“If these walls could talk,” said Michael, a friend of mine, who joined me for a bite and a drink at Trader Vic’s housed inside the iconic Beverly Hilton Hotel. He had been frequenting the outpost for years and even called the hotel home a for few months at one time. The walls couldn’t talk, but Michael told me some fascinating stories that took place there.
He was actually at Trader Vic’s the day before the passing of Whitney Houston. He was sitting outside watching what he called, “The diva herself,” lounging poolside, watching her daughter do handstands. It was that very next night, Houston staying just one floor below him, took her very own life.
On a happier note, my friend pointed out the cheery, seasoned servers, who had been working at the restaurant for decades, and shared their own stories with him. Ming, our server for the evening, was acting shy when we asked him to grab a drink a tell us some stories. “Later,” he said blushing. As we sipped on our classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tais, a recipe they have been perfecting for years, and a traditional, Polynesian-prepared sampling of Crispy Duck Tacos, Michael did share one story of another server who waited on Frank Sinatra. After a couple of stiff cocktails, Sinatra asked the server to drive him home, and the server responded, “But I’m working.” Sinatra responded, “You work for me now.” He handed him the keys to his Mercedes. Sinatra sincerely asked the young server from Mexico how he was doing which, in all honestly, he wasn’t doing so great at the time. As he shared his casino stories of his hardships, and more specifically, one of his car recently breaking down and not being able to afford to fix it. Once they arrived at Sinatra’s home, he told the young server to keep the keys, the Mercedes was now his.
Founded by Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. in 1934 under the name of Hinky Dink’s, it was quickly renamed Trader Vic’s. His chain of Polynesian-themed restaurants spread like wildfire and in the 1960s there were 25 Trader Vic’s throughout the world. All locations are known for signature Polynesian drinks, cuisine and decor. The Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton Hotel has recently been completely renovated along with the rest of the full-service hotel, but has retained it’s old school charm.
The atmosphere is a bit kitschy, but lends a cozy feel with thoughtful and accommodating service. On a sunny day, or on any seasonally, warm, Southern California evening, a seat on the poolside patio is the place to be. The scene on the Thursday night we visited was quiet, but perhaps that was due to the calm before the storm of the upcoming Golden Globes Award’s weekend. The stories, the company and the history made for a fabulous Trader Vic’s experience. When in the Beverly Hills area be sure to (responsibly) indulge in some rum, Polynesian fare and much buzzed-about Hollywood history.