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Photos: A hauntingly good time at historic Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party

Approaching its 60th anniversary, Fort Lauderdale’s hallowed Mai-Kai got into the Halloween spirit with its eighth annual Hulaween party on Friday, Oct. 28. More than 100 costumed revelers packed The Molokai lounge for an evening of deadly tropical drinks and live music from Slip and the Spinouts. The highlight was the creepy and creative costume contest, a South Florida tradition.
See below: Exclusive Atomic Grog photo gallery

Elvis (Slip) and the Spinouts rocked and rolled through three sets during Hulaween 2016
Elvis (Slip) and the Spinouts rocked and rolled through three sets during Hulaween 2016.

The event’s theme, “Curse of the Cannibals,” honored The Mai-Kai’s rich history as one of the world’s top Tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants (Critiki website users rank it No. 1 in the world). The iconic “three cannibals” logo has been a mainstay since the Dec. 28, 1956, opening.

During Hulaween, the fun is timeless as Slip Mahoney and his band ripped through three sets of roots rock and rockabilly hits from the past half-century. Always in the spirit of the event, Slip and his band joined the costumed hordes. Only at The Mai-Kai during Hulaween will you find Elvis performing on guitar and vocals with a Stormtrooper from Star Wars on bass and a SWAT team member on drums (Mahoney, Kristi Lÿnx and Jason Furman, respectively).

After eight years, Hulaween has become known for its laid-back party atmosphere amid the vintage nautical decor in The Molokai. This year, the weekly New Times newspaper ranked it as the No. 2 Halloween party in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Only the massive MoonFest ranked higher.

The Molokai Maidens got into the spirit of Hulaween
The Molokai Maidens got into the spirit of Hulaween.

But Hulaween is still an intimate affair. Many guests arrived early, with special jungle exotica tunes (mahalo to Spyrate Radio) adding to the atmosphere of the fully-decorated bar. The Molokai girls were also in costume, though still wearing their signature sarongs (another Mai-Kai tradition that goes back to the mid-century era). Happy hour ran from 5 to 7, with most of the bar’s signature cocktails, from the Zombie to the Shrunken Skull, available at half-price. Just as popular were the bar’s classic Polynesian pupus, plus the new selection of sushi and signature tapas.

After happy hour, Slip and the Spinouts kicked out the jams, making their sixth Hulaween appearance. Partiers danced to the beat as the band covered everything from country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll to surf to blues. The band, which has been a fixture on the local scene for decades, is also known for its original tunes (Seven Nights to Rock, 13 Miles) that harken back to a vintage era.

Spotted in the crowd were many classic costumes, from Beetlejuice to E.T. as well as wacky originals. Zombie doctors mingled with cannibals, while Baron Boris von Frankenstein beamed himself back from the 1967 Mad Monster Party and Hannibal Lecter sipped potent Tiki cocktails. Yours truly conjured up the ghost of Don the Beachcomber, the Tiki bar pionner considered to be The Mai-Kai’s evolutionary forefather. [More photos on Facebook]

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The Mai-Kai’s eighth annual Hulaween party is cursed by cannibals

Hulaween 2016 - Curse of the Cannibals

It’s that time of year again, when ghouls and ghosts haunt the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant The Mai-Kai, scaring up frightening fun at the eighth annual Hulaween on Friday, Oct. 28. The event takes a savage turn this year with the theme “Curse of the Cannibals” in honor of the famous Polynesian eatery’s upcoming 60th anniversary.
UPDATE: See our annual recap and photos from the party

Featuring live music from South Florida’s long-running retro rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts, drink specials and a wild-and-wacky costume contest, Hulaween has become a South Florida favorite for those looking for a vintage Halloween experience. Happy hour begins at 5 p.m. and the party runs past midnight. The best part: There’s no cover charge or minimum. But The Molokai bar fills up fast, so get there early.

Hulaween 2016 - Curse of the Cannibals

*** Friday, Oct. 28 – Hulaween 2016 – Curse of the Cannibals featuring Slip and the Spinouts at The Mai-Kai, 3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. (954) 563-3272. Free admission. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. Live music and costume contest in The Molokai bar, 7 p.m.-midnight. Facebook event
* See 2015 party recap, photos | Past event coverage

Slip and the Spinouts jam at Hulaween 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)
Slip and the Spinouts jam at Hulaween 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)

Hulaween is once again sponsored by Appleton Rum, which will provide special giveaways and drink specials. The official Hulaween cocktail is the Appleton Zula, based on the vintage Zula cocktail that has been featured on The Mai-Kai’s menu since 1956 and dates back to Tiki drink godfather Don the Beachcomber. [To find out why Zula is the Hulaween special, watch the video below] Appleton is the most popular rum on the extensive menu, featured in dozens of drinks.

