Entries in the 'News' Category

November 21, 2010

Trader Vic’s Emeryville: Final Thoughts

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 8:51 pm

The bar at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

I’d wanted to continue my series on the newly refreshed Trader Vic’s Emeryville in September, but I found the offerings to be a swiftly moving target: the menus I’d had during the previews were still undergoing changes even after they opened, and some monkeying may still be happening. But I can’t sit on this forever! And my general, overall impressions of the new Trader Vic’s have gelled a bit.

For pictures of Trader Vic’s Emeryville’s new look, check out the entry in Critiki, which has pictures of the final decor, and this earlier Humu Kon Tiki post, which has preview pictures.

The Food
The word during the previews was that dining was going to be much less stuffy, and I’ve found this to be partly true. The lunch and bar menus are full of reasonably priced, delightful food options. The dinner menu, though, looks very much like it did before, and while the tablecloths are gone, the service is friendly but still rather formal.

There are several new items that I have fallen in love with. They appear on different menus, but it’s always worth asking your server if they may be available when and where you’re dining.

I absolutely adore the Edamame Ravioli. It’s a starter on the dinner menu; saucer-shaped homemade ravioli with bright, fresh flavors of edamame, mint and ricotta. It’s so delicate, and so good.

The Twice-Cooked Pork Sliders are excellent, and may be my favorite mid-size meal item. Slabs of pork with a hoisin-like sauce, served with fresh cucumber slivers on a soft, Asian roll. If you like the traditional Crispy Duck entree, you’ll love the Twice-Cooked Pork (much more than the crispy-in-the-wrong-way Crispy Duck Tacos). The Twice-Cooked Pork seems to be slipping around the menus, and the name Twice-Cooked Pork doesn’t really sell it: hopefully this item will become a mainstay, perhaps with a better name?

Vegans luck out with one of the best additions to the whole menu: Smoked Tofu and Seaweed Salad. Very flavorful, filling and fulfilling.

The Drinks

Gun Club Punch

I wish the drink news was as positive. The new additions have a too-sweet, too-chemical bent. If you love the drinks that are available in any tourist bar in Hawaii, you’ll love the new drinks at Trader Vic’s, but they’re just not for me. I’m unsure what the intent is with these new drinks. It could be that they’re giving people who are trying to recreate Hawaiian vacation memories exactly what they’re looking for. It could also be that the bar staff has had their hands tied with a limiting palette of ingredients to work with (they are using their own famously mediocre “Trader Vic’s” brand rums). Either way, it’s a mis-match with Trader Vic’s storied history, and with San Francisco’s current focus on high-quality cocktails.

There are some bright spots on the drink menu, though: plenty of old stand-bys are there, including the return of the from-scratch Mai Tai. For a long time now, Trader Vic’s has been using a mix, unless you specifically asked for a Mai Tai made from scratch (the locations varied a bit on how to do this, but in most locations “San Francisco style” meant scratch, while “the Old Way” meant with an extra rum float). Now, finally you can get a truly from-scratch Mai Tai with no fuss, no muss: it’s on the menu as the 1944 Mai Tai. It costs just one dollar more than the regular Mai Tai, a no-brainer upgrade. I still gravitate to my go-to Trader Vic’s drink, the Gun Club Punch, and have found it to be just as I remember it.

The Service
There are lots of new—and young—faces at Trader Vic’s these days. Despite the relative green-ness of these new Trader Vic’s employees, I would say they are by far the biggest improvement, and the reason I’m excited to go back. The service I’ve received has been simply stellar. Friendly, approachable, speedy and accommodating. They make dining a pleasure.

The dining room at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

The Ambience
The music! Oh, the music has been enchanting. Such a pleasant surprise. Lovely, midcentury Hawaiian… it sounds like someone has been busy with their vinyl collecting.

I wish I had a happier report on the televisions. I’ve been there when no one is watching them, and yet all three are on, casting their garish, inescapable light on all the patrons. The staff needs to learn to read the room, and get aggressive with the off button. The World Series is over.

There’s lots to be excited about in Emeryville, and it’s been a relief to everyone. The restaurant appears to be regularly packed with a great mix of old-timers and young folks, and the bar in particular has a life it has been missing for years. Stick to your old favorite drinks, look for new favorites on the food menu. Take some time to walk around and see the changes. If you haven’t already, make plans to get to Emeryville!

Trader Vic’s Emeryville Sneak Peek:

Related Links:

October 21, 2010

UPDATED: The Continuing Saga of San Francisco’s Tonga Room

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:26 pm
Tonga Room
Tonga Room, photo by Eric October, from Critiki

As most everyone and their mother has heard by now, one of the most beautiful, historic tiki bars in the world, San Francisco’s Tonga Room, is going to close sometime between, erm… now… and uh… never. My money’s on the time being something closer to the “now” end of that spectrum, I’m afraid. After many, many months of waiting and worrying, I think that the end times are finally here.

The short version: the Tonga Room is in the Fairmont Hotel, which is one of the higher-end hotels in a very high-end district of a generally high-end kind of a town. The hotel wants to be able to do a better job of handling very large conferences, and in order to do that they need to clear out a large, somewhat contiguous area within the hotel and turn it into a ballroom and series of meeting rooms that can be used flexibly. That, and they want to add condos. It’s the march of progress, folks, and I just don’t think it can be held back.

