Trader Vics Emeryville, it’s not quite where it all started, but this is certainly the epicenter of the Trader Vic’s Tiki empire.
Seated at the bar or dining in the restaurant, the emphasis is on scintillating suppers and delightful drinks. Walking in between large Tiki statues, the diner is immediately greeted with a picture of Trader Vic himself, as well as a Mosaic portrait of the Trader. The decor is festooned with true classics of PolyPop decor, a signed sea turtle shell from World War II, fish traps and glass floats. The real prizes on the wall though are the original Leetegs, paintings from the premier tropical velvet painter, Ed Leeteg of Tahiti.
The drinks are all quite lovely, and virtually unchanged (well, a formula here and there) since the initial opening. If you want a real treat though, be sure to ask for a San Francisco Style Mai Tai. That’ll get you a Mai Tai made fresh, with no mix, though a little extra on the tip might be in order for the extra busy bartender. A true Mai Tai at a Trader vic’s is a thing of beauty, and worth the trip.
If you’re looking to recreate the feel of Trader vic’s Emeryville, well, don’t bet on it, unless you happen to have the Oakland bay conveniently handy. But you can get a glimpse of the drinks and food in Trader Vic’s Tiki Party!, a book authored with the support and coordination of the Trader Vic’s staff.
If you do get down there, a fun thing to do is scavenger hunt for a few items scattered here and there. Some of the trasures include the pot belly stove from Hinky Dink’s (what Trader Vics was prior to the great South Seas movement), the chair Queen Elizabeth II sat in during her visit (her first to a commercial restaurant!), and a few bottles of some very, very old booze that Vic used to play around with.
So next time you’re looking for another notch off of your book of tiki travels, be sure to think of Trader Vic’s Emeryville.
This is the last entry in the tour of the Bay Area for the Tiki Central Tiki Crawl. You can check out more pictures at this Photo Thread on Tiki Central. See you next crawl!
The Third stop on our crawl through the East Bay was the Kona Club on Piedmont Ave.
A few good hours were spent in this place, soaking in some of the most awesome decor I’ve seen in the “new wave” of tiki bars opened in the past decade. From the Tapa print entrance to the smoking volcano behind the bar, and even the signature Tiki mugs, this place spells tiki bar all the way from front to back.
The Kona Club was opened in 2005, just about a mile from the final resting place of Trader Vic. The owner, Doug Miller, has a few other places in his East Bay empire, each with at least a hint of tiki in the theme, such as the Club Mallard in Albany and Thalassa in Berkeley.
The decor is amazing, the drinks, not so much, but they do come in a signature mug that, if asked nicely, can become a part of your collection. The decor was an effort between Bamboo Ben (who also built Forbidden Island), and Crazy Al Evans, and features some of the most unique items I’ve ever seen, including a Volcano that erupts with smoke periodically, a lifesize hula lamp, and some great south seas shell art near the back.
And of course, being in Oakland, we were subject to a familiar local attraction, the Drive by! Thanks to whatever that it was just an airsoft gun, I understand real bullets hurt a helluva lot more.
The next and final stop, Trader Vic’s Emeryville, is coming up! Wish I were still there!
Over on College, just above Rustica sits the Conga Room, a real urban paradise. They offer porch seating, lovely punchy libations, and some of the best bar bites, including Rustica’s famous pizza.
The Conga Room has been around for about for years now, having opened in 2003. The owners had some tiki dreams, and seeing the excitement of the crowds and heavy concentration of Tikiphiles on Tikicentral, decided to move forward in developing a new watering hole for the thirsty of the East Bay.
The decor is as packed with paraphernalia as a tiki bar should be, though a few sombreros on the walls can distract from the PolyPop. Some may be appalled, blaming the influence of the Tijuana Brass on stealing the limelight of paradise away from Tiki. However, kept in cultural kitsch these kooky collectibles are quite the classic.
At the Conga Lounge, Exotica plays over the loudspeakers, and a TV shows constant clips of tropical locales, and tiki or Hawaiiana based shorts and films. There’s even room (well, not really, but don’t tell Mike) for a DJ to mix up a few beats from Martin Denny and Les baxter.
It’s a lovely place I look forward to going back to every year.
Sunday brought us into the East Bay, home of the Original Trader Vic’s, now an empty parking lot at 6500 San Pablo Ave in Oakland, CA. This was where the Magic happened, transforming a little rib shack called Hinky Dinks into the international Marvel it was then, and still is today.
There’s plenty of time to chat about Vic’s later though, for right now, we’re at a place I think I’ve chatted a time or two, Forbidden Island.
Opened in 2006 by Martin Cate and the folks behind the Conga Lounge, Forbidden Island is a vision to the tikiphile. Envisioned by Martin and built by Bamboo Ben, this is a PolyPop connoisseur’s delight of tropical drinks in tride and true fashion, with boundless decor and enthusiastic staff. Of course, if you drop in and miss out on the big lug what started it all, you’ll have to come back again to pick his rather impressive brain. Forbidden Island now features the Kill-Devil club, with a list of over 90 rums to sample. Have them all and your name goes on a bronze plaque on the wall, and no, you can’t play catch up at home.
Forbidden Island regularly holds fun events inside and in the parking lot, home of the giant Ku Bar. Whether it is a classic car show, the grand unveiling of a new Tiki Mug, or the Forbidden Island parking lot sale, chances are you’ll be dropping in on something exciting happening.
I know the first thing on my mind when I stopped in was the signature Forbidden Island. Probably the only recipe that hasn’t been printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, this is a Spicy and mysterious that keeps you coming back for more. It also is available in the Forbidden Island signature mug, based on the big Forbidden Island Tiki carved by Tiki Diablo.
Down to the music in the jukebox, every detail is down pat. My hat’s off to Martin, for opening the place I wish I would have but probably never could pull off, you magnificent bastard.
The second stop on our San Francisco trip is the sweet and petite Bamboo Hut on Broadway. The Bamboo Hut is unassuming from the outside, seated between a few adult DVD stores, but once inside the Tikis realy stand out, as well as a few poles, Lauhala matting, and puffer fish scattered about.
Volcano Bowls are regularly brought down from the shelf for excited patrons, ready to share a drink with a few friends (or sneaky strangers with excessively long straws). The Bamboo Hut serves a decent amount of Tiki Themed Drinks (though note, I did not say decent drinks), with their signature being finger-lit Volcano bowl. If you don’t know the finger trick, well, let’s just say learn the ways of 151 from a pro before attempting at home. Bad things can happen .
The Bamboo Hut is the end of the Tiki Adventure on Friday night, and tomorrow brings us to Forbidden Island and a few more East bay drinking spots.