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!)

Becoming a Pretend Rum Connoisseur

My Rum and Tiki journey has reached a year and what a ride! I’ve learned to much but still have a long way to go! As I sit on the Beach down in Key Biscayne (island off Miami) I sip a frozen mojito (highly recommended) and reflect on my learnings so far.

I figure the gateway to the Caribbean is as good a place as ever to summarize my lessons thus far.

So, in no particular order…

  • If the drink menu says “Mai Tai = spiced rum and fruit juices” then that is a hard pass! I can accept a slight variation from Trader Vic’s Original Recipe but it better have fresh juice and aged, quality rum.
  • There is no substitute for fresh squeezed lime juice (or my special Frozen squeezed juice).
  • Finding a quality rum at the basic bar is near impossible. Main stream bars haven’t caught on… most just carry Bacardi, Captain Morgan and then they think they are fancy if they have Meyers.
  • I’ve tried a decent number of rums over the past year but still think Appleton Estate Reserve is my favorite multi-use mixing rum. It is the go to for my Mai Tai and many other drinks.
  • For sipping, still keeping Plantation 20th anniversary on the top of the shelf (though I won’t lie that Zacapa is working its way up).
  • If you are lucky enough to find a bartender who knows rums then talk as much as you can to them! They will share what they like and will enjoy the conversation enough, usually, to let you sample.
  • Overproof rum doesn’t have to taste like rubbing alcohol… get some Plantation OFTD! It is a powerful ally (in the right quantities).
  • There is never enough self space in an at home-Tiki-Bar-in-progress.
  • Always buy the Tiki mug that comes with the drink, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • Take your time and measure your drinks… you wouldn’t make a soufflé by just eyeballing it, don’t compromise on a perfectly crafted cocktail.
  • Your tiki bar will never be finished… both decorating and stocking with rum/liquor/mixers.
  • The Tiki Community takes care of their own! Thank you to Trader Vic’sFlorida Mermaid Rum, the staff at the Marriott Denver South and Diplomatico Rum for their support.

So there ya go, some of the lessons in Trader Jay’s first year! Here’s to many more Tiki-rific years to come!

Fresh Lime – A Must!

Before I started down my Tiki journey, I would have said, like many others, “I’ll just use the bottled juice, it is so much easier… can it really matter that much?”

The truth… I matters more than typed words can describe!

Once I moved to real juice, especially lime, my drinks became more fresh and more delishious! (I made the move due to a passage in my Tiki Bible from Smuggler’s Cove.) The real issue with fresh juice is “time”… being a full time working father of two boys leaves little time to squeeze limes every night. There are so many times that I’ll get home from work, crave a delicious exotic cocktail but not want to take the time to squeeze the limes (but I also won’t shortcut and use pre-bottled lime juice).

Enter an idea that I actually am claiming as original-ish… freezing fresh lime juice in pre-measured amounts in ice cube trays.

I won’t pretend I’m the first person ever to think of this but I also didn’t read about it somewhere else… therefor “original-ish”.

What I’ll do is buy and squeeze 5-6 limes at one time, pour in this awesome ice cube tray and then just use the number of cubes I need when time. (The size of one cube, purposefully, is 3/4 of an ounce… the exact amount I use in my Mai Tai.)

I’ve also found that for some drinks, shaking the drink with only the lime ice cube will chill it enough without watering it down (lime ice cubes melt faster than H2O so a standard amount of shaking is almost perfect).

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The ice cube tray is perfect and the cubes slide out so easily.  You can either just leave in the tray, since it has a cover, or remove and put in a plastic bag or food storage container.

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Either way, the time savings is great and the drinks still taste to Tiki-Perfection!  So give it a try!

Behind the Bar: Mai Tai Roa Ae!

In my first post about mixing my own exotic cocktails I figure there is no better place to start than with the most famous tiki drink ever… The Mai Tai!

There are verying stories about the creation of the Mai Tai but the most widely accepted one is from the Original Trader, Trader Vic…

“I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamacian J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curaçao 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 a vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half a 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 a 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’.”

Unfortunately the popularity of the Mai Tai created a run on the 17-year Wray and it is no longer in existence. Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove believes that to create a taste similar to Vic’s original you should use a “blended, aged” rum (meaning of blend of the pot and column distilling methods and aged between 4 and 14 years). I experimented with a few different rums but found my favorite to be Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamacia.

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Tiki Drummer guarding the Appleton Estate Reserve Rum closely!

Prior to this journey I’m not sure I would have said this but Fresh Fruit Juice makes a HUGE difference! So I now only use fresh squeezed lime in my Mai Tai. I also make my own Simple Syrup to keep as many ingredients homemade as possible. (I have not tackled my own Orgeat yet, but maybe in the future.)

My Homemade Mai Tai simple syrup (demerara suger, water and a dash of vanilla extract) and Fresh Lime.

Below is my adaption of Vic’s Original Mai Tai using guidance from Smuggler’s Cove… Give it a go and let me know what you think or put your own adaptation in the comments.

  • 3/4 oz FRESH lime juice
  • 1/4 oz Mai Tai simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curaçao
  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Rum

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, pour over crushed ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.

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Finished product in the HippopotoMai-Tai tiki mug from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

Looks like Mai Tai Roe Ae to me! (Tastes like it too!)

Mahalo, Trader Vic