Where Have All the Trader Vic's Gone?

Where Have All the Trader Vic's Gone?

The fascinating history of the restaurant chain you've never heard of.

Long before Trader Joe's became the premier dietary status symbol of the well-to-do, there was Trader Vic's, a restaurant/bar chain that fit snugly into America's culture of unintentional post-WWII kitsch; a restaurant the whole family could enjoy and one that Mamie Eisenhower might disapprove of as being too foreign.

Trader Vic's, a product of California's "Surf City U.S.A." heyday, was a "tiki bar" during the island-life craze of the 1950s and 1960s; the physical embodiment of a Beach Boys 45 and a genuine California tan. The decor was a knowingly tacky combination of Polynesian relics and heavy English wooden furniture, plush leather banquettes in varying shades of green and mile-thick, wall to wall shag carpeting, and for years it served as stiff competition to Don the Beachcomber, another highly popular, similarly-themed chain (with each owner claiming to be the creator of the Mai Tai).

Trader Vic's Boston location

However, while Don the Beachcomber may lay claim to kicking off this fad of palatable exoticism (today it would simply be called cultural appropriation; the opening might even draw protesters), Trader Vic's extended far beyond the confines of America's borders and became a global sensation. Despite, or perhaps because of the laughably unhip decor, the in-crowd and clueless tourists alike flocked to locations in Japan, Cuba, Germany, England, and, over time, the UAE, Jordan, Thailand, India, and China, not to mention the dozens of locations scattered across the United States for more than five decades.

And then, like any other fad, it passed. By the late 1970s, the kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge humor offered up by Trader Vic's was eschewed in favor of the encroaching excess which marked the Reagan years - save for the Trader Vic's of Havana, which was closed in 1959 on account of Castro's rise to power - and one by one, Trader Vic's began closing their doors (in 1993, Donald Trump closed the Trader Vic's after purchasing the Plaza Hotel, claiming it was too "tacky").

Trader Vic's of Houston - 1969

Today, the vast majority of Trader Vic's are located in the United Arab Emirates, with only two locations (Atlanta and Emeryville, California) operating in the United States. This in itself is not so striking, as American exports usually have hilariously long expiration dates in far-off lands. But Trader Vic's has refused to accept its obsoleteness. Between 2004 and 2008, eight different Trader Vic's opened across America. By 2011, all of them had permanently closed. The most recent incarnation, the Trader Vic's of Los Angeles, opened its doors in 2009 only to close by 2014.

The chain's refusal to lie down and stay down is endearing, if not pitiable. Why shouldn't this declassé, faux-tropical locale, long abandoned by the jet-set crowd of the Swinging 60s get another moment in the spotlight? More utilitarian restaurants like Chili's and TGI Friday's have blossomed and thrived in the wake of Trader Vic's demise, with hundreds of locations found in the remotest corners of the world, while The Rainforest Cafe, ingratiatingly replete with animatronic gorillas, simulated jungle sounds on a hellishly infinite loop, and palm fronds swatting inattentive diners in the face between courses has thrived domestically and abroad. These restaurants demonstrate the kind of all-or-nothing mentality which dominates modern taste. The general public would either prefer minimal ambiance, or be dazzled by a spectacle, than find a middle ground; a tasteful approach to camp/a tasteless approach to class.

Trader Vic's will unfortunately never again be the hangout of the martini-swilling, Winston-smoking smart set, partly due to the extinction of that type of crowd. But for a once-mighty colossus with locations ranging from Arizona to Abu Dhabi and everywhere in between, Trader Vic's deserves some kind of recognition as the rarity that it is: something that was, even for a fleeting moment in time, beloved by the world. How many other restaurants can say that?

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it


Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Summer And Jobs

Working summers doesn't have to be tedious.


Like many other college students, I was ready for summer but was kinda bummed that I had to work. Its not that I didn't like where I was working, I actually was really lucky to be working in a hospital environment but I just hated being alone all summer from 9-5. I've had this job for a few years now and a few other paid interns came and went but I never really connected with any of them. This year is different though.

I got really lucky to have another intern work with me that was very similar to me. The tasks we got were always simple but they were made to be more fun because I got to do them while talking with someone else. Now I actually enjoy and look forward to going to work.

The key to finding a good job is finding one that you enjoy doing and one that will help you gain knowledge that will help you out with future career plans. Working with friends also make tasks enjoyable! I would be careful with working with your friend however because if your job needs you to be serious and focused, being around your best friends may distract you from that.

Another thing that definitely makes summer jobs more enjoyable are taking breaks! It is your summer vacation after all! I'm not saying don't take a day off just to sit around, but if you make plans with family and friends, take a Friday off and enjoy the warm weather and good company! Employers understand that us college students and on break and have lives, they are usually very lenient with days off!

If you have to do a summer job to make money to live off of or pay for college, the best thing to do is look at the big picture. If you don't enjoy your job but can't afford to quit, remember that the money if going to help you out a lot. Also, this job is probably only for the summer right? So it's not permanent my friend! Get through these annoying few weeks and you will be back at college, taking steps for a bigger and brighter future.

Summer jobs are tough, I know, but make the most of it! And don't forget to enjoy it whenever you can!!!


Related Content

Facebook Comments