Summer of Rum: Trader Vic’s Atlanta

If it is going to be the Summer of Rum then there must be a new tiki bar visit. So, a trip to Trader Vic’s Atlanta was in order!

Our summer travels this year included a visit to Gatlinburg, TN (a region that does NOT have anything close to a Tiki Bar). We decided to make a stop over in Atlanta on our way north to visit one of the last remaining Original Trader Vic’s locations (we visited the oldest remaining Vic’s in London last September – read about it here).

If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance you already know that Victor Bergeron invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland… so I will skip that history lesson. What I will say quickly is that Vic was definitely an innovator, creating possibly the first chain of themed restaurants in the U.S. During the rise of Tiki popularity in the 50s and 60s he grew to as many as 25 Trader Vic’s locations worldwide.

As the popularity of Tiki started to decrease into the 70s and 80s, the restaurants started to close their doors. Vic passed away in 1984 but there are 5 remaining Trader Vic’s locations from his lifetime… the aforementioned London location (the oldest), one in Munich, the flagship in Emeryville (took over for the 1934 original in Oakland in 1972), a location in Tokyo and our current location of interest, the Atlanta location, which opened in the Atlanta Hilton in 1976.

Like London, the location is in the basement… meant to keep with Vic’s vision of “escapism”. There are only certain elevators that head down to that level and it is a great experience to board from a busy lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel and, when the doors open 1 floor below, feel as if you’ve been transported. Plenty of bamboo and tikis welcome you as you enter the location.

Different than most of my Tiki Adventures, this visit included my two sons (7 and 9) so sitting at the bar was not as much of an option. We were welcomed by the staff and brought to a nice table right in the center of the first room. Something to note about Vic’s in Atlanta is that it is HUGE! There are multiple rooms throughout the area, however the way it is set up makes it feel like a small, intimate space. In the middle of all the rooms you can view the two HUGE Chinese ovens.

We had a warm welcome by the waitstaff and GM Maurice. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with Maurice. He has a long history with the Atlanta Hilton and a passion for Vic’s. He appreciates the original décor and his goal, as hard as it is to upkeep, is to try to keep things as original as possible. Him and his team were wonderful hosts for our entire visit, and they had a focus on my boys, which, any parent knows, is very appreciated.

Everyone ordered drinks, mocktails for the boys. I ordered the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and Mrs. Trader ordered the Navy Grog. Here is where I’ll say that the Mai Tai was “fine”… but it was far from the best I’ve ever had. They use the Trader Vic’s branded mix… which I don’t know if I can blame them for… but fresh ingredients are always better and it is disappointing to see the “home of the mai tai” not stay true to Vic’s original recipe.

However, the Navy Grog was extremely delightful and the boys LOVE their Kona Cooler mocktails. They were excited that they were served in the Mai Tai style glasses (just like Mom and Dad). The Kona Coolers earned the rare Double Junior Coco Thumbs Up!

Mrs. Trader recommends the Navy Grog (Grog usually being her preferred tiki drink). She said it was very well balanced and the rum is not hidden.

I will now take a moment to say this… the food was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and all the good words! Everything we had was fantastic and if you’re looking for a great meal among Tiki history then head over there. Maurice started us with an amazing Cosmo Tidbits pupu platter and I couldn’t pick my favorite if you forced me to. Junior Trader 1 tried everything on it and loved it all… really digging the crab rangoon (a first time food for him). Junior Trader 2, less adventurous, recommends the bread with homemade peanut butter (claiming it also deserved a #cocothumbsup).

For main courses I ordered the Massaman Chicken Curry and Mrs. Trader went with the Signature Wood-Fire Chinese oven Filet. The curry was very good and came with this fun side-dish of “extra” so you were able to add whatever you like to your dish, however NOTHING could compete with the filet. It was tender and full of flavor! Once again, all the “good words” for food. I’m not sure that I know enough about the culinary arts to tell you what these Chinese ovens do differently to beef, however, whatever it is, it is WONERFUL.

