Maybe I was too young in the 90s and 2000s, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of going to a Trader Vic’s in the U.S. before. This has been a tiki-bar and restaurant staple for the past 80 years, exploding all over the world as the highest standard of homemade cocktails and tropical cuisine. It’s the first time I’ve seen things like scorpion bowls and crab rangoons in the UK, so I was all over the experience to try some of Trader Vic’s famous Mai Tais in London for a little staycation transported to Tahiti.
In London, the Trader Vic’s shares space with Hilton Park Lane on the edge of Hyde Park. On a rainy, overcast evening in London, it was more than welcome to walk down the bamboo-emblazoned staircase and tuck into a cozy bar on the bottom floor. It’s been in the same place forever, welcoming celebrities and tourists like to relax, unwind and be transported to a sunnier, simpler place in the center of London.
A History of the Mai Tai
The founder of Trader Vic’s, Vic Bergeron, is said to be the creator of the Mai Tai cocktail. After pouring dark rum, orange curacao, French orgeat, lime juice and rock syrup, he proudly exclaimed “It’s Mai Tai Roa Ae!”, which is Tahitian for “Out of this World – The Best!” Decades later they’ve mastered the perfect combination of each flavour to still offer the original, homemade blend as well as a special concentrate version. Not to mention, if you want to sample something fresh, they’ve also taken the Mai Tai with a twist and offer it a dozen different ways. Give it a go with guava, mango, pineapple or even cucumber.
Endless Fruity Concoctions
Good luck trying to choose from more than 200 different cocktails on the menu. The Mai Tais are the obvious star of the show, but I also had a killer mojito. Next time I’ll think I’ll go for one of the coconut based drinks or the individual-sized scorpion bowl. They have a great Happy Hour as well if you want to beat the crowds a little earlier.
Mai Tai Master Class
We lined up at the bar and put on our colourful leis dutifully. After a brief history about the fabled Mai Tai, OJ the bartender had us try first a classic cocktail, then the concentrate version of the Mai Tai too. Both were delicious, but I leaned toward the classic with seven fresh squeezed limes. After sampling drinks made by the pros, we each went behind the bar and tried our hand at creating our own.
I loved having a whole bar full of tools, ingredients and fun glassware at my fingertips. It was rare chance to get in there and learn something new on an otherwise standard weekend night out in the city. After making our drinks, noshing on some food and catching up with friends, it was also a treat to stick around for some live lounge music that rounded out the perfect evening.
While jumping behind the bar to Trader Vic’s was a special occasion, Trader Vic’s does welcome hen-dos (bachelorette parties) and other special occasions all the time. The bar area is large and lively enough to accommodate you and all your friends, whether you’re a local looking to do something new or a traveller who just wants a super fun activity to do with your crew. As an institution in London since 1963, learning from the best bartenders around first-hand can’t be missed.
What’s on the Trader Vic’s Menu
To balance out the copious amounts of rum we were slinging, we were lucky enough to tuck into a few fave dishes on the Trader Vic’s food menu. Some of the highlights included the super fresh tuna poke with avocado, chicken satay and the beef skewers you BBQ yourself over a small open flame. And the big one for me, real blue crab rangoons. It’s little pricier than the crabstick ones found in American Chinese food places all over the U.S., but these elevated delicacies are completely worth it.
If you prefer a sit down dinner in the main dining rooms, take advantage of the dishes that include amazing ingredients prepared in their massive wood-fire oven, which has been flame cooking food since the 1960s.
I’m lucky enough to have a lot of friends and family come to visit London in the coming months, and can’t wait to treat them to a night out on the town. As for me, Trader Vic’s strangely make me feel like home, with its familiar décor, friendly atmosphere and, of course, all the fresh crab rangoons I can eat.