This week’s closure of the Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills has caused widespread sadness — Trader Vic’s closure may have been quiet, but the reaction has not been. The reaction has ranged from sadness to anger, which I suppose is to be expected. But what was not expected was the classless way the closure happened — under cover of night, with an utter lack of pomp. Trader Vic’s deserved a full state funeral and a raging wake; instead, it was buried in a cardboard box under an unmarked grave. I’ve heard more than one person use the phrase “chicken-shit,” and that about sums it up for me, too.
(Speaking of “chicken-shit” — the “relocation” in the hotel is complete horse shit. Trader Vic’s knows it, the Beverly Hilton knows it, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows it. This will not be the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s. Period.)
What has happened to Trader Vic’s? They were once the masters of bridging the exotic with the elegant, now they are neither. They give no appearance of caring … and they conveniently don’t realize that if they’re going to drop everything else about Trader Vic’s, they’re going to have to drop their prices, too.
The new Trader Vic’s have all been disappointments: Palo Alto, San Francisco, Bellevue, Scottsdale, Destin… only Dallas is up to the previous Trader Vic’s standard, and that’s only because it had the good fortune of being hermetically sealed for 20 years. I haven’t heard from anyone who likes this new, bland Trader Vic’s better than the Trader Vic’s that made Trader Vic’s famous. There’s lots of apologizing on their behalf, lots of “well, at least I can get a good Mai Tai there” and “well, at least they’ve got some good tikis.” At least, at least, at least, ad nauseum. Yes, there’s a lot of “least” going on with Trader Vic’s these days.
Some of the apologizing comes in the form of remarks about how expensive it must be to decorate in the old style. I’m sorry — did bamboo suddenly become an expensive material? Is tapa cloth more expensive than the wallpapers they’re using? Would it kill them to choose a space with a ceiling that doesn’t feel like you’re in a conference center foyer? A location with a little intimacy? I don’t think their lighting budget is Home Depot-scale, and I know of several sources of really fantastic birdcage lamps, float lights and other more appropriate pieces that would easily fall within their budget. Forbidden Island was decorated with a budget that was undoubtedly only a fraction of the per-square-foot decorating cost of a new Trader Vic’s.
No, the Trader Vic’s are plain because they want them to be. I will never be able to wrap my head around that. When the new Trader Vic’s locations open, they spur a round of articles in the local press that invariably spend a lot of time enthusiastically describing the Trader Vic’s of old… with Trader Vic’s, their history is everything! Why on earth are they casting it aside? They certainly can’t keep up on the merits of their outdated and unspecial menu. Without the immersive environment and the drinks, Trader Vic’s is nothing to write home about.
The recent closure of the Chicago and Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s locations are seen as a massive loss by apparently everyone but the Trader Vic’s organization, which tries to spin it with pathetic-reading press releases about relocating, and no apparent thought to the loss of something they have actively demonstrated they are unable or unwilling to recreate. PR-shaped statements about respecting what the “loyal customers” love about Trader Vic’s ring quite hollow. They seem to think that the public will swallow anything with the Trader Vic’s name on it. They’ve completely lost touch with what makes them interesting and unique.
My enthusiasm for supporting Trader Vic’s is swiftly dwindling.
The Beverly Hills closure is the loss of a major jewel in the Trader Vic’s crown, which more and more is looking like it is made of tinfoil.