The boys also enjoyed their meals and, I want to give another kudos to Trader Vic’s in that their children’s menu is not the standard chicken fingers and cheeseburgers. We like our boys to branch out when they can and they were able to a little with Vic’s menu. Junior Trader 1 went with the strip loin and Junior Trader 2 did the General Tao’s Chicken (without the sauce).

To cap off our meal, Mauice had mentioned a new Hot Buttered Rum recipe was coming to the menu soon so I had to give it a go… full on with fired overproof rum running down the skull mug. And, while we were playing with fire, the Junior Traders got their first Bananas Foster experience. It is hard to not be impressed by dessert prepared fireside with fire! The boys were invited to “help” in the foster experience and, as you can see, were blown away by their first time!

Overall, I would give our Trader Vic’s Atlanta experience two thumbs up… while the mai tai came up a bit short for me, everything else was outstanding! Maurice and his team were top notch and the food was definitely something to write home about. Somewhere I read that at its height Trader Vic’s was considered the best restaurant in the nation. Vic, while bring Tiki pop and Tiki drinks into our lives, he also invented Asian Fusion. That notion is evident in the food at Trader Vic’s Atlanta and there is plenty of hospitality to go with it. I hope that it continues to live on, bringing Vic’s legacy to future generations.

Summer of Rum: Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet then give it a quick read.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, the Summer of Rum was getting ramped up as the call came in for Trader Jay to take his show on the road! Our friends, Stacy and Eric, were hosting us for Memorial Day Boat Fun and BBQ and asked if Trader Jay could mix up Mai Tais and, just like that, the Trader Jay Pop Up was born! With fresh juiced lime, rum and all the fixin’s we had a day of Mai Tais and fun.

The next big event came in the form of End of School Pool Party Extravaganza! Without getting too much into the weeds, we had a never-ending pool/porch rehab project that just kept being delayed for one reason or another. It FINALLY came to completion on the last day of school for the Little Traders. There was lots of swimming and plenty of tiki drink fun (some with fire) for parents as well as a “carefully crafted” kid-friendly tiki punch for the kiddos that was consumed to the very last drop (mix some guava/pineapple juice with some sprite and sparkling apple juice and you will have some happy Keiki).

Over the next few weeks some new rums made their way into Trader Jay’s (including Foursquare Premise and my sought after Abuelo Tawny Port, both Father’s Day gifts). Also, Salty Joel and I did some tasting of the Appleton Estate 21 year (maybe my new favorite “exclusive style” rum – the oak SHINES and you feel the age on your tongue). And while not yet making a permanent home at the Trader’s, El Dorado 21 made a guest appearance via Dr. Cocktail Carter. I think, if forced to pick, I’d give the Appleton 21 the slight edge but it might just be in my head since I seem to prefer Jamaican rum. The El Dorado was also a great sipper that is a little easier to come across in Central Florida.

I was very fortunate, through a new “rum friend”, to have the opportunity to obtain Giffard Orgeat (as well as many other syrups for experimenting). So I must give a shout out to Rum Master Eddie for providing the bar with more options. (Which means the menu might go beyond 2 pages soon!) Eddie has also made me realize that I have some rum collecting catching up to do as he is the proud owner of over 100 different bottles (I’m at around 45ish).

Finally, we capped off “Part 2” with yet another visit to our wonderful friends at Strong Water. (Have you still not read about it? Do so here! Have you still not visited? GO NOW!) Dr. Cocktail and his wonderful wife joined us on the adventure.

