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 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.
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.
2. DON THE BEACHCOMBER: Anticipation for new restaurant chain, film and book reaches fever pitch
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.
From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. Social media:Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram
TIKI NEWS: Book and mug releases
Shag the Store announced the release of Shag’s newest signed book, Shag: The Collected Works. It’s available signed by Shag directly from the Palm Springs and Hollywood stores. It’s also coming soon to the online store. The 192-page hardcover book features the “Balcony on Sunset” print on the front cover and the “Three Coats” print on the back cover.
BAR NEWS: Farewell Tiki Mondays With Miller, Longitude, Kreepy Tiki and Trader Vic’s; Aloha The Reef and Tiki Underground
Lost Lake in Chicago continues to rake in the honors, the most recent being named a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program by the James Beard Foundation. “It’s really a thrill to see Lost Lake listed alongside the incredible bars that inspire us daily,” said a message on the acclaimed Tiki bar’s Facebook page. Among the many other nominees are Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans, Bar Agricole in San Francisco, Canon in Seattle, Clyde Common in Portland, The Dead Rabbit in New York City, and The Varnish in Los Angeles. The 2017 James Beard Awards Gala will be held in Chicago on May 1. Lost Lake’s Paul McGee, Shelby Allison and Erin Hayes at the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2016 in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
* More photos, full coverage of the special cocktail event
Following his Tiki Mondays With Miller finale on Feb. 13 at Pouring Ribbons in New York City, Capt. Brian Miller posted the following missive on Facebook: “The crew and I left it all on the stage and we hope each and every one of you had a great time. We said we wouldn’t go quietly and we didn’t. There was so much rum and so much love. I was humbled by all of it. Thanks to all of you that came on Monday and everyone else that has come to Tiki Mondays over the past 5+ years. It was my pleasure and my honor to serve all of you.” Look for a new venture in New York City in the near future from Miller and company.
There was sad news out of Oakland, Calif, where owner Suzanne Long announced a March 5 closing of her beloved Longitude. Open since August 2014, this was the respected rum and cocktail expert’s first bar of her own, and it was well-received across the Tiki and rum communities. In her Facebook announcement, Long wrote: “Thank you to all of you who have walked through our doors in the last three years. It has been an amazing, glorious adventure and we couldn’t have done it without all of your love and support. Mahalo to you and Aloha, with so much love! And from me, don’t worry. You haven’t seen the last of me yet.” We’re holding you to that, Suzanne!
While many will say it was a shell of its former self, Trader Vic’s ended a 62-year association with the Beverly Hilton with the Feb. 2 closing of the poolside lounge that was the last remnant of the legendary Tiki restaurant at the venerable hotel, Los Angeles Magazine reported. “The original Beverly Hilton Trader Vic’s was a sprawling Polynesian pop masterpiece that opened with the Welton Becket-designed hotel in 1955 and was a celebrity hot spot for decades,” the article says. Added Eater Los Angeles: “Operating on land owned for decades by Merv Griffin and playing host to everyone from Hugh Hefner to the Rat Pack, Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills had become a beloved staple for that side of town – but now it’s all been scrubbed away.” When the restaurant closed in 2007, the pool bar became the only place in Los Angeles to get an authentic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and pu-pu platters. A more modern Trader Vic’s restaurant operated at L.A. Live from 2009 to 2014. Now the only U.S. locations are in Emeryville, Calif., and Atlanta. There are more than a dozen overseas locations.
An era ended in Fort Lauderdale, where the proprietors of Kreepy Tiki Lounge announced that the live music venue and craft cocktail bar would be closing its doors on April 1. “We invite you all to celebrate the times we had, friendships we’ve made, and enjoy the last remaining days with us,” said a Facebook announcement. The adjoining Kreepy Tiki Tattoos will remain open during construction in the weeks to come, so look for news on future upgrades to the space near Fort Lauderdale International Airport. South Florida Distillers, makers of the award-winning Fwaygo rums, is a recent new addition to the building. A longtime rockabilly and punk-rock hangout under various names, the bar received a major upgrade (and full liquor license) when Ayme Harrison took over bar operations in late 2014. It was subsequently named one of the best 22 Tiki bars in the country by Condé Nast Traveler, and Harrison’s mixology skills were recognized in 2016 at such high-profile events as The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and The Hukilau. Harrison is one of several high-profile partners in a new craft cocktail bar in nearby Delray Beach called Death or Glory, set to open April 1, according to Miami New Times. The article also says that the old Kreepy Tiki Lounge “may continue to operate in another capacity” under Kreepy Tiki Tattoos owner Jackson Valiente.
