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?

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30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.

Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

I want to give you the same feeling that you get in paradise.

30. Curious

And I never want to stop searching for answers.
Cover Image Credit: Favim

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To Anyone Who Needs to Hear It, You Are Not A Burden

Reach out to your friends & family when you need help


We all struggle with something. No one goes through life unscathed - we all face many trials and battles. The reason for these sometimes seemingly insurmountable mountains is to show us our own strength when we conquer them. However, we were never meant to climb them alone. That's why we are also given friends, family, mentors, and others to help us along the way. When we lean on those around us, the mountain doesn't become smaller, but the climb becomes easier because we aren't just relying on our own strength anymore.

Think about a time when a friend or loved one reached out to you in need of help. How willing you were to be there for them because you cared about them and loved them and wanted to help them. How good you felt afterward because being there for someone made you feel useful, purposeful.

Now think about whatever it is you struggle with. Maybe it's an addiction you can't give up, dealing with an eating disorder, living with depression, anxiety, struggling with school, relationship problems, or the grief of losing a loved one.

Know this - you are not alone in these struggles, and your friends and family WANT to be there for you.

You are not a burden to them. They want to see you flourish, and they want to be in your corner when you are hurting. Plus, the odds that they themselves have struggled with the same thing you are struggling with are pretty high. Having someone you trust know what is going on gives you someone to lean on, and it is so much easier when we know we aren't alone. They might not be able to give you expert advice, but they can be there for you even if just to sit with you quietly and be your company. Because you MATTER, and you are WORTH it. When we stop trying to carry all our weight on our own backs and let other people carry some of the load, we can stand taller. Don't believe the lie that you are alone in your struggles, because the truth is you are so loved by so many.

Reach out. You matter to me.

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