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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

Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than 2020 or 2021, along came 2022. The past three years have been rough, any way you slice it. But for the Tiki community, things turned tragic last year with the devastating loss of multiple legendary figures. But rather than mourn their passing, let’s take the opportunity to remember and reflect on their great impact. And while we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for the positive news that made it into our annual list of the most impactful stories of the year.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2022 – Take a trip back to the year’s top events
Bonus recipes below: Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch | Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch

1. A FAREWELL TO KINGS: OCEANIC ARTS CELEBRATION AND AUCTION

Oceanic Arts celebration and auction

The top story of 2021 – the retirement of Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz – continued into 2022 with the epic events that marked the true end of an era. Spread over three weekends in April, Aloha Oa! 65 years of Oceanic Arts Celebration took place at the Whittier, Calif., headquarters of the longtime purveyors of South Seas decor. Tikiphiles from around the world came to pay tribute to these two men and their legacy, which can be found in not only Tiki bars and restaurants but also in theme parks, hotels and motels, apartment complexes, and countless other venues built over the past half century. It’s heartening that both were able to be there to see the appreciation for their decades of work on behalf of an artistic style that often is overlooked. Thousands attended the events that featured live music and entertainment, presentations and history lessons, plus an array of tropical libations. And, of course, the opportunity to meet Bob and LeRoy and peruse their vast warehouse of historic Ocean Arts lamps, floats, carvings, and many more items that were cataloged for auction.

Part 2 of the extravaganza was The Oceanic Arts Vintage Tiki Collection Auction, held April 23-24 and featuring likely the most extensive collection of mid-century Polynesian inspired decor and artwork ever offered for sale at one event. Curated by Jordan Reichek, a longtime friend and owner of nearby Peekaboo Gallery, the auction drew bidders large and small seeking to take home a piece of Tiki history. A portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to humanitarian aid and relief for Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January.

The monthlong celebration proved to be a fitting farewell for Oceanic Arts, providing both great memories and a unique opportunity to pick up items that will never be made again. For those who couldn’t make it to Southern California, three was a gigantic 500-page book compiled by Reichek featuring artwork from the auction along with archival photos and insightful conversations with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki tells the story of not just the small studio that influenced generations of artists, but also the entire Polynesian Pop movement in America.

2. LEROY SCHMALTZ, THE PAUL BUNYAN OF TIKI, PASSES AWAY

LeRoy Schmaltz, 1935-2022

Less than two months after the Oceanic Arts celebration, the Tiki world lost a legend when carver and artist LeRoy Earl Schmaltz passed away on June 17, not long after celebrating his 87th birthday. The amount of art and woodwork created by this one man was awe inspiring. The Paul Bunyan of Tiki will loom large for generations to come. Schmaltz joined with business partner Robert Van Oosting in 1956 to create Oceanic Arts – a bar, restaurant and entertainment design firm that continued to have an over-sized impact on the industry, even after the pair retired in late 2021.

While Van Oosting ran the business and guided its creative efforts, Schmaltz did the heavy lifting with the workmanlike precision of a lumberjack but the sensibilities of a fine artist. The men had a true affinity for authentic Polynesian art, traveling there often for inspiration in their youth. They also imported and sold the work of artists from across the Pacific Rim. But it was the original works created by Schmaltz (and the many other artists Oceanic Arts employed) that drove the company forward though lean times. Eventually, new fame (and business) arrived with the Polynesian Pop revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Beyond Tiki-carving, Schmaltz was proficient in many other disciplines: Mosaic work, watercolor, pastels, charcoals, assemblages, sculptures, architectural design, and much more. Always a humble artist, when Schmaltz was asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he answered without hesitation: “My family.” He was a devout and church-going family man who left not only an artistic legacy but also a vast clan including six children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.

3. COCKTAIL AND MUSIC LEGEND BROTHER CLEVE DIES

Brother Cleve made several apperances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino
Brother Cleve made several appearances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino.

The influence of Brother Cleve was as vast as his interests. When the craft cocktail pioneer died suddenly in September at age 67, the tributes poured in from across the entertainment world. As a testament to his importance and status as a fixture on the East Coast scene, he was eulogized by writers from the Boston Globe, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal,.