Rum Captain Brad was manning the helm once again with Admiral Fernado close at hand! They had us set up at the bar (which, if you’re a long time reader, you know that the bar is our preference). We had some wonderful tastings including Facundo Eximo (a 10 year-ish blend which I actually prefer over the Paraiso and the Exquisito… which we also tried). I was also fortunate to try some Ron Barcelo Imperial 30th Anniversary (careful, the wood bottom is not permanently attached, Captain Brad). While the Barcelo 30th has the number 30 on it, it seems that it is aged for 10 years but, as it indicates, celebrates the 30th anniversary of the distillery. It is a Domican Republic rum and is a great sipper… not as deep as the Appleton 21 or El Dorado but smooth. It went down really easy with hints of toffee, nutmeg and caramel.

While tasting is all well and good, the food that came was amazing and Brad mixed up some amazing drinks! It was decided by Stacy that the grog must go on Trader Jay’s winter menu. Brad also made me a variation on a Negroni… with some kind of magical Guavaberry liqueur. I am not a negroni fan and this was extremely delightful!

Finally, as we were treated to an amazing Tres Leches cake the size of your head, we did a little sampling of Ron del Barrilito from Puerto Rico. We were able to try the two star, three star and overproof (with Admiral Fernando promising the five star in the near future).

Another amazing evening at Strong Water. I know I have said it many times but it really is a gem! We are so thrilled that our friends Kim and Rum Runner Steve introduced us and the amazing, customer-centric service will keep us returning. I cannot say enough good things about Brad and Fernando (when you go, ask for them, you won’t be disappointed). Those crazy fools even let me hold a bottle of Black Tot (not taste, just hold… and smell… so, ya know, getting closer).

The Summer of Rum will probably move on… we will see if a Part three is warranted. Until then… Drink Up Me Hearties!

Fully Escape to Laki Kane London

Where do I even start to share our Laki Kane experience? It is almost beyond words but I will try to do it justice…

I will be 100% honest that there was a split moment in time that we didn’t want to leave London City Center however, in hind site, the 20 minute tube ride and 8 minute walk was WELL WORTH the effort… even in the rain.  We were greeted with an extremely warm welcome by Georgi Radev, Creative Director for Laki Kane and other amazing members of the team. (As a side note, I want to apologize to the Laki Kane team because I am horrible with names and wasn’t able to remember everyone… but know you all offered first class hospitality.)

The entrance, like many great tiki bars, is unassuming.  It looks like a storefront, however, different than others, you can see inside… possibly a ploy to lure guests into the tropical paradise?  Then, as you entered, there is a covering on the windows that almost mask the outside as a island/ocean view. As we walked to our seats at the bar, Georgi provided a tour of his escape.  He spoke with such love and passion… much like I start to speak when talking about my small DIY Tiki Bar.  The tables and decor aren’t just “there”, there is a purpose to them with each section of tables representing a different tropical escape (The Caribbean, Thailand, Polynesia and Indonesia).

As we sat were we welcoming (again) by the attentive bar team and offered a wonderful mint and lime welcome drink.  It was light and aromatic and the perfect precursor as we indulged in our menus.

In true Trader Jay fashion, I have to start with the eponymous drink, so I asked for a Laki Kane (Lucky Sugarcane).  Mrs. Trader started with a recommendation from Georgi, the Guinness Punch in Manhattan. The Laki Kane was very light, and fruity but not too sweet. It blended coconut water with passion fruit and rum. It was a great compliment to the Guinness Punch in Manhattan… this drink was deep, complex… a work of art.  It took the classic Jamaican Guinness Punch and added the sophistication of a Manhattan for a regal drink.

With our first drinks in hand, Georgi whisked us upstairs to show us something new they were almost ready to roll out upstairs… the Spiced Dry Rum Club.  It is truly an experience I’ve never seen and am a little sad that I wasn’t able to partake. During the 2 and a half hour experience you sit at your own pot still, learn all about the history of rum whilst distilling and creating your own a bottle of flavored rum to bring home!  Then, your recipe is saved into their database so, at any point, you can re-order your rum.  (Georgi, how do you feel about starting one of these in the U.S.?)

