Entries in the 'San Francisco' Category
November 21, 2010
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 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.
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.
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 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:
October 21, 2010
Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:26 pm
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
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
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
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
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 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).
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:
September 11, 2010
Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 4:56 pm
Looking 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.
A 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
August 21, 2010
Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 10:05 am
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 email@example.com. UPDATE: Trader Vic’s tells me that the best place to send your resumes is firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 23, 2010
May 9, 2010
Filed under: Events,Los Angeles,People,San Francisco,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 8:48 pm
This tiki carved by Jungle Trader from a design by Doug Horne will be auctioned at the NorCal benefit for Marie King
Marie King, much-beloved bar manager at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, and a very dear friend to many in the tiki community, was injured badly in an automobile accident recently. She’s likely to make a complete recovery, but it’s not going to be easy–she’s a bit more battered and broken than we like to see our friends, and she’s dealing with incredible pain.
In the hopes of easing the financial pains, her friends are rallying behind her in the form of two benefits, in both Southern and Northern California:
Northern California Benefit for Marie King
Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m.
Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, Alameda
Meshugga Beach Party, the TomorrowMen, raffle, silent auction and a special Marie Cocktail.
Southern California Benefit for Marie King
Sunday, May 30, 2 p.m.
Don the Beachcomber, Huntington Beach
$25 donation gets you a wristband for discounted food & drinks. The Tikiyaki Orchestra, The Eliminators, The Smokin’ Menehunes, The Glasgow Tiki Shakers, OuterWave, The Boardwalkers, Exotiki, The Slacktones, raffle and a silent auction.
July 6, 2008
Filed under: Events,San Francisco,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 5:37 pm
Tiki Central’s Tiki Crawl 8
Save the date! The eighth annual San Francisco Tiki Crawl is happening October 9-12, 2008. Full details haven’t been announced, but the website has been launched with a basic outline (South Bay on Thursday, San Francisco on Friday, East Bay on Saturday, Forbidden Island revisit on Sunday).
San Francisco is unique in its density of great tiki locations, and this annual event is also unique in that it’s the only official event for Tiki Central. If you haven’t seen all the great tiki San Francisco has to offer (or if you have, but you’re due for a refresher), this is a very fun way to pack it all in.
The official event hotel is the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco — it’s a very fun hotel, and I encourage you to get reservations sooner rather than later.
April 20, 2007
Filed under: Events,Music,San Francisco,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:17 pm
The best thing to happen in the world of tiki during the last year is Forbidden Island. It’s shown how tiki should, and can be done. It has set the standard for new tiki bars. Where most new tiki bars out there have struggled to survive (as all bars do — starting a new business is never easy), Forbidden Island has found tremendous success, for one straightforward but often overlooked reason: attention to quality. From the interiors to the drinks to the music to the service, nothing has been overlooked, and it has paid off with national reknown, glowing write-ups and a lot of customer loyalty.
This Sunday, Forbidden Island will have been open for one year. It feels like it’s always been there, and we should be celebrating its fifth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth anniversary, but it’s only been a year. May there be many, many more. Congratulations!
The party this Sunday is going to be a real humdinger — a passel of tikiphiles are coming up from southern California, which is always a treat. There will be live performances by:
- The Maikai Gents
- Meshugga Beach Party
- The Atomic Lounge Show
- Cari Lee & the Saddle-ites
- Apocalypso Now
… plus The Jab will be DJing.
- Tiki Diablo
- Jungle Trader
- Retro Diva
- Tiki Hunter
Forbidden Island Skull Mug,
… plus, a brand new Forbidden Island mug, from Munktiki — a special two-tone skull. It goes on sale at 2 p.m., for details on how the mug sale works, check out this thread on Tiki Central.
It’s all happening this Sunday, rain or shine (there will be tents & heaters, if neccessary, and delicious rum makes it all just fine anyhow). There will be a taco truck, too, from Alameda’s beloved La Pinata restaurant. It starts at 2pm. I’ll be helping out serving Mai Tais at the beginning of the day, be sure to come by and say hi!
Forbidden Island One Year Anniversary
2pm ’til close, Sunday April 22
1304 Lincoln Ave