According to The Journal, Cleve (born Robert Toomey) was in Los Angeles to appear at a Tiki-themed bartending event when he died of a heart attack. His first claim to fame was music as a keyboardist in the 1980s. He played in countless bands, including stints touring with the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison. Then, he had a revelation. As the obituary tells it: “One day in the mid-1980s, at a diner in Cleveland, he noticed scores of cocktails listed on the menu. He began searching thrift shops for cocktail-recipe books and learned to mix and tweak classic drinks.”

Continue reading “Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future”

Event preview: Join us at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta for three days of Tiki education and festivity

Event preview: Join us at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta for three days of Tiki education and revelry

The dead of winter in Atlanta is not typically what you envision when you try to picture a Tiki paradise. Defying the “Hotlanta” nickname, average temperatures for January hover in the mid-30s to mid-50s.

Inuhele: Atlanta's Tiki Weekend

But Inuhele has quickly changed that notion, making the city a must-do destination for Tikiphiles as the year’s first major event on the calendar.

Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend has grown from a modest home bar tour in 2018 into an action-packed, three-day event featuring an authentic luau, live music, a vendor marketplace, and an expansive lineup of symposiums. Guests will be treated to all this and more next week when Inuhele returns to the Atlanta Sheraton Downtown for a fourth Tiki weekender Jan. 20-22.
Quick links: Tickets | Schedule
Jump below: Guests and presenters | Live music | Craft classes | Vendors | Sponsors | Event history

Just make sure to grab your event passes before it’s too late. Only 50 tickets remained as of Saturday, all on the “standard” tier( $125). The entry-level pass gains you entry to the vendor hall, admission to panels all weekend, access to all the live entertainment and shows, plus more.

Mahealani's Polynesian Entertainment brings authentic South Seas style to Saturday's luau
Mahealani’s Polynesian Entertainment brings authentic South Seas style to Saturday’s luau. (Official photo)

Tickets to the Saturday night luau can be purchased separately for $100, but only 27 remained Saturday, according to an Instagram post. The buffet dinner and show will feature Mahealani’s Polynesian Entertainment, plus music by Kinky Waikiki. Holders of the sold-out “deluxe” passes also need to pay for the luau separately. The top-tier “VIP” passes, which include the luau, are also sold out.

Perks for deluxe and VIP passholders also include early access, a Mai Tai glass and event mug, VIP swag bag, private hospitality suite, and more.

The annual home bar tour was held in June, allowing the winter event to concentrate on its signature panels featuring experts from across the Tiki community. Past participants have included such heavyweight guests as the late Brother Cleve, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Sven Kirsten, Danny “Tiki Diablo” Galliardo, and Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

The Atomic Grog presents Okole maluna! The Return of The Mai-Kai

The Atomic Grog is honored to be participating in 2023, joining a stellar lineup of guests and presenters. Join us Friday for “Okole maluna! The Return of The Mai-Kai,” a multimedia presentation featuring the latest news and inside info on the restoration and renovations at the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant.

I’ll bring you an insider’s view of the massive undertaking of restoring Tiki history at The Mai-Kai. Over the past three years, The Atomic Grog has been the most reliable source of information on the landmark Tiki temple’s closing, sale and upcoming revival.

Blog updates take you inside the hallowed halls with news, photos, and exclusive insights you can’t get anywhere else. The presentation will take place from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., helping kick off the first day’s activities.

Below are links to some of our past coverage to get you warmed up for Inuhele. I hope to see you there!
NEW: 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
* The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
* The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space
* The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

More on The Atomic Grog
* Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* The Tiki Times: Exclusive 2023 events guide

INUHELE 2023 LINEUP

Note: This is not a complete list and is subject to change. Please check the official schedule or the event check-in desk for the most accurate info.

Guests, seminars, panels and classes

Among those scheduled to join us at Inuhele 2023:

Big Toe, aka Tom Laura, has been featured in galleries, books and magazines worldwide.
Big Toe, aka Tom Laura, has been featured in galleries, books and magazines worldwide.

Big Toe The Southern California lowbrow artist known for his tongue-in-cheek humor and playful eroticism will discuss “From Painting to Mugs: Stories Behind the Artifacts” on Saturday at 10 a.m.