A lot of people have been working very hard to make the argument that the Tonga Room is historic and worth saving. It’s been a hard argument to make with the hotel folks—the hotel itself is historic, having been built in 1906, and they have not been terribly warm to the idea that this room full of ’60s relics is anything but an embarrassment. (The Tonga Room itself has been around longer than that—it went tiki relatively late in its life.)

But the preservationists’ work seems to have at least partially paid off… the city’s Historic Preservation Commission is due to recommend today that the artifacts be saved. I think everyone has given up on the idea of the room being preserved as-is, but at least the point is being made that the items within can’t just get sent to a junkyard. Now the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a “local restaurateur” has a letter of intent to purchase the items, and has a plan to move them to a new location. The identity of the restaurateur, and any other details, won’t be announced until the deal gets worked out completely… but the announcement could come at the commission meeting.

That’s as good as it’s going to get, folks. I can’t imagine the pool will be recreated—that pool represents an awful lot of square footage that could be seating—but hopefully the pieces will at least continue to be on display somewhere. Beyond the thorny pool/thunderstorm problem of relocating the Tonga Room, the pieces in that space are simply massive… it’ll take a very large space to hold them. Let’s hope that this mystery restaurateur has very deep pockets.

There’s been plenty of murmuring around town that this would be a perfect project for Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove, which… duh. And, yes please. I can’t imagine sinking the kind of money that would go into this venture and not including the tiki home run king. If Martin knows anything, though, he’s silent about it, which is par for the course. He’s famously good at keeping secrets. If nothing else, we owe Martin some thanks for showing that tiki can be great. A few short years ago, I don’t know that a restaurateur would have been interested in investing in tiki on this scale.

UPDATE 10/21 at 7:55pm:
Per KGO, at the meeting today the decision from the Planning Commission has been delayed until next year. There are “too many concerns,” not just the pleas from citizens to save the Tonga Room, but also issues spanning from job losses to neighborhood congestion. This would likely also put the brakes on any deal to relocate the Tonga Room.

UPDATE 10/22 at 1:47pm:
The mystery restaurateur has been revealed: Peter Scully, a Marina district nightclub owner and event promoter.

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!

August 21, 2010

Trader Vic’s Emeryville Is Hiring

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 10:05 am
Chinese Ovens at Trader Vic's in Emeryville
Chinese Ovens at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, photo by Coco Joe, via Critiki

Know your way around a Chinese Oven? Want to be part of the tiki action in the most traditional way possible? This could be your lucky day: Trader Vic’s is hiring for a whole mess o’ positions at the flagship location in Emeryville, which is due to reopen on September 23 after a remodel. When it comes to restaurant positions, you name it, they’re hiring for it: bartenders, servers, dishwashers, prep cooks, all the way up to an event manager, a floor supervisor, the lead hostess and even the restaurant manager.

The full details for these positions are helpfully listed on the Facebook page for Trader Vic’s Emeryville. There aren’t any instructions for applying, and since the restaurant is still closed you can’t drop in—perhaps try emailing tvemeryville@tradervics.com. UPDATE: Trader Vic’s tells me that the best place to send your resumes is hr@tradervics.com.


June 23, 2010

Remodel Underway at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 10:46 pm

A felled tiki (temporarily, one hopes) at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

The remodel of Trader Vic’s flagship location in Emeryville has begun, with the in-progress pictures posted to the Trader Vic’s Facebook page. I’ve heard the full spectrum of rumblings on this one, from dire to ecstatic, but the fact that they’re willing to show pictures of the process I think bodes well. (Also: some spectacular pieces were saved from the recently-shuttered vintage Dallas Trader Vic’s that we can probably expect to appear in Emeryville.)

Trader Vic’s Emeryville closed at the end of April for this planned renovation, and the restaurant is scheduled to re-open in late September. Top of my personal wishlist: please make the ceiling in the bar dark again!

October 4, 2008

WSJ Prints the Perfect Tiki Article

Filed under: Events,History,News,Perfect Tiki Bar,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 9:24 am
Forbidden Island, by John Lee/Aurora Select for The Wall Street Journal
Forbidden Island, by John Lee/Aurora Select for The Wall Street Journal

We’ve done this time & again… an initial rush at the news that a major publication has written up an article about this nutty tiki craze thing… followed by an immediate let-down that the article was sloppily researched, full of inaccuracies, misses the point, and doesn’t really understand that this isn’t just a tacky, ironic thing to us, that there’s real quality and history here.

But over the past year or two (going back perhaps not-so-coincidentally to about the time that Forbidden Island opened) these articles have been improving, both in the quality of their research, and in the authors’ ability to find a bit of true appreciation; they’ve been coming closer & closer to seeing what we see.

Today, finally, comes the zenith of Polynesian Pop journalism. You can tell right from the title, “Tiki Doesn’t Have to Be Tacky,” that this article isn’t going to be the same old quickie, filler, throwaway article that confuses or even damages the public perception of Tiki.

