Entries from September 2010

September 22, 2010

Aloha Oe, Tiki-Kate

Filed under: People,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 3:07 pm

I lost my Ooga-Mooga better half today. Tiki-Kate passed away around noon. I got to see her, hold her, tell her I love her this past Saturday. I have much to say about Kate, but right this moment, I’m too wrecked. But I am going to put on my brightest aloha wear, because she told me that’s what she wanted.

Mahalo nui loa for everything, my darling Kate.

September 12, 2010

Trader Vic’s Emeryville: The Decor

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 10:29 pm

The decor at Trader Vic’s Emeryville was only about half-completed during my preview, but it already looks and sounds like there will be a lot to love. The fundamental footprint of the space is not changing, and much from the old restaurant remains in place and untouched including a number of tikis, matting, bamboo, and tile dividers. The sun was shining brightly and there were no window coverings up yet, so these aren’t beauty shots, but you can get a general idea where things are headed in Emeryville.

The designers of the space are Image Three Events. They specialize in dramatic decor for special events (including lots of work in Vegas). Robert Gonas from Image Three told me that one of his inspirations for the space was his memory of being taken to a crazy, over-the-top Polynesian restaurant when he was about six years old, somewhere near Fort Lauderdale. That’s right: the designer was warped at a young age by the Mai-Kai. You can probably imagine his thrill at learning that it still exists today!

The new layout of the entry

The Entry
Before, upon entering there was a host stand directly in front of you, and a cabinet of items for sale to the left along with an entry into a back office. The hostess stand has been shifted to the right side of the hallway (where host staff will no longer get hit with gusts of cold air from the front door). The cabinet on the left has been removed and the office entrance relocated to the hallway side, to increase bar seating. Your first view is now of the bartenders at work, and the addition of a large porthole allows you to see clear through the restaurant to the water outside.

This is the last you’ll see of the white ceiling

The Bar

Marquesan tiki
An old friend greets you in the bar

The space has been expanded: the service bar is being moved to the opposite end of the bar (where the hostess stand used to be), freeing up that space to be a hallway for patrons to move about the restaurant. At the back side of the bar area there used to be the private Puka Room; this is now opened up to be part of the bar. The standing rail that ran parallel to the bar has been removed to increase flow in the room. There will be a mix of tall and short tables in the space, to let everyone see the great view of the marina.

They’re getting rid of the dreadful white ceiling in the bar! The ceiling will instead be covered with rich bac bac matting (which is similar to lauhala matting, with a finer weave and deeper brown tones). Lots more items will be added to clutter up the ceiling, including some light fixtures that were in Hinky Dinks. The curvy koa wood bar itself made its debut before the closure, and came out of the Trader Vic’s location in Osaka. The walls are covered with a variety of different tapa cloth pieces, and there are framed prints of vintage Trader Vic’s artwork on the walls.

Vintage Trader Vic’s artwork, including the Shingle Stain & Tortuga chalk drawings
My favorite of the three Leetegs

I believe these were in the new SF location?

A very exciting addition is the presence of three original Leeteg black velvet wahine paintings, which have been in the Bergeron family for years. They are absolutely stunning. Right now, they are hung in the former Puka Room, but they may be moved to another location to better protect them from sunlight.

A bit of sad news: the plans currently call for three televisions in the bar, which is a terrible shame in a space that is otherwise so lovely (and with that view!). Who would stand in this room and think to themselves, “Hmm… what’s really is missing is ESPN2 and someone hawking 5.6% APR on a new SUV”? I cannot understand how the televisions could possibly add to, rather than subtract from, the experience, and can only hope that they have the mercy to keep them turned off unless someone is actually begging to see something.

Lots of tikis in the main dining room

The Dining Rooms: The Palm Court (a.k.a. Tiki Room) and the Outrigger Room


Ken from Image Three

New carpet

The layout of these rooms is mostly the same, but a divider has been added between them in the form of a tall bamboo wall encrusted with tikis. This allows the Outrigger Room to be used as a semi-private space for large groups. The carpet in these rooms is a wildly-colored tapa-esque design (another design created by Image Three was taking too long in production, but will be used in the London location). The original ceiling is staying exactly as it was: the colors for the room were selected to complement the existing painted details on the beams.

The tikis that were there remain and more have been added, including a Marquesan from the San Francisco Golden Gate location, and a Barney West moai that was most recently in the Berlin location. The back hallway is lined with Papua New Guinea masks (similar to that great wall of masks at San Francisco Golden Gate), with some of them back-lit. When I was there, a sizable stash of Papua New Guinea items was awaiting final placement.