John Brueggen – The director of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park will present “Crocodile Art of Melanesia: What do Saltwater Crocodiles and Melanesian art have in common?” on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Dawn Mahealani Douglas – The owner of Mahealani’s Polynesian Entertainment will share her experience as a Polynesian dancer trained in Oahu in a workshop on her native art on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

Tim Harnett – The bartender and cocktail educator from Ohio’s Tiki Underground will discuss “Gin in Tiki” on Friday at 4 p.m.

Margo Scott of Rocket Betty Designs is a professional designer, seamstress, and costumer.
Margo Scott of Rocket Betty Designs is a professional designer, seamstress, and costumer.

Sveinn Kjartasson – A photojournalist published in more than 50 magazines, the Icelantic native will share his experience shooting some of the world’s top Tiki bars on Friday at 6 p.m. He’ll also discuss his model/client work in “How to Tell a Story on Film” on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Rodney Ray – The concept designer, creative director and primary fabricator for HeadHunter Props and Fabrication will discuss “Tiki Bar Aesthetics Through Visual Storytelling” on Saturday at noon.

Paul Senft – The freelance writer and reviewer known for his expertise in the world of cane spirits will present rum symposiums throughout the weekend.

Margo Scott – The creative force behind Rocket Betty Designs will teach guests how to wear traditional South Pacific garments such as a lavalava, pareo, and sarong on Friday at 4:30 p.m. She’ll also discuss “Aloha Wear 101” on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

Henrik Van Ryzin and Denise Van Ryzin founded VanTiki Studio in 2001.
Henrik Van Ryzin and Denise Van Ryzin founded VanTiki Studio in 2001.

Tiki Tom Tom – The author of an upcoming book documenting his travels to 75 home Tiki bars will discuss “Navigating a Home Tiki Bar Build” on Friday at 3 p.m. He’ll also host the interactive workshop “Tell Your Story: Tiki Bar Themes” on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

VanTiki Former Hollywood artists Henrik and Denise Van Ryzin, who channel their creativity into a plethora of one-of-a-kind mugs at their Oregon studio, will share mug-making secrets in “The Spectacular Story of Slip” on Friday at 7 p.m. Pick up their merchandise at a meet-and-greet on Friday at 8:30 p.m.

Continue reading “Event preview: Join us at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta for three days of Tiki education and festivity”

The Year in Tiki 2022: Take a trip back to the year’s top events

The Year in Tiki 2022: Take a trip back to the year's top events

The Tiki Times

While the COVID pandemic is by no means a thing of the past, the Tiki events circuit was back to almost full capacity in 2022. This also includes many rum and surf music events around the world that we also documented on The Tiki Times, The Atomic Grog’s ongoing event guide. It was great to see many old standby events back in full force, while new happenings also made their mark. Check below for artwork and links to official sites, plus images and videos from social media.
THE TIKI TIMES 2023: Latest upcoming live and virtual events
Social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

THE TIKI TIMES: 2022 EVENTS RECAP

ONGOING EVENTS

Fridays – Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour hosted by Matt “Spike” Marble of The Hula Girls. Pre-parties on Instagram Live, episodes on YouTube.



2022 LIVE EVENTS

Jan. 7-9 – The Rhythm Collision Weekend #8 in Riverside, Calif.

Jan. 12 – Dram of the Dead: The Bum on his new Zombie rum
Dram of the Dead: The Bum on his new Zombie rum

Jan. 22 – The Original Tiki Market Place 10th Anniversary in Garden Grove, Calif.
The Original Tiki Market Place 10th Anniversary

Jan. 22 – “The Suite of the Future” Fine Art Print Release Party at the Shag Store in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Suite of the Future Fine Art Print Release Party

Jan 28-30 – Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend.
* Past coverage

Feb. 19-20 – Rockabillaque Florida at the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee.

Rockabillaque Florida

Feb. 24 – Trader Vic’s Tonga Fundraiser

Feb. 25 – The Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.
* Cheers all around: 21st annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival® is a wrap!

Feb. 17-27 – Modernism Week in Palm Springs, Calif.
Modernism Week

March. 11-12 – Miami Rum Congress in Miami Beach.

