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.

The Oldest Trader Vic’s – London

This year’s Anniversary trip was a big one… to celebrate 10 years we traveled over the “pond” to London for a week.

We did a TON of things and had an AMAZING time… but this blog’s focus is on Tiki and we had two great evenings that warrant tiki blog documentation.  The first was a visit to the oldest Trader Vic’s currently operating.  The London version of the Home of the Original Mai Tai opened its doors in 1963 and have been a part of Tiki History ever since.

Being in a large hotel (London Hilton-Park Lane) makes it easier to find than many newer tiki bars, that usually favor city outskirts or back alleyway entrances.  However, in true “tiki fashion”, you enter and immediately head down a winding staircase to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city hotel. The decor is fantastic!  Wood, bamboo, lamps, canoes, all the things that you would expect to see in a historic tiki bar.

As a side note, this was my first visit to a Trader Vic’s establishment… yes, I had to go all the way to England to pay tribute to Vic.

As normal, we wanted to sit at the bar however that became a little bit of a challenge.  On one side of the bar there are 4 barstools in a space that really should only fit 3. While the other side of the bar has a lot more space, we were told it was reserved for a special event.  We chose to squeeze on to 2 of the 4 stools and while we were a bit crammed at first, it all worked out.

I, of course, had to start with a Vic’s Original 1944 Mai Tai. I’ve waited a long time to have one… however I might have to wait a bit longer.  While the drink was fine, it was not crafted how Vic would have wanted.  The biggest issue is that they used Mount Gay Rum… I have nothing against Mount Gay, but Vic used a Jamaican Rum.  I’m a realist, I know that 17 year J. Wray & Nephew is long gone, however I believe that an “Original 1944 Mai Tai” should still feature an aged Jamaican rum.

I didn’t let this disappointment sour our evening but I was a bit taken back.  Speaking of sour, Mrs. Trader really enjoyed her London Sour… created for the opening of Trader Vic’s London.

We indulged in some bar bites, including the Beef Cho-Cho which are soy-sake glazed beef skewers that you finish yourself over a flame.  They were both fun and delicious.

We also had the opportunity to experience a number of different drinks including the Suffering Bastard, Navy Grog, Trader Vic’s Sling and some anniversary extras (including some drink tastings and a delicious cake).

In the tiki world I feel like it is important to be kind but also be honest among friends… I wasn’t blown away by the drinks from the menu, however our bartender, Aleks, was given free reign to mix us each up something based on our pallets and both drinks he was SPOT ON!  Aleks was a great bartender… he was funny, engaging, wanted to know about us.  It was wonderful to be able to sit at the bar and discuss rum, tiki drinks and Trader Vic with him.  He was excited to learn about my home tiki bar and our tiki travels.

Also, we had the opportunity to talk with the Assistant GM, Guy, who too was wonderful to talk with.  Both gentlemen were very welcoming… both welcoming us to Trader Vic’s as well as to London (as it was our first night).  Guy even allowed us a parting gift of a menu to bring back to Trader Jay’s.

Overall, I would never steer anyone away from Trader Vic’s London.  We had an AMAZING evening!  The decorations are wonderful!  They are quintkicensial tiki from one of the ORIGINALS, there is a bit of everything and I want to take it all back to Trader Jay’s.  The team is warm and welcoming and offers an amazing escape from the very Non-Tiki London.  The drinks from the menu were fine but chat with your bartender and let them get creative and you should be pleased!

(Special Note to Guy if he is reading… I’m still disappointed that the camera wasn’t charged for the wall of tiki!)

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!