“Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the back-of-house area was a total construction zone as crews prepared for the installation of a new bar and kitchen. Up on the roof, workers were busy sealing the main A-frame and working on new vents, along with the structures to hold the new air-conditioning system.

After electrical work was done, a painting crew put the finishing touches on the men’s restroom. Electricians continued an infrastructure overhaul, preparing for the upcoming installation of a new circuit breaker system.

Despite all the chaos, manager Kern Mattei managed to crank out another round of The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktail quarts and gallons to go on April 26-27. Depending on the progress on the electrical work., which may force the shutdown of the bar’s coolers, the next chance to enjoy the classic tropical drinks may take place only at The Hukilau weekender in June.

Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai's soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.
Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai’s soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.

Below are updates on all the work that took place in April, including video and many exclusive photos.

Jump to April news and updates below
* Bora Bora Room removed | Photo gallery
* Dining rooms return to vintage glory | Photo gallery
* Work begins on new bar and kitchen
* Former Molokai bar waitress remembered

UPDATES: Get the latest news and photos on our social media pages
* Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Atomic Grog blog: Recent social media posts, past coverage

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s no surprise that April saw an acceleration of renovation work on multiple fronts. In March, The Mai-Kai officially began the $8.5 million project after three permits cleared the way for three major projects:
* Repair and restoration of the porte-cochère and thatched roofing.
* Removal of the Bora Bora building.
* Interior renovation, including a new bar and kitchen.

The repairs and refurbishments became necessary after the 26,000-square-foot restaurant suffered a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen in late October of 2020. The plans – which include both restoring the main building and upgrading and enhancing the parking lot and back of house – became clear after the founding Thornton family sold a majority interest to a new ownership team led by the Barlington Group and historic preservationist Bill Fuller.

The permit approvals restarted the roof thatching project in March. By April, thatching was completed on the porte-cochère as well as the A-frame roofs over the back dining rooms. All that remained was detailing and finishing work, which will happen later.

Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As April progressed, The Mai-Kai applied for three new permits that will keep projects moving quickly. On April 25, the city of Oakland Park issued a mechanical permit that will allow for the installation of the new kitchen. It won’t expire until Oct. 23, which fits in with the timeline we’re hearing about a reopening coming in the fall.

A mechanical permit for “fire suppression” was applied for in April, then issued in May This likely covers not only a new sprinkler system, but a fine-tuning off The Mai-Kai’s elaborate rooftop exhaust system that pulls smoke from the main showroom after the fire-dancers perform in the Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in the early 1960s, it’s the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii).

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam”

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Among the most loyal followers of The Mai-Kai are the thousands of guests who flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, an annual celebration of Polynesian Pop culture that established a foothold in the historic restaurant in 2003 and remains inextricably linked.

During it's closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)
During it’s closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)

The recent announcement of The Mai-Kai’s planned refurbishment and reopening sent joyous shockwaves throughout the Tiki community, but especially among The Hukilau’s longtime “villagers,” as they’re known. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic, but we were able to get a taste of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in September 2021 during a special event in the porte-cochère. It was comforting to sip authentic cocktails and enjoy the musicians performing outside the front entrance, but many still longed to be inside.

When it was announced during the event that a deal had been struck and The Mai-Kai would be reopening, it made the experience even sweeter. Full details were released the following week (see story below), and the rest is history.

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

While the timeline is not clear on a reopening date, hopes are running high that the 20th anniversary of The Hukilau in 2022 will indeed include at least a partial return to indoor activities. The synergy is guaranteed to continue with the news that one of the investors in the new ownership team is The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager.

Beyond taking in all the activities – from the dinner show featuring the Polynesian Islander Revue to live bands in The Molokai bar – a ritual for many villagers during The Hukilau includes walking the sacred grounds and taking photos of their beloved Mai-Kai.

Below you’ll find a collection of those photos, shared with The Atomic Grog over the years. Many are appearing on the blog for the first time. Let’s enjoy the eye candy and look forward to once again returning in person for the grand reopening.

