Earlier this year, Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White came close to bidding a final "aloha" to the Hukilau, the kitschy celebration of tiki culture that will descend on Fort Lauderdale Wednesday to Sunday.
White says time constraints and declining finances nearly forced her to retire the festival, which she founded, until a pair of business partners stepped up in April with a "new business strategy" to co-present the event that calls the Mai-Kai Restaurant home.
"It just never occurred to me that there would be that outpouring from Hukilau fans, but sure enough, as soon as the 'For Sale' sign went up, people went, 'Hell, no,'" says White, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., but makes the annual pilgrimage to the Mai-Kai to host the event. "It's that one special festival where you can spend it with other tiki enthusiasts as the aloha spirit fills the air."
The Mai-Kai, a time capsule of cocktail reverie, will again host the Hukilau this week, as will the Wreck Bar at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (the Yankee Clipper) and the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Returning are convention-style symposiums from cocktail author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, who will present "Tiki's Dark Ages: From Fern Bars to Rebirth," an account of tiki culture's demise in the 1970s and renaissance in the late 1990s.
Entertainment highlights include the jazzy exotica octet Left Arm of Buddha from that other hotbed of tiki culture, Liège, Belgium, performing Saturday at Bahia Mar. Also appearing in the hotel's ballroom is the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, with painting demos from Robert Jimenez and tiki-chic crafts from dozens of vendors.
Wednesday night's pre-party at the Mai-Kai's Molokai Bar sold out months ago, but tiki enthusiasts visiting the Wreck Bar can catch a special midnight performance by a fire-eating mermaid (her name is Marina, so say, "hello").
Tickets are still available for the 6-9 p.m. Thursday kickoff party at Bahia Mar, at which cocktails will be accompanied by music from the Intoxicators, Kinky Waikiki and burlesque dancer Angie Pontani. Other bands in the lineup include Gold Dust Lounge, Slip and the Spinouts and Skinny Jimmy and the Stingrays.
The Hukilau runs 2 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday, June 11; 11 a.m.-close Thursday, June 12; 10 a.m.-close Friday, June 13; 10 a.m.-close Saturday, June 14; and noon-3 p.m. Sunday, June 15, at the Mai-Kai Restaurant (3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale), the Wreck Bar at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (1140 Seabreeze Blvd.) and Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (801 Seabreeze Blvd.). Admission is $15-$100. Go to TheHukilau.com for a full schedule.