This story came about because the original writer (who is a talented local guy named Aaron) had to back out of this assignment, to his utter chagrin. Aaron and I had worked together at Eugene Magazine and shared a consuming passion for tikis. He called me to see if I would be available to cover the grand opening of the new Trader Vic’s Polynesian style restaurant in Portland and there was nothing I could say but, ‘Oh Yeah Baby!’ and under my breath a zillion Thank Yous. The opening night happened to be on my 40th birthday, so this was a wonderful experience all around. I stayed in a boutique hotel in Portland as guests of Tiki Magazine, attended the exclusive opening of Trader Vic’s and was treated to appetizers, drinks and tropical music by the DJ all night long. It was wonderful. I took the pictures below, but the published story, which you can find in the Tiki Magazine PDF below, used photos by someone else. This was published in Spring 2012 even though the event took place in summer 2011.
Trader Vic’s returns to Portland, Oregon
Story by Vanessa Salvia
A tropical wind settled over northwest Portland’s Pearl District as Trader Vic’s opened its doors for a sneak preview of the storied establishment. Opening night was August 1, but lucky tikiphiles and media people got to experience it first-hand almost a week earlier. As the crowd entered past the water feature and tropical plants at the front door, the kitchen geared up to deliver plates of bite-size morsels, while the bartenders worked out their cocktail shaking arms for the special event.
Though not in place on the night of the press preview, a 9-foot Rarotongan tiki sculpted by Paul Nielson of Portland-based Munktiki will soon stand watch outside the restaurant. That sculpture inspired Nielson’s design for the Trader Vic’s Portland mug, which though unveiled to the press on July 25, was still in unfired wet clay. The mug will be available sometime this fall, with limited editions and super limited editions in both wood and stone finishes promised. A mug this special will of course hold a signature drink: Trader Vic’s has created a Portland-only cocktail called Nelson’s Blood, tasting of lemon, orange, blood orange, brandy, dark rum and falernum, and topped off with spicy ginger beer. The delicious drink is named for sea captain Horatio Nelson, who lore tells was put to rest in a rum barrel when he expired at sea. The sailors drank the rum in his cask in honor of the great captain. Heather Gregg of Portland’s Thatch tiki bar created a cucumber-infused martini, which will be on the menu along with Vic Bergeron’s original Mai Tai recipe.
No two Trader Vic’s are exactly the same, though all feature exotic and sophisticated tropical beauty. Portland’s new modern design places the bar central to the large restaurant, which is comfortably divided into different seating areas, from a private dining room to accommodate large-ish groups to rounded vinyl-clad booths and bar stools. Large glass fishing floats hang above walls papered with hand-painted bark cloth, hand-hewn canoes hang from the ceiling, tribal masks, and of course, large and small tiki carvings adorning many surfaces. Surrounding the bar is an impressive collection of kitschy cocktail glasses, bowls, and barrels. Tucked in back is Trader Vic’s traditional wood-fired oven roaring behind a big glass wall, heating up pork ribs and a massive burger layered with pork belly, pineapple, cheddar and Vic’s special mayo. The menu has something to appeal to everybody, including such specialties as beef gho-gho (steak with soy sake sauce), duck tacos, delightfully crispy and addictive crab rangoons, crispy prawns (butterflied and coated with panko), ice-cold oysters on the half-shell, even veggie egg rolls with tofu.
Portland is lucky enough to have two well-established tiki bars already—Thatch and The Alibi—and now Trader Vic’s triumphant return bumps up the TiPSY factor for Portland proper quite a bit. Trader Vic’s formerly occupied a space in the Benson Hotel from tiki’s heyday in 1959 to 1996, then sadly left our corner of the northwest. That they’re back and better than ever attests to the enduring power of tiki and our never-ending desire to visit paradise, even if it’s only long enough to finish a pu pu plate.
Trader Vic’s Portland is at 1203 NW Glisan St. in the Pearl District, (503) 467-2277
Vanessa Salvia’s tiki collection began 15 years ago with a single mug purchased from a thrift store. Thankfully, the collection has grown over the years, and so has her writing career. She lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, and is a regular contributor to several Oregon publications.
Paul Nielsen (left, of Portland’s Munktiki) and Joe Staskerz (owner of Portland’s Elroy Artspace). Nielson helped design a custom mug for the opening of Elroy Artspace’s July/August 2011 Tiki Fine Art group show.