Anything that involves history is immediately going to interest me. And even more so with London history. And even even more more so, when London history involves cocktails.
Enter Trader Vic’s, a bar situated at the foot of the imposing Hilton Hotel on Park Lane. Topped by Galvin at Windows, a restaurant with views over Hyde Park and beyond we’ll be visiting tomorrow for a special anniversary meal, Trader Vic’s tiki venue sits at the foot of the tower and couldn’t be more contrasted against Galvin’s bling and opulence.
So, what’s the deal with Trader Vic’s?
Mai Tai fun at Trader Vic’s London
Well, the tiki-inspired bar has been in London since 1963, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and Marlon Brando have graced its doors, and its owner claims to have invented the rum-based Mai Tai cocktail back in the forties.
Heading over one warm night after work, I was invited to take part in a cocktail masterclass to learn how to make the perfect drink and the heritage found behind every cocktail.
So, who is Vic?
Victor Bergeron, born in 1902 in America, was an entrepreneur. After having his leg amputated at just six years old to prevent the spread of TB, he went on to open a cheap and cheerful diner in California called Hinky Dink’s. There he sold meals for 25 and 35 cents, and beer for a nickel. Given the economic state of the globe at that time and with WWII looming, people loved the good food at affordable prices.
To refine his bartending skills, in 1937 he embarked on a trip to Cuba and decided to rebrand Hinky Dink’s, calling it Trader Vic’s and giving it a positively Tiki makeover. Seven years later, he decided to try to create something a bit different to the cocktails already on offer. He grabbed a bottle of rum and poured a shot, added a squeeze of lime and a dash of sugar syrup, orange curacao, almond and rose syrup, and poured it over cracked ice.
Handing it to his Tahitian friend, he waited to see how it would go down only to hear him exlaim ‘It’s mai tai roa ae!’ meaning, it’s out of this world! And so the Mai Tai was born.
Trader Vic’s in London is a quirky little place. Managed by Laurence, whose passion for the brand and its legacy is clear, we talked about everything from the puffer fish decorations, the canoe, and the decades old guestbook, filled with famous names.
The Mai Tai Masterclass
The Materclass costs £25 per person. After a brief introduction and some brilliant stories about wooden legs, knives, and practical jokes, it was time to try create the cocktail. Our bartender demonstrated a perfect example, before calling us all up to give it a go. I was very last, feeling shy and totally uncoordinated but I’m please to say it was great – with the bartender even saying mine was the best cocktail there!
I shovelled ice into a shaker, added drops and shots, squeezed lime and shook it around to mix. Pouring out the delicious drink into the glass, I filled it to perfection before adding my sunset and island garnish. Cheers and high faves were shared.
After finishing our cocktails and being pleased as punch, we tried a few other cocktail creations from the menu, and even got to witness the first Hot Buttered Rum cocktail being created after a decade of it being taken off the menu. A warm metal orb is heated on the table, while the cocktail is created in a skull-shaped mug. Once it’s glowing red it’s placed in the mug and creates a volcano of steam as it warms the drink. After a few minutes, it’s cool enough to sip.
We had a great experience at such an iconic venue – Trader Vic’s staff love their brand and many have travelled the world working in their venues. Keep your eyes peeled as we sneak a few moments away from Galvin at Windows to get our Mai Tai fix tomorrow!
Trader Vic’s | London Hilton, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE