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Hukilau: Like Hawaii but Not

It’s sunny, humid, and tropical. There are sandy beaches, rolling waves, and hundreds of shoreside bars serving frosty drinks with little umbrellas. South Florida might not actually be Hawaii, but it’s so damned similar, who cares? For the past ten years, the Hukilau! has been claiming to be the East Coast’s largest tiki and Polynesian Pop gathering, and that takes place right here, in Broward County. Since middle-class Americans first discovered that Florida was a nice place to spend the winter — and a cheap facsimile of that faraway Polynesian island chain — they’ve been putting on their grass skirts and making the best of things: Tikiphiles from all over the States travel here for this festival, which also marks the 55th anniversary of the Mai-Kai Restaurant, a South Florida landmark. And why would you leave here to travel to Hawaii? Doesn’t it take, like, a five-hour flight to get there?

The kickoff party consists of a many things, the most fascinating being the Hukilau Room Crawl. Tikiheads take over several rooms at the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort (3001 Harbor Drive, Fort Lauderdale; 954-524-1555) and transform them into little bars serving little fruity rum drinks. The kickoff party is from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday and costs $20. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday is the Hukilau Main Event ($40), also at Bahia Cabana. The royal MC will be King Kukulele, and there will be live performances from Grinder Nova, the Fisherman, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, and the Exotics, among others. The Exotica A Go-Go Dance Party follows at 11 p.m.

Learn about mermaids at the “Beautiful Girls That Live Like Fish!” presentation from Vintage Roadside at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. If you’re interested in Beachbum Berry’s symposium on the Rat Pack, entry will cost you an extra $35, and get there early, because only 200 people will be getting in. It’s at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Mai-Kai Restaurant (3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-563-3272).

Don’t forget to hit every happy hour, buy plenty of Polynesian souvenirs, and get tour commemorative photos taken — after all, no one needs to know you weren’t actually on the Big Island but instead just down the street. Events will be spread across Bahia Cabana, Mai-Kai, and Bahia Mar Hotel (801 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 888-802-2442) from Thursday to Sunday. Tickets range in price from $25 for a Saturday Day Pass to $110 for the four-day Aloha Pass; this pass will get you into the kickoff party and the Hukilau Main Event as well as other festivities. For a full listing of all the special events — both educational and alcohol-infused — visit the event website, thehukilau.com.
Thu., June 9; Fri., June 10; Sat., June 11; Sun., June 12, 2011

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Rebecca McBane is the arts and culture/food editor for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. She began her journalism career at the Sun Sentinel's community newspaper offshoot, Forum Publishing Group, where she worked as the editorial assistant and wrote monthly features as well as the weekly library and literature column, "Shelf Life." After a brief stint bumming around London's East End (for no conceivable reason, according to her poor mother), she returned to real life and South Florida to start at New Times as the editorial assistant in 2009. A native Floridian, Rebecca avoids the sun and beach at all costs and can most often be found in a well-air-conditioned space with the glow of a laptop on her face.
Contact: Rebecca McBane

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