Continue reading “Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers”

New giant carved Tiki added to The Mai-Kai’s outdoor garden in time for 60th anniversary

Updated June 2019

A new icon will greeted guests at the 60th anniversary celebration at the historic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Looming 12 feet tall in the outdoor Tiki garden is Hiroa Nui, a new carving by a local artist who has spearheaded a resurgence of traditional artwork at the acclaimed Polynesian restaurant.
Related: The Mai-Kai turns 60 with special history presentations, celebration

Hiroa Nui was installed in The Mai-Kai's outdoor Tiki garden on Dec. 26. (Photo by Will Anders)Hiroa Nui was installed in The Mai-Kai’s outdoor Tiki garden on Dec. 26. (Photo by Will Anders)

The Tiki, carved out of Florida oak, is 7 feet tall with a 2-foot base and stands on a 3-foot pedestal that once contained other notable Tikis over the years. It’s in the perfect spot for a photo op in front of the restaurant’s distinctive sign as guests wander through the lush tropical garden. “I wanted to set it up so you can get that magic picture with The Mai-Kai sign,” Anders said.
Past coverage: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai (June 2016)

Mireille Thornton poses with the original Tiki that inspired Anders' carving in a photo from the 1963 Mai-Kai calendar, just a year after she became choreographer of the Polynesian Islander Revue.
Mireille Thornton poses with the original Tiki that inspired Anders’ carving in a photo from the 1963 Mai-Kai calendar, just a year after she became choreographer of the Polynesian Islander Revue.

Hiroa Nui was installed on Monday, Dec. 26, after just 30 days of work by the diminutive but immensely talented carver. The work was done mainly with a chainsaw and angle grinder, Anders said, with some detail work done by chisel. The hard wood was “pretty formidable to chisel,” he said.

Anders was inspired to create the traditional Tahitian carving by an old Tiki that once stood in a similar position in the garden. Photos are rare, but it was most famously pictured in the 1963 Mai-Kai calendar along with Mireille Thornton after she became choreographer of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. She married owner Bob Thornton in 1974 and took over after his death in 1989.

A native of Tahiti, Mireille is kept the South Seas tradition alive for the past three decades while at the helm of the restaurant along with her son, managing owner Dave Levy. Anders, along with other Florida artists such as Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard, have recently contributed massive new carvings in the traditional styles of Polynesia.

Tiki Central: See more photos, info on the installation of Hiroa Nui

NEW: The Mai-Kai Walking Tour on Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast
The Mai-Kai Walking Tour on Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast Join Will Anders for a special history tour with manager Kern Mattei and The Atomic Grog’s Hurricane Hayward and learn all about his work.

‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

Updated June 2019

Thanks to a dedicated group of artists and supporters, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale has been blessed with the arrival of a new clan of Tiki carvings, most notably the 10-foot “King Kai” that now holds court in the outdoor garden. It’s believed to be the most extensive infusion of large stylized carvings since the 1960s.
See below: Exclusive photo gallery of King Kai, new trio of Tikis | What else is new

King Kai was carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from a 10-foot-tall Florida Black Olive tree trunk.
King Kai was carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from a 10-foot-tall Florida Black Olive tree trunk. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 22, 2016)

King Kai, a Hawaiian Ku design carved by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders, was installed May 21 and christened during a special ceremony the next day. Anders had lots of help in realizing the project, which was the vision of The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. She enlisted several key people to make the dream a reality: Securing two Florida Black Olive tree trunks and transporting them to South Florida, then erecting the finished carving at The Mai-Kai.
* See previous coverage

Those responsible are credited on a plaque that adorns King Kai’s base: White, Anders, Lonnie Dryden (who donated the heavy equipment used to transport the logs and helped install King Kai), Lee Cicchella of Paradise Found Landscaping (who donated the two trees), Pete Ginn (who also donated heavy equipment), plus Virginia Decker. That second giant log is sitting in Anders’ workshop, awaiting a future project. Stay tuned.

As if that weren’t enough, however, White also spearheaded a project to replace the three crumbling Tikis that greeted guests upon their arrival by car in the porte-cochère of the landmark restaurant, recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. In the first project of its kind at The Mai-Kai, three Florida artists joined forces to each carve a distinctive new Tiki.

