Save Trader Vics!
Have you ever been to Trader Vics London?
If you haven’t, you really should, and soon, as it is earmarked for closure on New Years Eve 2022, ending a legacy just shy of its 60th anniversary.
Plans are afoot to save the uniquely styled tropical themed restaurant and bar by a committed group of tiki enthusiasts who have lobbied to have to space independently listed and protected as a place of unique cultural interest.
So, why should we care about a 60-year-old bar? Well, firstly there is the interior design and artifacts within the restaurant, which is located in the basement of The Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London. These rare examples of Polynesian culture aren’t simply ‘props’ these are genuine hand-crafted pieces from indigenous people which, once lost can never be replicated, everything from the tapa wallcoverings woven in Tonga to the 30 carved Tiki poles which were carved by artist Halo Leon in Tahiti
Halo Leon with one of the Tiki Poles he carved for Trader Vic's
Such a huge concentration of original Polynesian art in one space is totally unprecedented for a bar and restaurants fixtures and fittings, and only previously seen in this quantity in a museum setting such as The De Young Museum in San Francisco. Trader Vic’s were and are about the authentic appreciation and preservation of Polynesian style. The company continues to have strong ties with the communities it plays homage to organising charitable fundraising and events, this is not a case of cultural appropriation, it is more cultural preservation.
Secondly, the phenomenon of ‘Tiki Bars’ originated in the early part of the 20th Century in the USA and was mostly a back yard affair, until Don the Beachcomber opened his first Tiki Bar in 1933, after visiting the South Pacific and coinciding with the abolishment of prohibition. Within three years there were 150 Polynesian themed restaurants in the USA. In 1934, Victor J Bergeron (Trader Vic) a California born founder of a multimillion-dollar food and drink empire opened his first bar in Oakland California, a skilled mixologist he invented the most infamous of the exotic cocktails – the Mai Tai.
By the time USA troops returned from their South Pacific bases and Hawaii became a US state in 1959 Tiki was everywhere, influencing architecture, music, films, even fashion, it became a holiday destination due to the popularity of films such as Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii and South Pacific.
In a land full of thousands of Tiki Bars, Trader Vic’s had the reputation for being a luxury experience, attracting high profile visitors, Bergeron first partnered with Hilton Hotels in 1955, opening the London bar in 1963. The guest book in the London branch is full of famous names including regulars such as Charlie Chaplin, Pete Townshend, Debbie Reynolds, Lucille Ball. Such was the success here in the UK, Trader Vic’s even inspired the chain of holiday camps, Butlins to have their own Beachcomber Bars across the country for those that couldn’t afford the visit to London, they could experience tropical delights in seaside towns. When you visit this bar you are being transported back to 1960s pop culture, where else can you do that?
Sadly, when there is a boom, there is always a bust, by the late 70s and 80s the Tiki scene and their bars and restaurants fell out of favour. Thousands have been converted or worst demolished across the USA, which brings us back to Blighty, which astonishingly is now the oldest and the longest continuously running Trader Vic’s branch in the world, which is exactly WHY it should be preserved.
“The first Executive Assistant Manager for the hotel, Douglas Gordon, who was there at the opening night of the restaurant confirmed that the Trader Vic’s we see today is essentially as it was on that first night when Conrad Hilton attended the opening with his former wife Zsa Zsa Gabor”. Annika Nickson - Save Trader Vics London.
Thirdly, and you will know if you have been to the bar that not only is it an exquisite example of mid century themed interior design, but it has an amazing atmosphere. It is not at all stuffy, it is exactly what it set out to be – FUN! A great place to meet with friends and have a fantastic cocktail in one of Trader Vic’s original tiki mugs, designed for the chain and highly collectable in their own right.
What can you do to save this restaurant from the sad fate of demolition to be replaced with mediocrity? After all we don’t need anymore homogenous grey, mirrored bars, we need fun, we need whimsy, we need Trader Vic’s and once it is gone, it is gone……
If you can, vote with your feet and please visit the bar from now until the end of the month, leaving a review on Trip Advisor. You can also visit the campaign website and Instagram page to find out how you can help to protect this rare restaurant and sign the petition for it not to be closed at all.
Help save this icon, its the last chance....