Entries in the 'Trader Vic’s' 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:
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
June 26, 2007
Filed under: Los Angeles,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 1:51 pm
Now, there are so many really fantastic, interesting, awesome people who love tiki… but tiki is not immune from attracting the occasional nutjob.
It has already been widely reported that before (allegedly) killing Lana Clarkson, famed record producer and coiffure aficionado Phil Spector paid a visit to Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills, where he downed some Navy Grogs. He was apparently a bit of a regular there. When he made his way to Dan Tana’s later in the evening, he tried to order a Navy Grog there, too (I wish I could have seen the confused look on the bartenders’ faces).
But now comes this tiki-flavored contribution from The Smoking Gun, a postcard sent by Phil Spector last year to a friend:
This is a promotional still photo from a 1960s film (I always forget which one) — it’s a great photo, and accordingly it really makes the rounds. The Polynesian restaurant backdrop has been matted out here, but you can still see that they’re sipping out of a Kneeling Hula Girl bowl, like those once used at Trader Vic’s. The back of the postcard is on the crude side, so I won’t post it here, but you can check it out on The Smoking Gun if you wish.
Yes, tiki speaks to everyone, even the sociopathic and the mousse-addicted.
UPDATE: Great minds think alike — Beachbum Berry also just made a Phil Spector post, but his is more useful than mine… he expounds on the glorious Navy Grog, and even tells you how you can make your own. Play safe though, kids — guns & rum don’t mix.
May 5, 2007
Filed under: Dallas,Events,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 1:22 pm
Dallas Trader Vic’s
Dallas Trader Vic’s
Well, with all this sad news about Trader Vic’s lately, how about a little celebration of Trader Vic’s at its best? If you’re in the Dallas area, tonight’s your night. Well, any night is your night — you’re lucky enough to have what is possibly the most beautiful Trader Vic’s in the United States right in your town.
About 25 Texas-area tikiphiles are gathering at the Dallas Trader Vic’s tonight for drinks and dinner. They’re meeting in the bar at 5pm, and planning on dinner at 7pm. It’s a friendly bunch, and if you’ve been wanting to meet other tikiphiles in your area, this is a perfect opportunity. They’ve got a roll call going at Tiki Central to get a rough head-count, but don’t let that hold you back — there’s always room at the bar if the dinner table is full.
The Dallas Trader Vic’s is at the Hotel Palomar, at 5300 E. Mockingbird Lane.
May 2, 2007
Filed under: Los Angeles,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 5:04 pm
Entry at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s
This week’s closure of the Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills has caused widespread sadness — Trader Vic’s closure may have been quiet, but the reaction has not been. The reaction has ranged from sadness to anger, which I suppose is to be expected. But what was not expected was the classless way the closure happened — under cover of night, with an utter lack of pomp. Trader Vic’s deserved a full state funeral and a raging wake; instead, it was buried in a cardboard box under an unmarked grave. I’ve heard more than one person use the phrase “chicken-shit,” and that about sums it up for me, too.
(Speaking of “chicken-shit” — the “relocation” in the hotel is complete horse shit. Trader Vic’s knows it, the Beverly Hilton knows it, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows it. This will not be the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s. Period.)
What has happened to Trader Vic’s? They were once the masters of bridging the exotic with the elegant, now they are neither. They give no appearance of caring … and they conveniently don’t realize that if they’re going to drop everything else about Trader Vic’s, they’re going to have to drop their prices, too.
The new Trader Vic’s have all been disappointments: Palo Alto, San Francisco, Bellevue, Scottsdale, Destin… only Dallas is up to the previous Trader Vic’s standard, and that’s only because it had the good fortune of being hermetically sealed for 20 years. I haven’t heard from anyone who likes this new, bland Trader Vic’s better than the Trader Vic’s that made Trader Vic’s famous. There’s lots of apologizing on their behalf, lots of “well, at least I can get a good Mai Tai there” and “well, at least they’ve got some good tikis.” At least, at least, at least, ad nauseum. Yes, there’s a lot of “least” going on with Trader Vic’s these days.
Some of the apologizing comes in the form of remarks about how expensive it must be to decorate in the old style. I’m sorry — did bamboo suddenly become an expensive material? Is tapa cloth more expensive than the wallpapers they’re using? Would it kill them to choose a space with a ceiling that doesn’t feel like you’re in a conference center foyer? A location with a little intimacy? I don’t think their lighting budget is Home Depot-scale, and I know of several sources of really fantastic birdcage lamps, float lights and other more appropriate pieces that would easily fall within their budget. Forbidden Island was decorated with a budget that was undoubtedly only a fraction of the per-square-foot decorating cost of a new Trader Vic’s.
No, the Trader Vic’s are plain because they want them to be. I will never be able to wrap my head around that. When the new Trader Vic’s locations open, they spur a round of articles in the local press that invariably spend a lot of time enthusiastically describing the Trader Vic’s of old… with Trader Vic’s, their history is everything! Why on earth are they casting it aside? They certainly can’t keep up on the merits of their outdated and unspecial menu. Without the immersive environment and the drinks, Trader Vic’s is nothing to write home about.