The impetus for the article is the upcoming annual San Francisco Tiki Crawl, but the article touches on much more than that — aside from giving mention to several Bay Area tiki hotspots, it also explores the very essence of Polynesian Pop. It points out the difference between good tiki and bad tiki (yes! yes! oh, thank you, yes!). The author, Eric Felten, even mentions something I’ve long held to be true — that while yesterday’s PolyPop escapism was about eschewing formality, today’s escapism is more about eschewing informality.

So, thank you Eric Felten, thank you Wall Street Journal, and thank you to anyone and everyone who helped him write this beauty. You’ve done us all a great service, and I’d like to buy you a drink.

August 4, 2008

Critiki Got a Makeover

Filed under: Critiki,News,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 7:44 pm
Critiki's New Look
Critiki’s New Look

I created Critiki way back in 2002, and while I’m pretty proud of how well the design stood up all these years, there was no denying that it was starting to look a bit dated. Plus, I have a lot more experience doing this stuff now, and all the little things I knew could be better bugged the heck out of me.

So, I finally took the time to sit down and redo the thing (there is a direct correlation between this and the absence of posts here during the past few weeks). Oh, man, it’s so much nicer to look at now. And nicer to use, too, I think.

Check out Critiki’s New Look

I literally cannot count the improvements I made, but most of them are on the back end, or are so subtle that you won’t notice them individually, but I hope that you can feel the improvements.

One improvement that is more obvious is how much easier it is now to browse through global destinations to find tiki in a given area. Instead of having to drill down all the way to obscure little towns and then back up again, now you can see the area on the Critiki Map as you browse, and it’ll tell you how many tiki locations are in the area.

Spain in Critiki
Spain in Critiki

Now that things are cleaned up a bit behind the scenes, I’ll be able to add some new features to Critiki. I have lots of ideas for new features, but what do you think? What do you wish Critiki could do?

February 20, 2008

Critiki Mobile

Filed under: Critiki,News,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 12:32 am
Critiki hits the road: Critiki Mobile
Critiki hits the road: Critiki Mobile

It’s not really quite finished — there are some more tweaks I want to make — but I think it’s close enough that I don’t feel right keeping it from the tiki-lovin’ travelin’ souls of the world.

Critiki Mobile: http://mobile.critiki.com

It’s primarily designed for the iPhone, because a) it’s a dead sexy piece of machinery, and b) it’s what I’ve got. My friend Rich helped me out by letting me poke around on his Treo, and it seems to work just dandy, but I haven’t a clue what issues might crop up on other devices.

It’s been a fun challenge as a designer and a UI programmer to create an interface that works in such a small space with limiting size and interaction constraints. I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to come up with. While he didn’t help me directly, I think I was able to channel some of the serious UI mojo of Hanford Lemoore. Anything I got right was likely inspired by my Hanford exposure, anything I got wrong is squarely on my shoulders.

Nearly everything you can do on the regular Critiki site, you can do on Critiki Mobile — you can search for tiki locations, read the descriptions, look at pictures, find other tiki places nearby, and of course you can take a gander at how locations have been rated. Now, you can even add your own critiki ratings while you’re still in the restaurant! Since it is a phone app, naturally dialing phone numbers takes just a touch, and it’s also hooked into the iPhone’s Google Maps app, which is just ridiculously convenient. Ooh de lally. It makes me want to hit the road.

I’ve also cleared a big ol’ backlog of wonderful photo submissions to Critiki over the past few months — easily a couple hundred new photos!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Critiki Mobile — as I mentioned, there are some tweaks I want to make (including some fantastic suggestions from my friend Jory), but I’d like to get feedback from a few users before I embark on some of the final fine-tuning. While the development will continue to be focused on the glorious, ovary-quaking iPhone experience, I’d also like to hear how it works (or more significantly, doesn’t work) on other mobile web-enabled devices.

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

- Website Design and Programming

- A Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

- Tiki Mugs & More: Track & View Collections




Arkiva Tropika
Mimi Payne’s massive Polynesian Pop collection

Barefoot Bloggin’
A surfin’, ukein’, freewheelin’ monkey boy

Beachbum Berry
Author of Grog Log and Intoxica!, and one of my dearest drinkin’ buddies

Blog from the user interface designer extraordinaire

Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

Dumb Angel
A look at the 1960s Los Angeles mod, pop, surf, and music scene

Eye of the Goof
Pop culture with a tiki tinge

Forbidden Island
My Wednesday hangout, the Bay Area’s best tiki bar

Humuhumu’s Life in Photos
Pictures of my adventures

I build websites

Junkyard Clubhouse
Random interesting things from Humuhumu & Hanford Lemoore

Kevin Kidney
Kevin loves tiki, I love Kevin, you will too

Tiki links galore

Mai Tai Online
Montreal-based tiki ‘zine

Tiki Mug Collection Organizer

The Jab
Follow the way of the jab

Tiki Bar TV
Public Access meets Modern Drunkard

Tiki Central
Community forums

Tiki Magazine
Periodical publication covering the wide world of Tiki

Tiki Talk
Hot Lava’s Tiki Blog