A Mighty Roar for the “Mai Tai Roa Ae!”

Written By: Tipsy Table - Sep• 27•14
Trader Vic's Closing Night June 21, 1991

Trader Vic’s Closing Night June 21, 1991

Most of us keep fond memories of grand openings of one kind or another, and we have a few. Conversely, we were remembering a sad closing, that of the Trader Vic’s restaurant in Seattle on June 21, 1991. Although, a special closing event was held the following night for city celebs and officials who had haunted the place, this Friday night was the last occasion of business as usual. It happened on short notice with little hoopla, simply a final night in a very popular local place. Friends called to inform us of this occasion and we met them after work, somehow finding a booth near the entry. Word spread and the place was full. We ordered drinks and plates of the faux pupus that this fascinating specialty restaurant had fashioned as an early example of fusian cuisine.

TV diffuse glow

Trader Vic’s shakers

With friends we spent this summer solstice, the longest day of the year, in the darkest bar in Seattle. We all enjoyed this final night at our admired restaurant, and looking back we much appreciate the opportunity we had to say goodbye. Our Trader Vic’s Tiki salt and pepper shakers are among our most treasured collectibles.

Trader Vic’s started as Hinky Dink’s in Oakland in 1934, changing its name to Trader Vic’s several years later, a name suggested by Victor’s wife because of his ability to trade and cut deals. In 1941, Herb Caen, journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle , wrote in his popular column that “the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland.” This restaurant, which helped to start the faux South Sea Island tiki-themed craze in this country, gained early popularity and soon branched out to other cities.

According to Wikipedia: In Māori mythology, Tiki is the first man, created by either Tūmatauenga or Tāne. He found the first woman, Marikoriko, in a pond; she seduced him and he became the father of Hine-kau-ataata. By extension, a tiki is a large wooden carving in humanoid form, although this is a somewhat archaic usage in the Māori language. Carvings similar to tikis are found in most Central Eastern Polynesian cultures. They often serve to mark the boundaries of sacred or significant sites.

Trader Vic’s website lists its second venue opened 1940 in Seattle. Local articles refer to the restaurant opening in Seattle in 1948, and we do know there were several locations in this first franchise city. The final spot, and most popular, was the large and dramatic venue at the base of the new Westin Hotel tower that opened in 1969, that being the place we helped close.

Mai Tai ToastIn our recollections of this great restaurant and its imaginative contributions to food and drink, it came to our attention that Friday, September 26, 2014 was the 70th anniversary of Victor Bergeron’s creation of the famous Mai Tai® cocktail.

Victor says of this invention, that it was thrown together quickly and had instant approval.

Let’s get the record straight…I originated the Mai Tai.

In 1944, after success with several exotic rum drinks, I felt a new drink was needed. I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamaican J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after.

Half the lime shell went in for color … I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Taihiti, who were there that night.

Carrie took one sip and said, “Mai Tai – Roa Ae.” In Tahitian this means “Out of this World – The Best”. Well, that was that. I named the drink “Mai Tai.”

Victor Bergeron

Later Victor exported the drink to Hawaii, where it found an enthusiastic home that helped it take off as a global cocktail. Though concocted in Oakland, the drink seemed as Polynesian authentic as trade winds and surf. We recall that, even a pre-mixed attempt in a plastic glass, the drink added greatly to the experience of a flight to Honolulu. By the 1960s, this syrupy drink was among the most popular specialty cocktails in the world. Trader Vic’s website boasts that even now, more than two million Mai Tais® are sold annually at their venues still operating in this and other countries. The company makes it easy to get the ingredients for their original recipe for this drink at the following link:Mai Tai


We at Tipsy Table join the world in saluting the mighty Mai Tai®, the popular drink built by Vic in his place in Oakland in 1944 and trademarked as “Paradise in a Glass®.” An upcoming post will be our recollection of another Trader Vic’s iconic invention, but for now, although a day late, we passionately raise a glass to the Mai Tai ®, with the original toast “Mai Tai – Roa Ae”.



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