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Massive Tiki Event Hukilau Kicks off Wednesday, Will Continue Next Year

It's time to pull out those Hawaiian shirts, leis, grass skirts, and Betty Page bikinis: the Hukilau is back this week.

The massive event brings together tiki enthusiasts from all across the country for five days of retro-inspired Polynesia.

The festival takes place at a number of mid-century locations throughout Fort Lauderdale. We spoke to Mai Kai marketing director Pia Dahlquist about the line-up and the continuation of the event.

See Also: Hukilau 2014: The Final Blowout Set for June

The extended event features five days of symposiums, shows, and celebrations -- and tropical drinks, obviously -- kicks off Wednesday.

Special events include a conference by Tiki historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Philip Greene, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans and author of the critically-acclaimed "To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion", and Noted tattoo artist and historian Paul Roe.

The individual events are spread through Bahia Mar Beach Resort, the Sheraton Beach Hotel, and the Mai Kai.

"We have given Christie the opportunity to plan as many events as she wants here at the Mai-Kai," says Dahlquist. "Christie White [Hukilau cofounders and organizer] realized years ago that the main reason for many to attend the Hukilau is the chance to spend quality time at the Mai-Kai. And they do! We have so many people coming here straight from the airport with their luggage and so many people spending the last hours here before going back to the airport. Our main office (and mine) becomes luggage storage and changing room for a few days. And we love it! I know that Christie and her new partners will be focusing on growing the event bigger and to try to attract more locals to the event in the future. We are not too far away from starting to make plans for Mai-Kai's big 60 (December 28, 2016)!"

Dahlquist, who has been involved with and attending the Hukilau for years, has her favorite events.

She's looking forward to seeing the musical acts the Disasternauts and the Sweet Hollywaiians from Japan, as well as the big dinner Saturday night.

"There will be bands playing in the Molokai Bar and in our back dining rooms," says Dahlquist. "King Kukulele is as always the emcee and this is when Christie get a chance to address everyone and make the announcement about next years event. I think this is the most fun night for our employees to work. There is so much good feeling/karma in the restaurant and Mrs. Thornton always choreographs a special number just for Hukilau."

Dahlquists favorite, however, are the low-key commemorative events on Sunday. Mai Kai brings out old memorabilia, including scrap books, and Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays play in the Molokai Bar. During the day, the restaurant airs the final cut of Plastic Paradise, that uses Mai Kai a a backdrop to explore the resurgence of retro Polynesian pop culture.

While we thought it was going to be the final Hukilau this year, it looks like the event is continuing on in 2014.

"We are really excited about Hukilau continuing," says Dahlquist. "When first announced it was a huge disappointment in the Tiki community and we were bombarded with questions if anyone would take over. Several stepped up with great ideas and it just made it so clear to us how important this event had become not only to us but to the 'Ohanas'. Many plan their years vacation around this event. I had however seen the toll it took on Christie to produce this size of event where you mainly have to rely on volunteers. Not living here and working full time certainly added to the stress and decision. What happened, however, was that shortly after her decision and announcement about the final Hukilau, Christie was approached by several people that offered their support to help her continue this event and eventually she decided to partner with two people (names to be announced during this years Hukilau). She talked it over with our owner Dave Levy and he was all for her continuing the event. The announcement was made and the response was great."

For a full schedule of events or ticket purchase, visit

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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Sara Ventiera