Three new Tikis carved by Will Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29 and now greet guests in The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère.
Three new Tikis carved by Will Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29 and now greet guests in The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Tikis carved by Anders, Fort Lauderdale’s Tom Fowner and Tampa’s Jeff Chouinard were installed on May 28-29, just in time for The Hukilau. The Hawaiian Lono (Anders), Marquesan (Chouinard) and Tangaroa-style (Fowner) Tikis were carved by the artists from Central Florida Cypress. The Tikis they replaced were historic, believed to date back to the restaurant’s inception in 1956, but were in a serious state of decay. We’re told that the remnants might find a place inside the restaurant amid the many other South Seas artifacts.

As Anders and Fowner installed the new Tiki trio on the morning of May 28, The Mai-Kai’s longtime owner Mireille Thornton (wife of late founder Bob Thornton and choreographer/costume designer of the beloved Polynesian Islander Revue, arrived to see the new additions. “You guys are doing a great job,” she exclaimed when she first saw the Tikis.

The Mai-Kai's owner, Dave Levy (third from left), is joined on May 22 by most of those responsible for making King Kai possible (from left): Pete Ginn, Lonnie Dryden, Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White, Will Anders, and Virginia Decker.
The Mai-Kai’s owner, Dave Levy (third from left), is joined on May 22 by most of those responsible for making King Kai possible (from left): Pete Ginn, Lonnie Dryden, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, Will Anders, and Virginia Decker. (Atomic Grog photo)

The addition of the Ku and Lono by Anders are distinctive at The Mai-Kai since there aren’t many Hawaiian-style Tikis on the property. Bob Thornton, who founded the restaurant with his brother Jack, preferred other styles, Mireille said. If Fowner’s Tangaroa-style Tiki seems familiar, it’s because it was based on the design of The Mai-Kai’s vintage decanter. Chouinard, known for his public “guerilla” Tikis in the Tampa Bay area, previously donated a Tiki to The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2014. You can find it behind the stage in the main dining room’s garden.

The work of Anders, though largely uncredited, is ubiquitous at the 59-year-old Polynesian palace. For years, he has re-cast many of the smaller Tikis that are found throughout the property. Bob Thornton was wise enough to have molds made for most of the original pieces, but they sat in storage for decades until Anders volunteered to put them to good use. [See photos of Anders’ work on Tiki Central] He also created a giant Tiki based on The Mai-Kai’s Mara-Amu mug that can be found in another prime sport the garden next to King Kai. [More info and photos, Mara-Amu recipe]

Lonnie Dryden helps a forklift operator position King Kai so the Tiki can be dropped into the garden at The Mai-Kai on May 21.
Lonnie Dryden helps a forklift operator position King Kai so the Tiki can be dropped into the garden at The Mai-Kai on May 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The hot, wet and humid Florida weather is not kind to outdoor Tikis, but luckily The Mai-Kai’s molds and the work of Anders will keep the restaurant’s many Tikis in good condition. His latest project, completed just before The Hukilau on June 7, was the replacement of the stylized Tiki ash trays that guard the main entrance. They were stolen, so Anders jokes that his new castings contain a GPS chip. They’re also fastidiously secured in place (as are all the new Tikis), and cast using Anders’ usual method. Known as Portland cement (also called 123), it’s 1 part cement, 2 parts coarse sand, and 3 parts rock. He also puts steel inside for strength.

The wooden Tikis are a different story, however. Anders says he and Fowner hope to maintain them so they don’t meet the same fate as many of the larger carvings that date back to the early days of the restaurant. Famed California carver Barney West created many massive Tikis that were added in the early 1960s. Only two remain, both on the exterior of the property facing Federal Highway: An imposing 20-foot Moai stands just outside the fence near King Kai on the south side, while a smaller though no less impressive carving stands guard north of the main entrance. After more than 50 years in the elements, some worry how long these historic carvings may last.

Continue reading “‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai”

The Week in Tiki (Jan. 1-15, 2016): New Tikis to rise at The Mai-Kai, Lost Lake honored, Smuggler’s Cove book release, Tiki in South Beach, plus more!