It was not all about closings this month. Some exciting news in Palm Springs heralded the opening of The Reef at the Caliente Tropics resort. Home of the annual Tiki Caliente and Mod Palm Springs events, the vintage resort with the iconic A-frame entrance and distinctive mid-century Polynesian Pop architecture had once been home to a bar called The Reef. When Rory Snyder, creator of the aforementioned Tiki weekenders, saw an opportunity to take over the bar space, he jumped at it. He enlisted the talents of artists Buzzy Meeker (design, build-out), Doug Horne (logos, menus and mug design) and John Mulder of Eekum Bookum (mug creation). “I want the mood and menu of The Reef make all who walk in here feel at home,” Snyder said in an announcement on Facebook. “Everyone from the long-time Palm Springs residents, to vacationing tourists, to our enthusiastic Tiki ohana. Because The Reef is located at a hotel, some people might wander in from the pool in their flip-flops and some might arrive dressed up for a night out. Regardless, I want people to come in knowing that, just because this is a tropically-themed bar, they can get still their favorite standard well drinks or enjoy one of our craft Tiki cocktails, along with some good food while having a memorable time. You will be entertained.” Previews were held in February, with a grand opening scheduled for March 4.
It’s clear that the best Tiki bars are a passion project of their owners, and the new Tiki Underground in the Akron, Ohio, area is no exception. Cleveland native Sean Coffey was a Tiki fanatic for 20 years before realizing his dream and opening a tropical paradise for all to enjoy. “Sean has loved Tiki culture for so many years and he’s basically had a Tiki bar, at home,” his wife and co-owner Jessie Coffey said in an article on Cleveland.com. “Now we get to have the public come over.” Funded in part by fans and supporters, the bar is a DIY effort in the truest sense of the word. Coffey took over a 4,500-square-foot space that was formerly home to a sports bar in Hudson, Ohio, bringing South Seas style and the spirit of aloha to an enthusiastic opening day crowd on Feb. 24. A grand opening and the roll-out of more entertainment and menu options were planned for March.
In Fort Lauderdale, news broke about a new restaurant opening in the beachside B Ocean Resort, perhaps best known for the classic “porthole lounge” The Wreck Bar and long-running swim shows by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid. Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen is the brainchild of celebrity chef and restauranteur Ralph Pagano, who has had success with his Naked Taco and Naked Lunch concepts in Miami. Less successful was the short-lived Naked Tiki on South Beach, but hopefully Pagano’s appreciation of Tiki shines through in his new 150-seat restaurant, which also includes The Florida Bar. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Naked Crab is a “stripped-down but also dressed-up crab and seafood and steak house where I cook impeccably sourced fish,” Pagano told New Times. In related Wreck Bar news, Marina and her pod of aquaticats launched a new, burlesque-themed swim show for ages 21 and older on Friday and Saturday nights at 9:30 p.m. These are in addition to the regular family-friendly “fishtail glam” mermaid shows at 6:30.
The kitschy dive bar Hula Hula, which has been operating since 2007 and proudly advertising “karaoke 365 days a year,” announced that it has been forced to move from its Seattle Center location. According to a post on the bar’s Facebook page, Hula Hula will shut down March 18 but reopen in a new location in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in April.
RUM NEWS: Bacardi crowns North American Cocktail Competition champion
Darnell Holguin after his presentation at the 1306 Bar on South Beach. (Photos by The Atomic Grog)
Darnell Holguin of New York City won the Bacardi Legacy North American Cocktail Competition Finals in Miami Beach on Feb. 13 with his It Was All a Dream cocktail. Other U.S. finalists included Cody Henson of Miami, Will Isaza of Boston, Alex Chien of Chicago, Cameron George of Seattle, and Vincent Toscano of San Francisco. Holguin will represent the United States at the Global Final in Berlin in May. Around 250 people attended the private industry-only event at the 1306 Bar. Our correspondent tasted almost all of the 19 drinks and reported to us (without knowing the winner) that he thought Holguin’s was far and away the best. He called it “a very Tiki-tastic concoction that utilized condensed milk and allspice dram. … The minute I sipped it, I knew it was the winning drink.”