After our extended tour we returned to the bar and continued to explore and enjoy the menu.  We had some food and it was all delicious, but we came for the drinks… Here are the others that we enjoyed:

  • The Mahi Mahi (Trader Jay): The bar team seemed to agree that this was one of their favorite drinks.  The layering and coloring was SPOT ON… just like a mahi mahi fish.  The drink was good as well, a nice overproof rum with fresh fruits and even some tangerine sherbet shaken in.
  • Southern Lights (Mrs. Trader): This drink featured one of Mrs. Trader’s Favorites… Bombay Gin.  This fresh drink featured star fruit (carambola) juice… something that you rarely see. It was the right level of sweet and tart. The bonus was that it comes with a souvenir Laki Kane tiki necklace! SCORE!!!

  • The Rita Hayworth (Mrs. Trader): This is Laki Kane’s take on a Margarita. It has the key flavors of a marg but with some additional feel.  The pineapple is a nice touch as well as the Blood Orange (Solerno) liquor replacing triple sec. The Morano glass vessel is beautiful and the fired lemon on top gives it an aromatic edge.

  • The Pin-Up Zombie (Trader Jay): This one was my favorite for Multiple Reasons…
    • I love “Rum Forward” drinks where the rum is 100% the star
    • Who doesn’t love a drink on FIRE?!
    • I enjoy the fact that, as Georgi put it, that they like to take some of the classics and put their own spin on it. With the Pin-Up Zombie there is a hint of “pine”… yes, I said PINE.  It is so subtle but gives it that different ending that makes you think “what was that? I liked it!”
    • I am a sucker for an amazing Tiki Mug and this is one of my new favorites! There are plenty of Zombie mugs out in the world… I enjoy my Shrunken Head from Trader Sam’s… however I have yet to see a female zombie. The design is beautiful and unique and I’m thrilled that I was able to bring her home in 1 piece. (Georgi explained that they have a local artist design all their mugs and I thought that was remarkable… there were many great designs and I’m thrilled that I was able to bring home two!)

  • Tropical Fever (Trader Jay): This is probably the most “out there” drink I have had in a long time and it, like the rest, was amazing and wonderful.  It is a take on “High Tea” but mixed with the caramel tea is rum, maple syrup, grapefruit juice and… wait for it… peanut butter!  Yes, PEANUT BUTTER!  And, if you are a fan of it like myself then it is the tiki drink you have dreamt of.  It even has a dry ice component so that “steam” is released from the teapot it is served in.

Before I wrap I want to point out some other things that took the Laki Kane experience to the next level…

They use either Bamboo or Pasta straws!!!  While I don’t agree with the whole “if we stop using plastic straws then they world will be saved” movement, I can appreciate people trying to limit the waste. What I cannot appreciate is a paper straw!  So hats off to Laki Kane using pasta! It is for sure more expensive but a much better alternative than paper.

The garnish game was top notch! They opt for all natural garnishes instead of plastic stirrers and toys… while I love me a good stirrer, these drink toppers kept with the fresh ingredient theme and were just as fun, beautiful and creative.

Finally, the table “doorbell”… this is not an original idea but I like the thought process. Each table has a device that both says who the table is reserved for as well as can be used to call your server when you need a new drink. This is especially helpful on a crowded Friday or Saturday evening. Since we sat at the bar we didn’t need one but nice to see that one was ready for us!

In parting can I just say that Laki Kane is a MUST visit! Everything about it is FIVE STARS, 10 out of 10, two CocoThumbsUp! The decor is wonderful and thoughtful, every drink we had was better than the last and, most important, the staff was amazingly hospitable and top of their class!!! Keep it up, Laki Kane Team, I cannot wait to find a reason to return!!!

Tiki Mothership: The Mai Kai

Not sure what I can say about the Mai Kai that hasn’t already been said so I’ll just share my most recent experience…

We made the pilgrimage down there this past Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Where better for the Trader to celebrate? My wife, sons, parents and sister all join me on the voyage… it would be all of their first times enjoying dinner and the show.