The recent closure of the Chicago and Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s locations are seen as a massive loss by apparently everyone but the Trader Vic’s organization, which tries to spin it with pathetic-reading press releases about relocating, and no apparent thought to the loss of something they have actively demonstrated they are unable or unwilling to recreate. PR-shaped statements about respecting what the “loyal customers” love about Trader Vic’s ring quite hollow. They seem to think that the public will swallow anything with the Trader Vic’s name on it. They’ve completely lost touch with what makes them interesting and unique.
My enthusiasm for supporting Trader Vic’s is swiftly dwindling.
The Beverly Hills closure is the loss of a major jewel in the Trader Vic’s crown, which more and more is looking like it is made of tinfoil.
April 30, 2007
Filed under: Los Angeles,News,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 2:10 am
Beverly Hills Trader Vics
Breaking news from Atomikitty: The Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s last day of operation could very well be Tuesday, May 1.
I just finished up my bartending shift at Saints and Sinners, and one of my customers happened to be a bartender over at Trader Vics Beverly Hills. This person (who asked to not be named) told me that the staff has a ‘meeting’ tomorrow @ 10am, but as of now, the last day on the schedule is this Tuesday May 1st!
That certainly doesn’t bode well. It sounds as if the bartender was fairly convinced that this is the end for the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s. While it could be quite some time before any construction starts on the new tower at the Beverly Hilton, there’s nothing stopping them from shutting down the restaurant now. Doing so sooner rather than later lets them do it relatively quietly, and makes one of the arguments against this very unpopular development moot.
More updates as more information comes out (particularly after tomorrow’s meeting with staff), but it doesn’t look good — I’d suggest heading there tonight to pay final respects and get your last good Navy Grog.
UPDATE @ 11:55: Brain says in the comments:
Trader Vics is closed. Last night was the end.
If true, this morning’s meeting is likely all about final paychecks. Still waiting to hear confirmation, but it doesn’t look good. Stay tuned…
UPDATE @ 12:05: I just got off the phone with the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s. I spoke to a very flustered woman, who clearly didn’t know what she was supposed to say. When I asked if they were open, she said “no.” When I asked if they were closed forever, she became even more uncomfortable, and stammered out that they were closed “for renovations.” When I asked if it was still going to be Trader Vic’s, she hemmed and hawed and said something about the bar moving to the hotel, and that she didn’t know if it was still going to be Trader Vic’s. That sounds to me that after 50+ years, Trader Vic’s Beverly Hills is gone.
UPDATE @ 12:35: Eater LA has heard similar rumblings…
UPDATE @ 1:10: When Eater LA called Trader Vic’s, they got the same spiel, and were told that Trader Vic’s specialty cocktails will possibly be available at Circa 55, which is a newer restaurant near the pool.
If Trader Vic’s veteran bartenders decide to make the move to Circa 55, the drinks should still be pretty good, but if the bartenders decide they’re done with the Hilton, I’d guess the drinks would be iffy. Some of the Trader Vic’s bartenders have been there for a very, very long time, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of them opted to retire instead.
I would love it if some of the bartenders decided they’d like to semi-retire in the Bay Area and sling Mai Tais at the Palo Alto Trader Vic’s part-time, but I’m not holding my breath.
UPDATE @ 3:45: An eyewitness report from Tom Slick:
I just got back from Trader Vic’s, and I can confirm with authority they are no longer open to the public. I took a few photos, and was immediately sweated by the beverly hills hilton police as to why was I taking pictures. I told them I was an urban archeologist taking pictures of americas mid century architecture.haha, well they were very uneasy, and asked me to leave the property and to take pictures from the sidewalk. I asked if I were doing something wrong, and the suit told me not really, but the (get this!)owner doesn’t want anyone on Trader Vics property other than the people setting up a private party & private party invitees. I can only assume from this point that it is an employee farewell party.
I asked if I could come to dinner tomorrow night instead of tonight…”probably not”…..
The 2 black suits with ear pieces were guarding the entrance to Trader Vic’s. There WAS activity going on inside, and I did see toolkits. Setting up for a private party seemed to be legit, but the suit wasn’t saying who the party was for…I can only guess…
UPDATE @ 5:45: Eater LA has a press release from Trader Vic’s:
From the press release: “The new Trader Vic’s Lounge will be located next to the new Circa 55 restaurant and the Aqua Star pool area. The menu will feature Trader Vic’s signature drinks including the world-famous Mai Tai, invented by Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, the Scorpion Bowl and appetizer plates that are ideal for sharing with friends. … ‘We are pleased that the popularity of Trader Vic’s continues to grow around the globe,’ said Robert Davies, President and CEO of Trader Vic’s. ‘Our loyal patrons and hotel guests can be assured that while the atmosphere may be more casual, our new Beverly Hills offering will continue to reflect the finest of our company’s island-style service and culinary quality.’ ”
By “more casual” he must mean smaller and less, um, tiki. Sure, some of the decor will be moved over, but it’s still basically a renovated lounge filled with Trader Vic’s memorabilia. Nonetheless, the new lounge will reopen on May 3. We’re told GM Chai Rojana will still be running the show, and many of the bartenders will move to the new digs.
The word that the bartenders and GM are being retained is good, but contradicts what Atomikitty had heard — that the bartenders were worried about their ability to find new jobs. Eater LA is waiting to hear solid confirmation that indeed the highly-skilled bartenders — who should be treated as the treasures they are — have not lost their jobs. It would be shameful if they were given reason to suddenly worry about their livelihood.