The Week in Tiki The new year is off to a roaring start with comprehensive coverage of the carving and planned installation of two giant Tikis at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau. Chicago’s Lost Lake was named Cocktail Bar of the Year, while Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove announced the release date for his long-awaited rum and cocktail book. In South Beach, “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” sells out, and we receive exclusive news on a new Tiki bar from celebrity chef Ralph Pagano. We also preview an art and rum event in Fort Lauderdale, plus Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs. Quick sips include The Broken Shaker opening an outpost in Los Angeles, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid heating up Las Vegas, and the introduction of Rum Minute videos. Regular features spotlight lowbrow legend Robert Williams; Indianapolis surf band The Madeira; The Rum Line cocktail bar on Miami Beach; and the Imbibe website. The Rum of the Week, R.L. Seale’s 10-year-old from Barbados, is featured in the Winter Daiquiri.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

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.

Giant carved Tikis to be donated to The Mai-Kai in June

Fort Lauderdale carver Will Anders works on a Tiki that will rise in The Mai-Kai's outdoor gardens in June. The log behind him will become the second Tiki. (Photo by Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White, January 2016)
Will Anders works on a Tiki that will rise in The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens in June. (Photo by Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, January 2016)

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is renowned for the massive Tiki carvings that grace its grounds, some dating back a half-century. But in recent years, many have sadly succumbed to the elements. Every year, it seems, you’ll find another tribute mug to one of The Mai-Kai’s fallen Tikis.

A Tiki carved by Barney West in the early 1960s is seen in The Mai-Kai garden in 2005, before it fell victim to the elements. (The Palm Beach Post)
A Tiki carved by Barney West in the early 1960s is seen in The Mai-Kai garden in 2005, before it fell victim to the elements. (The Palm Beach Post)

In June, however, there will be a welcome new sight at the 59-year-old historic landmark. Two monumental Tiki carvings standing up to 10 feet tall will be unveiled in the restaurant’s outdoor tropical garden during The Hukilau, the annual Polynesian Pop celebration that draws enthusiasts from around the world. Marking the project happen were The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White and master carver Will Anders, plus several other people whose contributions were indispensable.

Anders began work on the Tikis in November, when two gigantic logs estimated to weigh 4,000 to 6,000 pounds each arrived at his Fort Lauderdale home. By early January, when White snapped the photo above, the first Tiki was already taking shape. She later announced the project on Facebook, calling it a dream come true. “I have to say, when you see a man of 119 pounds carving a 4,000-pound tree into such an amazing work of art, it humbles you,” she wrote.

Using tools including chainsaw and chisel, Anders said he “bangs away for about four hours every morning” on the Florida Black Olive tree trunk that started out 10 feet tall and 3 feet across at the small end. It sits in a special rigging system, a “come along,” to enable him to move and turn the massive log. Once it’s complete, he’ll begin work on the Florida Live Oak and its much harder wood, a task he said he’s not looking forward to. But he’s gladly accepted the challenge.

In late November, two logs weighing 4,000 to 6,000 pounds each await carver Will Anders in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Will Anders)
In late November, two logs weighing 4,000 to 6,000 pounds each await carver Will Anders in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Will Anders)

But the story begins long before chisel hit wood. Saddened by the loss of The Mai-Kai’s massive Tikis, created by legendary carver Barney West in the early 1960s, White made it a mission to replace them. She enlisted the help of Tiki and Mai-Kai loyalists, and remarkably everything fell into place. “It’s a true labor of love for all involved,” she wrote on Facebook.

“It didn’t take long to get others inspired, and to date we have been successful in getting everything donated – from the giant Tikis, to the trucks to get them to us to the man who has set out to carve them,” White wrote. “All of them have donated their efforts, time and money.” She said the goal is to “keep the spirit of The Mai-Kai alive by replacing the large idols in the gardens” and unveil them at The Hukilau in June.

First, White recruited Anders, who has a longtime relationship with The Mai-Kai that includes a unique artistic role casting dozens of smaller Tikis in cement from their original molds. A mutual friend and former Mai-Kai employee, Lonnie Dryden, donated the heavy equipment needed to transport the logs. And a frustrating search for wood in Florida that was large enough and suitable for carving finally ended when Dryden’s friend, Lee Cicchella of Paradise Found Landscaping, donated the two trees. Pete Ginn donated all the heavy equipment, and the plan was in place.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Jan. 1-15, 2016): New Tikis to rise at The Mai-Kai, Lost Lake honored, Smuggler’s Cove book release, Tiki in South Beach, plus more!”

