Cocktail Bar Review: Trader Vics, London

Cocktail Bar Review: Trader Vics, London
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Ah, the Mai Tai – that fruity, flirty, rum-packed cocktail we all associate with sitting on a beach in some Polynesian setting, exotic flower firmly pinned behind our ear with not a care in the world.

So where was this infamous cocktail invented? Well, rumour has it that, in 1944, the Trader Victor J. Bergeron created it for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. One of them liked it so much he cried out “Maita’i roa ae!” which, in Tahitian, means ‘wow, that is out of this world!’ The home of the Mai Tai is thought to be the Trader Vic’s bar in Oakland, California. And now there are seventeen locations all over the world that specialise in this awesome Tiki cocktail.

So, since this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Mai Tai, it seemed only appropriate to drop into the tiki bar on London’s Park Lane to give them a whirl and see if Trader Vic’s has still got it.

We visit on a Friday night, past the square-shouldered bouncer and down the steps into the belly of Trader Vics. I know it is the famous tiki bar because I have Google-mapped myself here, but if I had wandered in on a curious whim from the street then it would still not require much brainpower to work out the theme of the establishment. Bamboo rafters, straw huts, carved curious decorating the wall… plus some of the most outrageously lurid, retro carpeting I’ve seen in a while. It’s all part of the fabulous tongue-in-cheek fun that Trader Vic’s has in buckets.

My pal and I sit down, immediately approving of the soundtrack that is playing classic pop, dance and basically cheesy greats from the last few decades. Yep, a lot of it is school-disco tune-age, but this just adds to the appeal. There’s something wonderfully unpretentious about this place. They’re saying ‘hey – we know you’re here to have a good time. Now let’s make this happen.’

So – indeed! Let’s make the good times happen for sure, and this can only begin with a stab at some of these famous Mai Tais. There’s a whole menu of rum concoctions to navigate – enough to make a pirate swoon, in fact. The sections range from Tropical drinks, Sours, Tikinis, ‘The Strong’…. oh dear lord. There could definitely be some dancing tonight, people. Then of course there are the Mai Tais – 11 of them, to be precise.

Our waitress, who is wearing very beautiful traditional Polynesian dress, is happy to advise, and since we’ve already decided upon the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai (a modified version of the original) she points out the 1944 Mai Tai – which actually is the original recipe – and is apparently incredibly strong. They arrive in aztec-decorated tumblers, resplendent with garnishes of cherries and pieces of pineapple – these are definitely tropical drinks. The tastes are equally reminiscent of a beach island somewhere – a pop of bright pineapple, some citrus zing, and then the smooth, sweet rum underlying the whole concotion.

So what else apart from Mai Tais does Trader Vic’s offer? Well, a Zombie of light and dark rums, grenadine and curaçao makes for a powerful cocktail that is just as strong as Don the Beachcomber’s original lethal libation, yet still manages to be moreishly juicy. A simple Gimlet of gin and lime juice shows that they also do a nice side-line in the classics, while the Scorpion Bowl – a festive concoction of rums, fruit juices and brandy with a lovely hint of nutty almond, is definitely one to share among party guests.

unnamed (1)And if you’re thinking all this rum on an empty stomach sounds like a recipe for disaster, never fear! There is also a great menu of tasty nibbles to snack on, from sticky ribs, crunchy spring rolls and rather delicious noodle dishes, all keeping in with the Polynesian theme. I recommend getting a table full to share and spending the evening picking and sipping. Or, if you fancy a less informal approach, then there is a restaurant area that can also be used.

As the evening continues and our heads get more fuzzy, a live band starts to play and we see people making their way to the dance floor. After this much rum, and feeling thoroughly in the mood for a bit of a boogie, we decide to join them. I imagine this is what happens to a lot of visitors to Trader Vic’s – they come for a few good-time drinks, and end up being swept away by the fun of it all.

4 stars


Rebecca Milford


Written by Rebecca Milford

Posted: November 22, 2014

Rebecca is a cocktail connoisseur & fan of good nosh. A PR whizz with a gold medal in bar hopping, you can follow her on Twitter here.