Miami Rum Congress 2022 kicks off full schedule of worldwide rum events
Miami Rum Congress 2022 kicks off full schedule of worldwide rum events
Industry VIPs and rum enthusiasts gather for seminars, tastings and special events at the Hilton Cabana Miami Beach.
Social media recap: Photos, coverage of Miami Rum Congress 2022

Continue reading “The Year in Tiki 2022: Take a trip back to the year’s top events”

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”

Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Updated Dec. 23, 2020

Importer Ed Hamilton has announced the arrival of a new Hamilton Rum blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society, soon to be available in retail locations across the Sunshine State. Plans call for the rum, a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, to be distributed in 2021 to other states as well.

Ministry of Rum Private Collection, Florida Rum Society Blend

The first shipment arrived in Orlando on Friday (Dec. 4) from Hamilton’s New York bottling facility, he announced during a Zoom happy hour event that evening. On Thursday, he teased Florida rum lovers with an Instagram post containing the label, announcing that the rum was “on I-75 on the way to Florida.”

Jump below: 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
Recipe: Hamilton Navy Grog, as served at The Mai-Kai

The quick arrival pleased the longtime rum connoisseur, author and owner of his own boutique label and import company, Caribbean Spirits. The new rum will be part of Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Private Collection, containing a similar label but more limited-edition bottlings than his standard Ministry of Rum releases. These include a variety of rum blends sourced from Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands.

He also imports a selections of acclaimed rums from Martinique, including the Neisson, La Favorite and Duquesne labels. Ministry of Rum refers to the website and message board Hamilton launched in the late 1990s that remains an essential reference tool for researching and learning about all rum.

Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at the first Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at thefirst Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

For the Florida Rum Society blend, Hamilton said he went with a modified version of his popular Navy Strength blend, a powerful 114-proof combination of 60 percent Guyana rum and 40 percent Jamaican rum. The new blend is more accessible, clocking in a 45 percent alcohol by volume, or 90 proof. Hamilton said the blend is 65 percent from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and 35 percent from Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica.

Besides the proof and percentages, there’s a slight variation the age of the rum, Hamilton said. The Jamaican component is a 1-year-old rum while the Navy blend contains unaged distillate. The Guyanese rum is the same blend of 2- to 5-year-old rums that Hamilton uses in the Navy Strength bottling, as well as the Hamilton 86 and 151 Guyana rums that are well-known and loved at Tiki bars across the country. Check our in-depth look at Hamilton’s journey in bringing these rums to market, and their use at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

The Florida Rum Society blend promises to be more versatile and just as tasty as the Navy blend, its lower proof and added aging making it more assessable as a sipper and all-purpose mixer. It’s also a higher proof than the similar New York Blend, an 84-proof version of the Navy blend. At 65 percent Demerara, it could also make a fine substitute for Hamilton 86 in cocktails. During the Zoom meeting, Hamilton sipped on one of his favorite easy-to-make highballs, a blend of Hamilton 86, Hamilton Jamaican Pimento Dram, and orange juice. I tried a mix of 1 part dram, 3 parts rum and 6 parts juice, and it was delicious.

The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)
The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)

The new rum should also work well in classic Tiki cocktails that call for a roughly equal blend of non-overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, such as the Navy Grog (and Beachbum Berry’s The Ancient Mariner), Pearl Diver’s Punch, and Sidewinder’s Fang. The extra 5 percent ABV will give the drink a boost to help it hew closer to the original rums. In the mid-century heyday, it was not unusual for standard mixing rums to be higher than 80 proof, especially those from Guyana and Jamaica. During the Zoom meeting, I enjoyed a Navy Grog featuring three of Hamilton’s signature rums (see recipe below).

Follow the Florida Rum Society on Facebook and Instagram for updates on distribution. Hamilton confirmed that the main retail location will be the Sarasota Liquor Locker. The rum society boasts a robust online store with quick delivery across the state featuring rums stocked by the Sarasota store.

UPDATE: Sarasota Liquor Locker and the rum society’s online shop were the first get the rum. Soon after, it was on its way to Five Star Liquor & Wine in Orlando, Primo Liquors in Broward County (multiple ocations), Big Game Liquors in Miami, and Beach Liquors in the Panhandle (multiple ocations).

