Jun 22, 2023

Why Trader Vic’s may be on its last sea legs

"I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s.  His hair was perfect.” – Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London” (1978)

When you think of iconic restaurant or bar brands, few have had the longevity or the name recognition of the original “tiki bar”Trader Vic’s.  By offering its patrons enormous tropical cocktails and a fun, South Pacific vibe, Trader Vic’s grew from its origins in California in the 1930s to a worldwide name during the height of tiki bars’ popularity in the 1960s.  Through careful placement in upscale hotels (primarily Hiltons), Trader Vic’s put its Polynesian mark on most major cities in the United States and overseas, with more than 25 worldwide locations at its peak.

Fast forward to Dec. 31, 2022:  After nearly 60 years in business, the Trader Vic’s located in the London Hilton on Park Lane, the one presumably and famously referenced in the Warren Zevon song, closes for good.  Meanwhile, in the United States, only three Trader Vic’s locations remain, and one of those is merely an airport kiosk in San Jose, Calif

It can easily be argued that the Trader Vic’s brand is struggling to say the least.  And if my experience at the Trader Vic’s I visited in Atlanta a couple years back is any indication, I think I know why.

Our purpose for staying in Atlanta on this trip was merely to serve as a layover on what amounted to a two-day drive to Orlando, Fla.  Frankly, neither Punky or I had much interest in staying in the heart of Atlanta, but something in particular made us decide to book a night at the Hilton downtown.  To our surprise, it had a Trader Vic’s.  Another classic chain to cross off our bucket list, we thought. 

You can only imagine how quickly the disappointment took over once we actually got there.  For starters, the location of the restaurant did it no favors.  For some reason, this Trader Vic’s was put on the bottom level of the hotel, and access from the main lobby was limited to only or two of about six to eight elevators.  It was a time-consuming endeavor just to reach the place.  Granted, this is more of a design flaw of the hotel, but it doesn’t start the Trader Vic’s experience in Atlanta off on a very positive note. 

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