The Hukilau

Published on June 1st, 2015

The Hukilau

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Polynesian Pop enthusiasts from around the world will gather June 10-14 in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and longest-running celebration of all things Tiki. The event reaches new heights in its 14th year at the towering Pier 66 hotel with marquee events that include the country’s top Tiki cocktail barmen and actress Dawn Wells, aka Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.

For a so-called fad that started in the 1930s and peaked in the mid-20th century, Polynesian Pop seems to be doing quite well 15 years into the 21st century. So what makes Tiki culture so enduring, and endearing?

“It’s really all about the escape,” said Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, an Alabama native who co-founded The Hukilau in 2002 in Atlanta and sagely moved it to Fort Lauderdale and its historic Polynesian palace, The Mai-Kai, in 2003.  “Some of us live the lifestyle, but for so many others, they get to dress in island prints, make tropical cocktails and create an instant vacation. Tiki gives all of us a release from the hustle of everyday life.”

Escapism is timeless, and The Hukilau creates the perfect environment to get far away from the daily grind. While Tikiphiles are serious about their hobby, they don’t take themselves too seriously. At The Hukilau, they call themselves “villagers” as they pursue their fantasy weekend.

“For so many people, The Hukilau becomes their vacation each year,” White said. “People come from Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and even Alabama.” The secret to the event’s longevity is simple, she said. “The people who attend each and every year, whether new or a repeat attendee, are what makes this Tiki event so special.  I’m incredibly proud to see friendships forged, the beginnings of many relationships and the magic in the eyes of our villagers. It’s all about aloha and the people who want to share it.”

_dsc6420-2But throwing the East Coast’s biggest Tiki party year after year is no easy task. White took sole control of The Hukilau in 2005, but she struggled with indifferent hotels. The one constant was the 58-year-old Mai-Kai and its iconic decor, tropical cocktails and authentic Polynesian floor show. “Without The Mai-Kai, The Hukilau simply wouldn’t exist,” White admits. She announced last year as her swan song, then had a change of heart when a pair of white knights came to the rescue.

With a new partnership in place, White secured an ambitious host hotel, the landmark Hyatt Regency Pier 66 overlooking Port Everglades and the south end of Fort Lauderdale Beach. Built in 1956, the hotel this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 17-story tower and revolving cocktail lounge, a mid-20th century beacon in a world that seems intent on tearing down all its classic structures.

Just as important, White said, the hotel staff has been attentive and supportive of the event. “Plus, the larger space allows us to grow for years to come,” she said.

The hotel’s rooftop lounge will host perhaps The Hukilau’s most prestigious special event to date on June 11. The Tiki Tower Takeover will be a one-of-kind happy hour cocktail party featuring four of the country’s most acclaimed tropical drink gurus together at one event for the first time. Guests will enjoy signature cocktails personally mixed by Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago) and Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City).

Hukilau-1414-X2The “Three Hour Tour” cruise with Dawn Wells is another event unique to The Hukilau. In addition to offering a chance to hang out with everyone’s favorite castaway, a 170-foot, 400-capacity yacht will feature complimentary food and drinks, plus prizes for the best Gilligan’s Island garb.

The Hukilau will include five nights of parties and events with an eclectic lineup of bands and entertainers from South Florida and beyond: Alika Lyman Group, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Pablus, Slip and the Spinouts, Kinky Waikiki, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, King Kukulele, Lila Starlet, and DJ James Brownís Sweat. Expect to hear everything from jazz to surf to lounge to rockabilly.

Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her pod of aquaticats will perform two special swim shows at the nearby B Ocean Resort for The Hukilau only. Artists and vendors will show off their wares in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. And for those who want to broaden their knowledge of Tiki and pop culture, there will be six symposiums conducted by some of the top experts in their fields, including Disney artists and an Oscar-nominated filmmaker.

Schedule, tickets and more at TheHukilau.com

~ Jim Hayward, TheAtomicGrog.com

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