Florida Rum Society

Hamilton said he expects retail outlets across the state to carry the rum. Part of the goal of the partnership with the Florida Rum Society, he said, is to leverage the group’s influence to persuade more retailers to carry the Hamilton (and Caribbean Spirits) product line. The bottling includes 112 cases, he said, though he didn’t rule out another batch in the future depending on demand. If the store you frequent in Florida doesn’t carry Hamilton rums, or you’d like to request the new blend, ask them to contact the distributor: Progress Wine Group from Opa Locka, (321) 230-4682.

UPDATE: The Florida Rum Society announced an online cocktail contest featuring the new blend, with the winner earning “a hoard” of Hamilton rums. The group has quickly ramped up its activities after forming only in mid-2019. Members began holding in-person gatherings before the pandemic and have continued them online, with Hamilton and other high-profile rum industry veterans, such as Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell, joining in.

The Hamilton blend is not the society’s first special bottling. Just last week, a Plantation 2008 single cask rum from Guyana featuring a Florida Rum Society label landed in Orlando. This label release is extremely limited (just 140 bottles) and available at Five Star. There are also a few bottles remaining at Five Star from the exclusive (214 bottles) release in August of a 109.2 proof New England rum from Privateer dubbed Rumdemic. The release marked the return of Privateer’s single barrel program (now known as the Letter of Marque series).

If that’s not enough for Florida rum fanciers, another exclusive release is coming in 2021. The Florida Rum Society Masters Selection from Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucia Distillers is available for pre-sale at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami. This 115.6 proof blend is expected around April. Shipping and pick-up are both available.

For more on the Florida Rum Society, check out the interview with founder Jay Cocorullo on the Rumcast podcast, episode 14.

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15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum

As part of the inaugural Miami Rum Congress in February 2019, the “Minister of Rum” (he actually prefers to be called “Administer of Rum”) hosted his first-ever master class at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on his Hamilton Rum product line, including a discussion of his journey from Caribbean sailboat adventurer to rum importer and label owner.

Hamilton Rum master class at The Mai-Kai

The hands-on symposium took place in the historic restaurant’s intimate Samoa dining room and included rum and cocktail samples, plus a heaping helping of Hamilton’s wit and wisdom. Here are a few nuggets we gleaned from the presentation:

  • After studying chemical and mechanical engineering and getting his college degree, Hamilton worked a job “selling bomb parts” in the mid-1970s. “It really wasn’t something I wanted to base my career on,” he said. When his boss queried him about what he wanted to be doing in five years, he exclaimed: “Go sailing.” Asked how he could make that happen, he replied: “I quit.” He says never spent another day looking for a job after that.

Continue reading “Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida”

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”

The Hukilau 2019 latest news and updates

Updated Jan. 23, 2020

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale NEW
Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale
Take a look back at the five days of festivities at Pier Sixty-Six and The Mai-Kai with dozens of photos and many memorable moments, plus two bonus cocktail recipes.

The Hukilau 2019 rewind: Photos and video from social media
The Intoxicators play Friday night's High Tide party at Pier 66 during The Hukilau 2019. (Photo by Hukilau Mike)
>>>> SOCIAL POSTS FROM THE ATOMIC GROG AND VILLAGERS

The Hukilau 2019: Women of Tiki take over the tower
The Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2019
Thursday, June 6, was tropical cocktail heaven during the opening festivities of The Hukilau at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. The signature Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party included eight of the world’s top female Tiki bartenders. Between sampling all the delicious drinks, hanging out with friends and enjoying the gorgeous views from the 17th-floor Pier Top Lounge, we managed to snap a few photos. Coming soon, a blog recap featuring more photos plus cocktail reviews and ratings.
>>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE FACEBOOK PHOTO GALLERY

MORE RECAPS COMING SOON

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2019 latest news and updates”

Inuhele celebrates Atlanta’s meteoric rise as Tiki destination

Updated Feb. 17

What city best exemplifies the recent explosive growth of Tiki bars and Polynesian Pop culture? A strong argument could be made for Atlanta, which has been blessed with at least three new exotic cocktail destinations since 2015. Now, in just its second year, the Tiki weekender known as Inuhele has greatly expanded to include three days of bar-hopping, panels, vendors, bands, demos and more geared to the area’s burgeoning scene.