The Hukilau 2016: Entertainment, music and symposiums announced, full website launches

Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White
Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 19

After 15 years of planning the East Coast’s premiere Tiki weekender, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White knows a thing or two about giving her guests, affectionately known as “villagers,” what they want. For the 15th anniversary of The Hukilau, scheduled for June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale, that means assembling the biggest names in the Polynesian Pop revival for an unforgettable experience unlike any other.

“Tiki culture is only growing stronger, and we are trying to provide the best show possible for anyone who wants to join us,” Tiki Kiliki said in an interview this week. She said she wants her guests to feel like “they’ve just stepped back in time into an era where Tiki was ever-present.”

See below: Signature events | Symposium previews | Music, entertainment, more
The Hukilau quick links: Buy tickets, passes | Book hotel | Schedule | Locations

The Hukilau 2016

Tickets went on sale Tuesday for an impressive array of symposiums and experiences that will make the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale the epicenter of the 21st century Tiki revival. Special guests and entertainers include some of the scene’s top artists (Shag, Tom Fowner, Will Anders, Jeff Chouinard), cocktail creators (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, Brian Miller, St. John Frizell), bands and musicians (The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, The Intoxicators, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Quiet Villagers, The Disasternauts), entertainers (Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Angie Pontani, Kitten de Ville, Lila Starlet), and pop culture historians (Otto von Stroheim, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Humuhumu, Paul Roe).

“The appearance of Shag has really stirred tons of excitement here on the East Coast,” Tiki Kiliki said. “We don’t see him often enough, so that will be a true treat for everyone.”

This year’s event celebrates not only The Hukilau’s 15th year, but also the 60th anniversary of The Mai-Kai, the legendary Tiki temple that was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Hukilau moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 after launching in 2002 in Atlanta, drawn by the restaurant’s legendary reputation that only continues to grow. Last year, it was named best Tiki bar in the world after a tally of ratings by Critiki.com users.

Crowds fill the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel's Crystal Ballroom on the last day of the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. (Atomic Grog photo)
Crowds fill the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel’s Crystal Ballroom for the Tiki Treasures Bazaar during The Hukilau 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau is returning for a second year to Pier 66, another historic property that dates back to 1956 and is beloved for its mid-century architecture and iconic rotating rooftop penthouse lounge. It’s a miraculous turnaround for The Hukilau, which nearly called it adieu in 2014. At the 11th hour, Tiki Kiliki was approached by new partners who have injected new life (and financing) into the event, enabling the move to Pier 66. She has also been able to concentrate on the creative end of things, putting together a perfect Polynesian Pop getaway for guests.

The Hukilau’s villagers last year voted Pier 66 “Best Hotel in The Hukilau’s History,” enamored by its modern amenities and hospitality provided by Hyatt, combined with its history and mid-century design. With only a few available rooms remaining during The Hukilau weekend, Tiki Kiliki urges potential guests to book sooner rather than later.

“The 66 provides a perfect backdrop to the classic era of Tiki with its roots perfectly planted the same year that The Mai-Kai first opened,” Tiki Kiliki said. Pier 66 guests are also the only villagers who will receive special welcome bags full of swag provided by sponsors. When Pier 66 sells out, she hopes to have another nearby hotel lined up for villagers to enjoy.

The 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 offers an unparalleled view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The 17th floor ballroom at Pier 66 offers an unparalleled view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Sales of 2016 event passes and tickets for special events have been selling at an unprecedented rate after going online in late October, much earlier than in past years. Demand is no doubt driven by the anniversaries and the unique experiences the 2016 event offers.

Tiki Kiliki said many things are driving interest this year. Villagers are “excited about celebrating the past and the future with the anniversaries, and Tiki culture is only growing stronger. … Also, Pier 66 has a lot to do with it too. The event grows ever stronger in the right venue.”

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2016: Entertainment, music and symposiums announced, full website launches”

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.
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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”