Saturday, July 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mai Tai!

I'm on vacation, and while that would spur some people to a veritable frenzy of blogging, it did the opposite to me. Just didn't feel like it. Partly that's because we've spent a lot of time on trains -- we did a three-day trip from NYC to Portland, OR; a 17-hour trip from Portland to San Francisco, and we're about to start the three-day trip back (by a diffrent route) -- and there's no wireless access on Amtrak. Except maybe the Northeast corridor; I could swear I've seen poeple working on their laptops on the Philadelphia to NYC Acela... on the other hand, maybe they're not online.

Anyway, the drought has been broken, because I can't resist celebrating the fact that the Mai Tai cocktail is 65 years old. Partly because I love all things tiki (except the too-sweet, too flaming cocktails, ironically enough), and partly because our hotel is right next to "Trader" Vic Alley. The mai tai was invented by "Trader" Vic Bergeron at the original Trader Vic's restaurannt and tiki bar in Oakland, just across the bridge from where we're staying.

Makes me glad that I paid a visit or two to the late, no-longer lamented Trader Vic's in Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, which closed its doors in 1989 because new owner Donald Trump thought it was tacky. Yes, you read that right: Donald Trump thought it was tacky... which it was, of course, but not as tacky as his hair. Not by a long shot. (Who knew there was a Trader Vic's in Dubai, by the way? I guess I was surprised because I made this erroneous assumption.)

Truth be told, I preferred Hawaii Kai, which took Polynesian-lounge tackiness to the next level. We're talking hula floor shows and a very angry dwarf doorman. Somewhere I have a photo of myself with my friend Greg Snead, snapped by a pretty girl in a plastic-grass skirt, who went from table to table with a gigantic old Polaroid and sold souvenir shots to tourists. If I can find it, I'll scan it and put it online. It's quite the artifact, both personal and in lost-New York terms, since Hawaii Kai was shuttered around the same time as the Plaza Trader Vic's. In fact, the whole building at 1638 Broadway, between 51st and 52nd Street was demolished, so Hawaii Kai is truly gone... as is the neighboring RKO movie theater where I saw Bug, which featured flaming, volcano-dwelling insects rather than flaming drinks in volcano-shaped containers. But that's another story, for another day.

Anyway, happy birthyday, Mai Tai -- you look marvelous! ("Trader" Vic Alley photo by Frank Lovece)
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