Before I get into my experience, here is a very brief history of The Mai Kai…

The Mai-Kai opened to the public on December 28, 1956, in Ft. Lauderdale and is one of the few “Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki” still in operation today. In 2015 it was named the “best tiki bar in the world” by Critiki, an organization of fans of Polynesian pop culture. It is the last restaurant/bar in existence carrying on the traditions of service and serving the original drink recipes of Don the Beachcomber’s, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (For more history, check out Wikipedia.)

There are a lot of amazing details about The Mai Kai and one of my favorites is how they transport you to Polynesia from the second you turn in. They have a loose board bridge that rattles under your car… helping you to forget US 1 behind you and teleport to Tiki heaven.

After handing our car over to the valet we headed in to the Molokai Bar. It was happy hour so we wanted to grab a half price drink before dinner (Trader Jay recommendation). I opted for my favorite Mai Kai elixir… The Barrel O’ Rum, a Mai Kai staple.  The menu describes it as a drink loved by smugglers, pirates and rum runners, it is bold, big and rightfully smooth.  The recipe (like most Mai Kai drinks) is secret… in the tradition of Don, they mix all their drinks “backstage” to keep their recipes secret. My wife ordered a Hukilau, which is the official drink of the annual tiki festival hosted by the Mai Kai. They even make some fantastic non-alcoholic drinks… my boys love the Maui Sunrise.  As you would expect, the drinks are all amazing. Now that I’m a pretend mixologist I like to try to breakdown the ingredients.  Their drink menu, like many tiki bars, is very extensive… it would take multiple visits to try them all (but it is worth a try).

The decor is amazing from top to bottom! The Molokai Bar has more of a old ship feel to it with rigging and some fantastical added effects, like the water streaming down the windows like rain. The tiki waterfall is one of my favorite touches!


After our Happy Hour round we went into the dining room for dinner. The decor in the dining room is equally “Tiki-rific” but the feel changes from the nautical to more classic tiki with thatch and bamboo and plenty of eclectic lanterns. It truly is a sight to see and words (or even pictures) don’t do it justice.

The food is really good as well. Everything we ordered was enjoyable! I always recommend the PuPu Platter as a starter. One fun addition to the kids menu is that a meal comes with a drink in a pineapple.

I also didn’t want to miss out on more “fun drink vessels” so I ordered a Mara-Amu (with take home Tiki mug). According to the menu, Mara-Amu means “when the west wind blows” in Tahitian and is another delicious rum punch.


The stage show is very good. It is the right amount of hula/dancing/chanting/etc. And it all leads up to the hands down kid favorite FIRE dancing! I’ve seen a decent number of fire dancing/twirling shows but I have to admit that this probably had to be the best! It is worth the price of admission for sure!

Right prior to the fire on stage came my choice dessert, which also involves fire… the Bananas Bengali (Mai Kai version of bananas foster). While I will admit it doesn’t quite measure up the Brennan’s in New Orleans, it was a great end to the meal. The Mai Kai definitely doesn’t shy on the rum and the two feet fire pour is very impressive. They even serve it still flaming.


The last thing that I would make sure not to miss is the Tiki Garden in the back! The Mai Kai has built this own tropical oasis complete with waterfalls and plenty of tikis (large and small). It is only a short loop but the boys really loved the adventure and there are plenty of photo ops.


So, as you can see, it really is Tiki Heaven! This historical gem really has it all! There is so much to experience that most probably can’t do it all in one visit. But, if you only have one chance to enter these historic doors then this is what I wouldn’t miss…

  • Barrel o’ Rum at Molokai Bar (happy hour)
  • Polynesian show (don’t miss the fire)
  • Bananas Bengali (Server Wes does a master fire pour)
  • And a 10 minute stroll through the Tiki Gardens

While I haven’t been in a while, I was thrilled to return! Being there with my family and celebrating my birthday in Tiki Perfection is everything I could have asked for.

Mahalo to The Mai Kai and my Ohana!