* See video of the competition
Feb. 11 – Aloha Fest in Venlo, The Netherlands. An evening of European surf music and culture including Surfer Joe, The Terrorsaurs, Kilaueas, Aloha Sluts and more. Plus DJs, unplugged shows, market with Tiki art and music for sale.
Feb. 11 – Southern Surf Stomp at Kavarna in Decatur, Ga. All-ages concert featuring Liz Brasher, and The Fugitives.
Feb. 13 – Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City. The final voyage of Brian Miller and his scurvy crew, with special guests Gaz Regan and the Hula Belly Sisters. At Pouring Ribbons in the East Village.
Feb. 16 – Mahiki Invasion at UnderTow in Phoenix featuring an hour of Tiki education with Georgi Radev of Mahiki in London. Includes cocktails, a Tiki mug, sponsor Reàl Cocktail Ingredients giveaways, and a recipe guide created by Radev.
Fans of the much-anticipated Tiki bar coming soon to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World were treated to a sneak preview during the inaugural Mahaloween Luau at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Disney Imagineers showed off a logo T-shirt and several mug prototypes, along with some insight on the design and theming of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.
The event on Monday, Sept. 29, was a seasonal-themed party that included food and drinks, live music, exclusive merchandise, and a presentation by Walt Disney Imagineering on the past, present and future of Tiki at the Disney parks. Among those in attendance was Steve “Tikiman” Seifert, who keeps fans of the Polynesian Village Resort updated on all the recent changes and refurbishments with his authoritative website and Facebook page. Seifert kept an eye out for news on the Polynesian and the Grog Grotto, and he gave us a full report after the event. Check out his photos and more insights on Mahaloween below. Thanks also to EPCOT Explorer for his photos.
Amid all the construction and re-imagining of the Polynesian, Disney has released very little info about its new Trader Sam’s outpost in Orlando since a big announcement and release of concept art on May 2 [See The Atomic Grog’s story and photos]. And while Imagineers Brandon Kleyla and Kyle Barnes didn’t drop any bombshells, they did provide a few visual and informational treats. Kleyla, in fact, was wearing an orange T-shirt featuring a Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto logo that will likely soon become a merchandise item. A blue shirt was also shown during the presentation. Kleyla, who grew up in Florida and frequented Disney World in his youth, was the Imagineering set decorator for Trader Sam’s in Anaheim, bringing to life an immersive environment that borrows heavily from classic Disney attractions such at the Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room and Adventurer’s Club [See interview].
Veteran Imagineer Kyle Barnes, who had a lead role in the Disneyland Hotel bar’s design, took the mic to talk about the concept behind Disney’s second lounge “owned” by Trader Sam, the infamous “head salesman” on the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland and Disney World. Barnes said that while the Disneyland location celebrates the Jungle Cruise and a 1930s African Queen aesthetic, the Disney World bar will synch up with the Magic Kingdom and feature more of a “technicolor” look and feel.
Barnes also confirmed suspicions that have made the rounds since the concept art was released showing a giant squid tentacle behind the bar [See photo]. The Grog Grotto will celebrate the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, “with various props from that attraction,” he said.
A nautical theme makes perfect sense considering a grotto is often a small cave near water. And it will be located just across Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom and Adventureland, which includes Trader Sam’s home in the exotic rivers of the Jungle Cruise, as well as the animatronic tikis in the Enchanted Tiki Room. The T-shirt logo also includes a giant squid, so don’t be surprised if the Grog Grotto features a backstory about Sam’s adventures on and beneath the sea.
When Walt Disney envisioned what would become the Enchanted Tiki Room, it’s unlikely he could have forseen the iconic Disneyland attraction’s indelible impact on pop culture.
