The decor at Trader Vic’s Emeryville was only about half-completed during my preview, but it already looks and sounds like there will be a lot to love. The fundamental footprint of the space is not changing, and much from the old restaurant remains in place and untouched including a number of tikis, matting, bamboo, and tile dividers. The sun was shining brightly and there were no window coverings up yet, so these aren’t beauty shots, but you can get a general idea where things are headed in Emeryville.
The designers of the space are Image Three Events. They specialize in dramatic decor for special events (including lots of work in Vegas). Robert Gonas from Image Three told me that one of his inspirations for the space was his memory of being taken to a crazy, over-the-top Polynesian restaurant when he was about six years old, somewhere near Fort Lauderdale. That’s right: the designer was warped at a young age by the Mai-Kai. You can probably imagine his thrill at learning that it still exists today!
Before, upon entering there was a host stand directly in front of you, and a cabinet of items for sale to the left along with an entry into a back office. The hostess stand has been shifted to the right side of the hallway (where host staff will no longer get hit with gusts of cold air from the front door). The cabinet on the left has been removed and the office entrance relocated to the hallway side, to increase bar seating. Your first view is now of the bartenders at work, and the addition of a large porthole allows you to see clear through the restaurant to the water outside.
The space has been expanded: the service bar is being moved to the opposite end of the bar (where the hostess stand used to be), freeing up that space to be a hallway for patrons to move about the restaurant. At the back side of the bar area there used to be the private Puka Room; this is now opened up to be part of the bar. The standing rail that ran parallel to the bar has been removed to increase flow in the room. There will be a mix of tall and short tables in the space, to let everyone see the great view of the marina.
They’re getting rid of the dreadful white ceiling in the bar! The ceiling will instead be covered with rich bac bac matting (which is similar to lauhala matting, with a finer weave and deeper brown tones). Lots more items will be added to clutter up the ceiling, including some light fixtures that were in Hinky Dinks. The curvy koa wood bar itself made its debut before the closure, and came out of the Trader Vic’s location in Osaka. The walls are covered with a variety of different tapa cloth pieces, and there are framed prints of vintage Trader Vic’s artwork on the walls.
A very exciting addition is the presence of three original Leeteg black velvet wahine paintings, which have been in the Bergeron family for years. They are absolutely stunning. Right now, they are hung in the former Puka Room, but they may be moved to another location to better protect them from sunlight.
A bit of sad news: the plans currently call for three televisions in the bar, which is a terrible shame in a space that is otherwise so lovely (and with that view!). Who would stand in this room and think to themselves, “Hmm… what’s really is missing is ESPN2 and someone hawking 5.6% APR on a new SUV”? I cannot understand how the televisions could possibly add to, rather than subtract from, the experience, and can only hope that they have the mercy to keep them turned off unless someone is actually begging to see something.
The Dining Rooms: The Palm Court (a.k.a. Tiki Room) and the Outrigger Room
The layout of these rooms is mostly the same, but a divider has been added between them in the form of a tall bamboo wall encrusted with tikis. This allows the Outrigger Room to be used as a semi-private space for large groups. The carpet in these rooms is a wildly-colored tapa-esque design (another design created by Image Three was taking too long in production, but will be used in the London location). The original ceiling is staying exactly as it was: the colors for the room were selected to complement the existing painted details on the beams.
The tikis that were there remain and more have been added, including a Marquesan from the San Francisco Golden Gate location, and a Barney West moai that was most recently in the Berlin location. The back hallway is lined with Papua New Guinea masks (similar to that great wall of masks at San Francisco Golden Gate), with some of them back-lit. When I was there, a sizable stash of Papua New Guinea items was awaiting final placement.
The Captain Cook Room, The Office and The Captain’s Cabin
The changes in the private banquet rooms are minor: mainly a bit of freshening up, and rotating some of decorations. In particular, the display window in the Captain Cook Room has a massive canoe and a headdress added, and it looks just perfect. The massive shell chandelier remains, but the matching wall sconces are gone (thought I didn’t notice until someone pointed it out, so I guess I don’t miss them).
Looks exactly the same.
Since the redecorating was only half-done, I can’t be sure how it will all come together, but it looks very promising, doesn’t it? Coming soon: my thoughts on the food and drinks at the updated Trader Vic’s Emeryville.
Trader Vic’s Emeryville Sneak Peek:
- Part One: Trader Vic’s Emeryville: A New Hope
- Part Two: Trader Vic’s Emeryville: The Decor
- Part Three: Trader Vic’s Emeryville: Final Thoughts