Another Hulaween fixture is Slip Mahoney and his all-star band, a familiar face at South Florida events for decades and always a favorite at The Mai-Kai. The band will play three sets of classic covers and originals, keeping the party going past the witching hour. The band is adept at an incredibly eclectic variety of genres, from rockabilly to Western to swing, surf, blues and roots rock. Also look for Slip and company to get into the spirit of things with their own festive costumes. This will be the band’s sixth Hulaween appearance.

During happy hour, The Atomic Grog will serve up a special playlist of “jungle exotica” music courtesy of Spyrate Radio. Then, before and after the live music, a brand-new mix of Halloween and monster music will fill The Molokai, curated from Spyrate’s special Tiki Oasis Radio mixes broadcast live in August during Tiki Oasis 16: Party on Monster Island. The Appleton Girls will be on hand, as usual, offering up samples and giveaways. In past years, there were free Mai Tai samples, so keep an eye out.

Around 10 p.m., don’t miss the costume contest featuring cash and prizes for the winners. Hulaween attendees are always creative with their costumes, with past winners including a Headhunter and Head (2015), Evil Tiki (2014), and the Tiki Couple (2013). This year’s theme will allow guests to once again explore their primitive sides.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Double your pleasure with the exotic and delicious Zula #1 (and #2)

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Double your pleasure with the exotic and delicious Zula #1 (and #2)

Updated April 2024
See below: Our Zula reviews | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipes, video UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The mysterious Zula #1 is easily one of the most curious (and deliciously distinctive) cocktails on The Mai-Kai’s tropical drink menu. And, as usual, it has a fascinating back-story.

Zula # 1 (left) and Zula #2, February 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Zula #1 (left) and Zula #2, February 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The cocktail’s flavors are just as exotic as its origins, which both took us years to figure out. The pineapple-forward taste is unlike any other you’ll find at The Mai-Kai.

But there’s another secret about Zula #1 that not many guests may be aware of: It shares its name (and flavor profile) with a secret off-menu sister drink, the smaller and sweeter Zula #2. But it wasn’t always that mysterious.

If you look back at older menus, you’ll find both drinks. On The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 cocktail menu, there’s “Zula No. 1” in a tall glass and “Zula No. 2” in a stemmed coupe similar to other lost classics such as Liquid Gold.

Long-stemmed glassware was extremely popular in the 1950s. You’ll find a dozen cocktails on early menus using the elegant coupe glass, which faded from use at The Mai-Kai but made a big comeback at craft cocktail bars in the early 21st century.

The Mai-Kai's original cocktail menu, circa 1957
The Mai-Kai’s original cocktail menu, circa 1957.

By 1979, when the menu had been arranged in its now-familiar “mild,” “medium” and “strong” groupings, the names had changed slightly to Zula #1 (strong) and Zula #2 (mild), but the coupe glass endured. We’ve seen menus from the ’80s that still feature Zula #2. But by the 1990s it was gone, never to be seen on a menu again.

What many didn’t realize as the years went by, however, is that you could still order the milder Zula. By the time I started bellying up to the bar in the 2000s, it was a distant memory. I finally discovered it while researching the history of Zula #1 for this cocktail guide.

If you order it today, it will be served in a short, flared rocks glass also used for the Shark Bite, Oh So Deadly and Mai-Kai Special.

Zula Hula
Is this the source of the name “Zula”? While doing research for Hulaween 2016, we discovered a vintage Betty Boop clip from 1937 called “Zula Hula.” Click on the image to watch.

I give credit to Tiki Central friends for helping track down the drink’s origins. As we know now, a majority of the vintage cocktails served at South Florida’s Polynesian palace (32 at last count) can be traced back to drinks created by tropical drink godfather Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber).

Most are relatively easy to figure out. Some (Rum Julep, 151 Swizzle) have the exact same name, while others are obvious tweaks (Cobra’s Fang to Cobra’s Kiss, Don’s Pearl to Hidden Pearl).

However, nothing in Beach’s vast repertoire seemed to resemble the Zula. Or so we thought. It was actually right there under our nose since 2007 in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari: Penang Afrididi. Don’t ask us how the names relate, but the flavor profile is indeed remarkably similar. The clincher: There are two versions of Don the Beachcomber’s original, known as Penang Afrididi #1 and Penang Afrididi #2.

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