Hukilau 2019 brings its blend of nostalgia and hipness to Fort Lauderdale June 5-9.
What is Hukilau? A festival of tiki culture that attracts more than a thousand people to Fort Lauderdale every year. They chose this place because Fort Lauderdale is home to one of the best preserved examples of the original tiki bars, the Mai-Kai restaurant, 3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.
Of course, Florida Rambler loves tiki bars, but in South Florida, that generally refers to open-air waterfront bars, traditionally with Seminole palm-frond chickee roofs. (Our site has devoted considerable attention to tiki bars, especially in the Florida Keys.)
Polynesian tiki bars are something else: With their tiki god masks and hula girls, they’re notalgic nods to the popularity of all things Polynesian in the 1950s.
Hukilau events include Polynesian pop and other vintage music, those signature rum drinks (who can forget their childhood fascination with drinks with little umbrellas?) and symposiums on tiki topics.
Much of the event happens at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and the nearby Wreck bar, at the B Ocean Resort Hotel (formerly the Yankee Clipper). A big Saturday event is held at the Mai-Kai.
If you love tiki culture, you know why Hukilau comes to the Mai-Kai every year.
Opening in 1956, the Mai-Kai was an over-the-top Polynesian restaurant with flaming torches, special rum drinks delivered with the sound of a giant gong, tropical gardens with waterfalls and bridges and a Polynesian dance review. It’s a sprawling place with tiki artifacts everywhere. While the food has never been the attraction, the Mai-Kai has survived on sheer entertainment value — and those rum drinks. The Mai-Kai transported people to a magic place long before Disney came to Florida.
Learn more about Hukilau at its website — you’ll get in the mood for the event.
Passes for full access to parties, performances and speaker range from $159 to $399.
Tickets for individual events or packages range from $15 to $70.
Hukilau events include parties at the Mai-Kai and in the rotating lounge atop the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, plus lectures and performances designed to recreate the heyday of tiki culture.
Don’t expect the usual entertainment. Bands are brought into town specifically for their relevance to the retro tiki culture.
When it’s not Hukilau, there are several spots you can visit at other times for your own celebration of tiki culture:
- One way to experience the Mai-Kai and avoid the high prices is to visit during happy hour. The Molokai bar has water cascading down the windows to create a rain-forest effect and serving maidens in bikini tops and sarongs. Drinks and appetizers are half price from 5 to 7 p.m. The 50+ rum drinks on the menu are arranged by alcoholic potency, with plenty of non-alcoholic choices for kids. Prices range from $7 to $16, so at half price, they’re a good deal. Last time I visited, four of us happily shared a pupu platter for two ($16 at full price). After your drinks, you’re welcome to walk through the restaurant into the fantastic gardens. Here are Yelp reviews and TripAdvisor reviews of the Mai-Kai.
The Wreck Bar, 1140 Seabreeze, Fort Lauderdale, inside the B Ocean Resort Hotel (formerly the Yankee Clipper).
Designed to look like the inside of a pirate ship, it’s famous for its windows into the hotel swimming pool, where a mermaid show is performed on Friday and Saturday nights. The bar, nearly as old as the Mai-Kai, was featured in the movies Where the Boys Are and Analyze This. This hotel was recently renovated and the lobby now has a glass wall, allowing you to see into the Wreck Bar from more vantage points.
The mermaid show is offered on Friday and Saturday nights. The 6:30 p.m. show is family friendly; the 9:30 p.m show is an underwater burlesque show for ages 21 and up. The bar fills up early; visitors suggest arriving an hour early to get the best seats.
The folks on Yelp give it mixed reviews.