Thursday, April 14, 2011

Trader Vic's Vancouver

In one of the pictures we posted of Pamela Anne Gordon last week you could just see, behind her hand, part of the roof of Trader Vic's in Vancouver.  Sadly, this is the only real tiki restaurant we have ever been to; we visited there in early 1995 not long before it closed.

The distinctive pitched roof of Trader Vic's is just visible above Pamela's right hand

Agent Triple P has been to two other Trader Vic's: the one at the London Hilton, which is still very much operating and the one at the Beverly Hilton which is hanging in there although we're not sure of its future given the extensive refurbishment planned for that hotel.  Anyway, neither of them have the authentic South Seas splendour of the Vancouver restaurant.

Trader Vic's was the brainchild of Victor Jules Bergeron Jr (1902-1984) from San Francisco.  He opened his first restaurant, Hinky Dink's, in 1937 opposite his parents grocery store in Oakland, California.  Gradually the decor of the restaurant became increasingly tropical and he changed the name to Trader Vic's opening a second restaurant in Seattle in 1940. 

The huge surge of interest in anything Polynesian, following the Pacific theatre in World War 2 and in advance of Hawaii becoming the 50th state (in 1959), helped him build a chain of restaurants which set the model for many themed restaurant chains that came afterwards.

Trader Vic's menu cover

During the sixties and seventies there were around 25 Trader Vic's around the world but these started to disappear in the eighties and nineties as tiki fell out of favour.   Now tiki is trendy again and there are, once again, 25 branches of Trader Vic's globally.

The Bayshore Inn in the mid sixties with Trader Vic's on the right

The one in Vancouver was opened in 1961 as part of the new Bayshore Inn at 1601 Bayshore Drive.  It was built by Western Hotels which was founded in 1930 in Yakima, Washington State.  In 1954 they acquired their first hotel in Canada and then changed their name to Western International Hotels.  The 332 room Bayshore Inn was the first hotel they had constructed themselves, as opposed to having bought.

Unlike most hotel-located Trader Vic's, which are within the normal space of the interior of a  hotel, the Vancouver branch soared into the sky in a pastiche of a Polynesian lodge. This gave its dining room an anazing sense of space; especially as it looked out onto the harbour and Grouse Mountain across the water.  It also meant that you could arrive at the restaurant by boat; another unique feature.

There was a problem with the opening of the restaurant, however, in that an hour before opening the Liquor Control Board of British Columbia refused to grant the restaurant a liquor licence because of the prominent penises on some of the tiki statues inside. A quick session with a hacksaw removed the offending members and the restaurant was ready to go!

The Bayshore Inn with Trader Vic's in the background right

In 1972 a shambling man in a dressing gown and slippers sidled into the Bayshore Inn, declared it to be "pretty nice" and took over the top two floors of the hotel for the next five months and twenty-eight days.  Howard Hughes had returned to Vancouver for the first time since 1945 when he piloted local actress Yvonne De Carlo for a flight over the city.

Triple P was taken to Trader Vic's at the Bayshore Inn by his particular friend S in 1995.  They had only met a few days before and, at that point she had not moved to Vancouver.  We had drinks and dinner there although Triple P found the somewhat rococo cocktails not to his taste and indeed the food was not particularly memorable either.  The restaurant decor was, however, unlike anything else we had ever experienced!

Vancouver in 1965.  The Bayshore Inn is about a third of the way in from the left, on the inlet.  On the right is the pier where the Pan Pacific (built in 1986) and Canada Place are now

Vancouver 2007. Tower blocks obscure the Bayshore Inn

When Triple P visited, as indeed when it opened, the Bayshore Inn was in a rather run down industrial part of the city.  Work was just starting on clearing old railway lines which would eventually make way for the large number of apartment blocks that infest the area (including S's!) today.  S and Triple P walked back to the Pan Pacific from Trader Vic's along the waterfront (as far as we were able) as there was no nice path and gardens like there are today.

In 1970 a large tower was added to the Bayshore Inn and in 1980, on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the company, Western International Hotels changed its name to Westin so the Bayshore Inn is now the Westin Bayshore.  The area it is located in is now very much more salubrious than it was before.

Trader Vic's closed the year after Triple P visited, in 1996, and a normal end to this story would be that it was demolished to make way for something trendier.  In fact the space where it was located hasn't been built on and remains an open space but the Trader Vic's building still exists.

A couple bought the building and had it moved to Vancouver Island.  The building was put on a barge and taken across the water where it was then taken by road to its new site.

It was placed in a waterside setting at Rachelle's Vineyard in Brentwood Bay to be used as holiday accomodation for guests at the vineyard.

Trader Vic's in its new location overlooking Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island

It was a major engineering feat to move a building 44 metres long, 12 metres wide and weighing 140 tons in one piece from the mainland to the island.

The building a couple of years ago

Sadly, although it still retains many of its original interior features it seems to be in rather a bad way these days.  Let's hope someone is able to restore it to its former tiki glory.

Labels: ,