The Outrigger Room (two large outriggers are outside the picture frame)
More tikis line the hallway along the dining rooms
Original metal tiles fence-in the Outrigger Room
Papua New Guinea masks along the back hallway
The main hallway, plus the new hallway into the bar
Papua New Guinea canoe in the Captain Cook Room

The Captain Cook Room, The Office and The Captain’s Cabin


The Office

The changes in the private banquet rooms are minor: mainly a bit of freshening up, and rotating some of decorations. In particular, the display window in the Captain Cook Room has a massive canoe and a headdress added, and it looks just perfect. The massive shell chandelier remains, but the matching wall sconces are gone (thought I didn’t notice until someone pointed it out, so I guess I don’t miss them).



The Exterior
Looks exactly the same.

Since the redecorating was only half-done, I can’t be sure how it will all come together, but it looks very promising, doesn’t it? Coming soon: my thoughts on the food and drinks at the updated Trader Vic’s Emeryville.

Trader Vic’s Emeryville Sneak Peek:

Related Links:

September 11, 2010

Trader Vic’s Emeryville: A New Hope

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 4:56 pm
Looking into the Outrigger Room from the back hallwayLooking into the Outrigger Room from the back hallway

This past Thursday, I got to have an early look at the newly updated Trader Vic’s in Emeryville. There’s a lot to talk about, so I’m breaking this up into a few posts. I know you’re dying for pictures, and more are on their way, along with a whole mess of details. But first, my more free-form thoughts about the state of affairs in Emeryville. (In case you missed it, here are a few of my pictures from Twitter to whet your appetite.)

In many ways the Trader Vic’s in Emeryville is the heart of the Bay Area tiki scene, and is certainly the heart of the Trader Vic’s organization. Tonga Room may be older, but the sense of tradition is stronger in Emeryville.

“Tradition” is exactly what has been Trader Vic’s challenge. What to keep, what to change, what to let go? It’s easy to think that we’d like Trader Vic’s and other historic locations to stay trapped in amber, but do we want museum pieces? Or do we want stirring experiences?

Everyone says we’re out of date! We need to get with the times! And no wonder, this place looks like a dust-filled attic! It’s easy to imagine this has been the line of thinking at Trader Vic’s. Case in point: when Trader Vic’s returned to San Francisco in 2004 they tried to attract their same old fine dining audience by offering essentially the same menu of food and drinks (with some flavor tweaks for modern palates). Operation Modernize seemed mostly about the decor, which was simplified, more open and airy, and generically tropical (right down to the bizarre Latin music).

It didn’t work. I’d love to blame the loss of that old-style Polynesian Pop goodness, but that wasn’t really the problem; tiki buffs are not enough to keep Trader Vic’s afloat alone. The problem was that they updated the wrong thing. The competition for restaurant dollars was far too stiff. Extraordinary and world-renowned restaurants are liberally peppered throughout the city, and offered amazing meals for about the same price. Less expensive restaurants of every ethnic stripe bring the exotic within arm’s reach. Choosing to eat dinner at Trader Vic’s simply didn’t make sense.

But while Trader Vic’s has had some very obvious stumbles in recent years, it turns out it has not been for naught. They’ve been paying attention, they’ve been learning. They’ve realized that the big thing that needs to change, the one thing that needs updating, is the food. Not the taste, mind you: those Chinese ovens turn out some lovely meats. But the model. Smaller portions, less stodgy, less expensive, more… with it.

Carved panelA new carved panel sliding door for the Captain Cook room

They seem to have figured out that the old decor wasn’t repelling people, it was the old food. And if the decor wasn’t repelling people, why change it into something that definitely will repel the folks who do like you? So they seem to have knocked that off.

Here’s a simple example that demonstrates how this change of thinking manifests at Trader Vic’s Emeryville: the tables no longer have linen tablecloths. Does that seem like a shame? It’s not, trust me. You’re not going to miss that fussy, stiff, bland expanse of white on your table one bit, because you’ll be eating on gorgeous koa wood instead. The tables are new, but they look straight out of a great old golden-era Polynesian restaurant.

I have so much more to say… so, so much more. I’ll be back soon with lots of details about the food offerings, the drinks, and lots of great news about the decor. And plenty of photographs!

September 9, 2010

A Sneak Peek at the Renovated Trader Vic’s Emeryville

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 3:00 pm

Trader Vic’s in Emeryville is scheduled to reopen on September 28, but I’ll be getting a sneak preview today starting around 4 p.m., and of course I’m sharing it with you! I’ll be posting photos to my Twitter account (here’s a handy link straight to my Twittered photos on Twitpic), and I’ll have some nicer photos from a proper camera tomorrow. I’ll also share my impressions of the updated food menu.

Stay tuned to my Twitter feed!


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Humuhumu is the creator of several tiki websites. She is a designer and programmer based out of San Francisco.

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