On June 23, 1963, the world’s first Audio-Animatronic figures – more than 150 talking and singing birds – greeted guests in Disneyland’s first air-conditioned building. It was a state-of-the-art attraction and one of Walt’s favorites. A fan of Polynesian supper clubs, he originally planned a Tiki restaurant for the site. But the musical show was so impressive, it was feared that diners would never leave.
Now, 50 years later, generations of fans consider the attraction an icon and perhaps the world’s most well-known representation of Tiki culture. Disney pulled out all the stops for the anniversary, hosting special events and releasing a dizzying selection of merchandise. See the merchandise catalogs:
* Artwork and collectibles | Vinylmation
There was a special anniversary event at the Disneyland Hotel on June 28-29 featuring Disney legends Rolly Crump and Bob Gurr, who worked on the original attraction. It was a grand merchandise gala marking the debut of original artwork, prints, pins, collectibles, and much more (see catalog links above). Guests had first crack at the goodies, plus a chance to meet Disney artists Alex Maher and Mike Sullivan, plus “Disney-inspired” artists Shag (aka Josh Agle), Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Doug Horne, Noah, and many more. The Shag cocktail reception, while pricey, was probably a blast.
“The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project – in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World — will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT.” – Walt Disney, Oct. 27, 1966
The second-oldest of Disney World’s four theme parks opened to the public on Oct. 1, 1982. The massive project, originally called EPCOT Center, took three years and $1.2 billion to build. And while it didn’t fulfill Walt Disney’s grand vision of a utopian city, Epcot was something nobody had ever seen before, and it remains one of the world’s most distinctive tourist destinations. Its mixture of attractions and shows with culture and dining – all with a heavy emphasis on education — is unique and most likely something Walt would be proud of.
With more than 10 million visitors a year, Epcot is the third most popular theme park in the United States, trailing only Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in California. In honor of Epcot’s 30th anniversary, here are 30 of The Atomic Grog’s favorite ways to enjoy this eclectic combination of futuristic playground and food and beverage smorgasbord.
This is the first in a series that will spotlight The Atomic Grog’s picks of the top “modern retro” features at the world’s top tourist mecca. Disney World is a vast ocean of fun and frolic for all ages, but it’s easy to overlook the classic, timeless elements that make the massive resort special. It can be enjoyed on many levels – from the totally immersive, escapist experience in the theme parks to the many unique restaurants, bars and hotels. But what makes the fantasy complete is the incredible innovation, artistry and attention to detail that spans more than 40 years. The Atomic Grog is dedicated to celebrating and preserving cool mid-century kitsch, and there’s much of this to admire and embrace in “the happiest place on earth.” Is Disney World hip? Hardly. But it can still be enjoyed by geeky hipsters (and hipster geeks) with not a shred of irony. We hope you enjoy the ride with us. Related:Disney World is still cool at 40 thanks to retro artists Shag, Kevin & Jody July 2013 update:Tiki Room celebrates 50 years of enchantment
Location: Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom theme park.
What is it? An indoor attraction themed to a Polynesian paradise featuring a colorful menagerie of flowers, Tikis and 200 performing Audio-Animatronic birds.
Origins: An opening-day attraction On Oct. 1, 1971, the Enchanted Tiki Room was originally known as Tropical Serenade. It was re-imagined and re-opened in 2011 under its current name with a show that pays tribute to the original Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland.
Claim to fame: The Disneyland attraction was the first to feature the Disney invention of Audio-Animatronics and was reportedly Walt Disney’s favorite.
Whatever (or whoever) started a fire in Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room back in January may have inadvertently set off a chain of events that has corrected one of the biggest blunders in the history of theme park attraction renovations.
Closed for the past seven months, the iconic attraction is scheduled to reopen Aug. 15 with a new animatronic show that pays tribute to the original attraction, which was a pet project of Walt himself. To the delight of many hardcore fans, the oft-reviled “Under New Management” theme has been ditched (for good, hopefully). Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King have been replaced by José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre – the four crooning parrot hosts who have been entertaining guests at California’s Disneyland since 1963.
The redesign of Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room was announced in May at Disney’s “D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Conference,” a special event for members of Disney’s D23 fan club (D23 refers to Disney and 1923, the year the company was founded). The Aug. 15 date was officially announced by Disney World on Tuesday.