Feb. 15-17 – Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend
See below: Bonus cocktail recipe – Makani Pahili
* Previous story: Iron TikiTender goes on tour at Inuhele
Inuhele: Atlanta's Tiki Weekend
* Facebook event | Get tickets
The Tiki Times: See all the upcoming events

Tiki in Atlanta

Tim "Swanky" Glasner, who will be presenting a symposium at Inuhele 2019, was one of the co-creators of The Hukilau in Atlanta in 2002.
Tim “Swanky” Glasner, who will be presenting a symposium at Inuhele 2019, was one of the co-creators of The Hukilau in Atlanta in 2002.

The vibrant multicultural city has long had a connection with modern Tiki and its surrounding subcultures. After all, the Atlanta Hilton hosts the country’s longest operating Trader Vic’s location, circa 1976. The Hukilau started there in 2002 before moving to Fort Lauderdale the next year. Atlanta is home to talented lowbrow artists such as Derek Yaniger and Jonathan M. Chaffin of Horror in Clay. And there’s a longtime instrumental surf scene celebrated at the annual Southern Surf StompFest, along with a history of events (such as the late, great Drive Invasion) spotlighting other retro music styles.

But things really got interesting when the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals merged, creating a hot trend among bartenders and owners worldwide. Atlanta caught the bug, resulting in the opening of The S.O.S. in Decatur, just northeast of Atlanta, in 2015. In 2018, the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta saw the opening of Tiki Iniki, the first stateside franchise location of the concept created by Todd and Michele Rundgren in Hawaii. And while not truly traditional, Match Bamboo Lounge offers spirited aloha in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.

Derek Yaniger at Inuhele 2019

Meanwhile, the city’s Tiki underground organized on Facebook in The Atlanta Tiki Revival Society group. And the area’s home bars (such as the Enchanted Treehouse High on the Hooch, Mon-a’ Roa Lanai, and The Kingfish Lounge) received high ratings and worldwide recognition on the Critiki website.

Just in time for Inuhele 2019, the city will get its newest full-blown exotic cocktail locale when the ambitious, three-story Tiki Tango opens in the former Lava Lounge space in Midtown (grand opening set for Friday, Feb. 15). The opening will indeed be grand. As part of the festivities, there will be an attempt to set a record for the world’s largest Mai Tai with a 55-gallon cocktail.
Press coverage: Say ‘aloha’ to Tiki Tango, Midtown’s new three-story Tiki bar
* First Look: Tiki Tango brings Tiki drinks and food to Midtown
* Atlanta Eats: Polynesian vibes and specialty cocktails

About Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend

All this activity spurred Horror in Clay’s Jonathan and Allison Chaffin to organize the first Atlanta Tiki Homebar Tour, dubbed Inuhele (for “cocktail journey”) on Feb. 24, 2018. It was a small affair with 50+ people taking a bus tour of local home bars for a day, then concluding the night at Trader Vic’s.

Atlanta Tiki Home Bar Tour

For 2019, the Chaffins are taking Inuhele to the next level as a full-blown weekender on the same scale as other mid-sized Tiki events such as the pioneering Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest, which also started as a home bar tour nearly two decades ago. The Marriott Century Center has been secured as the host hotel, and the Chaffins promise “a weekend of bar hopping, panels, bands, demos, sharing of ideas, and most importantly community building.”

Eekum Bookum at Inuhele 2019

The community definitely came together to help make such an ambitious undertaking possible. Among the more than a dozen sponsors are:
* Tiki Tango, host of the “Tiki Hop-on Hop off Shuttle” and Friday night party.
* Spiribam rum specialists, presenting sponsor of the home bar bus.
* BG Reynolds, the premium bar syrups purveyor and man behind the “Iron TikiTender On Tour” event that will take place on Saturday at the Marriott.
* Royer Corp., the popular swizzle stick manufacturer known for its cutting-edge designs.
>>> See all the sponsors here

Inuhele highlights

Friday kickoff and bar crawl: Events at the Marriott Century Center include classes and meet-ups, the trading post, a DJ dance party with Brother Cleve, plus more. Meanwhile, a bus will shuttle guests to Trader Vic’s, Tiki Tango, and Tiki Iniki all evening.

Continue reading “Inuhele celebrates Atlanta’s meteoric rise as Tiki destination”