Trader Vic’s just opened in Portland last month in August. Every time I have passed by it has been very busy with people enjoying the tiki atmosphere in the lounge or tables by the large windows that open up the entire wall to the street, so it seems to have quite a buzz right now. I haven’t been to a Trader Vic’s since the one that used to be in the basement of the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago- years ago, and I remember it was part of three Chicago icons- the Trader Vic’s which had been there since the 50s, Marshall Fields, and the Berghoff all falling to history around that time. I like concept of the Polynesian reference to island time and tropical warmth in the atmosphere- it resonates with my two great trips to Hawaii, and my continue hope to make it to Tahiti. It’s nostalgia and hope squared! I organized a happy hour with co-workers and counted down the days.
As soon as you walk into the Portland Trader Vic’s space, you are transported out of Portland and into the Polynesian islands, thanks to the exotic wood and masks as you sit at tables and chairs that are probably the same ones I sat in when dining in Hawaii. Their drinks are all fruity and pack a punch that you may not realize until you stand up, so the alcohol probably helped that experience of relaxation along too. It’s kitschy fun, and I like it! As the weather is turning cold and the skies are graying over again, this is a little escape in terms of the detailed atmosphere inside and the beverages.
The food on the other hand, at least for happy hour, was mixed. I didn’t order off the dinner menu, mainly as the prices off that menu are pretty dear, including $8-15 appetizers and mains priced between $20-40. Though to be fair the $40 price tag is for a 20 oz steak, which speaks to how affordable the happy hour prices are- and perhaps is hinting at the higher quality and better execution perhaps saved for the main menu?
We shared a few Happy Hour bar food items ($3-4 each) along with our liquid libations. The best was the “Maui Waui” shrimp that are coconut crusted and tossed in sweet chili and limi aioli- they popped with flavor. The crab rangoon with blue crab and spiced cream cheese in a wonton wrapper was soggy and small. The cheese bings, with Carlton Farms ham, Emmenthal cheese, gruyere, and then panko crusted were also soggy mushy rounds of essentially flat thin cheesesticks. The presentation of the chili popcorn that has herbs and maple syrup tossed in to get some flavoring, and the fries came with curry ketchup and aioli for dipping were ok.
More importantly, I had the drink they offer called Menehune Juice made with fruit juice, light and dark rum, and hint of almond. It also comes with a little Menehune- male or female- that you can keep. Menehune are basically physically short and mischievous people sort of like Ireland’s leprechauns that are part of Hawaii’s folklore. Also enjoyed were the Mai Tais which are discounted during happy hour- although what you see pictured is the “Mai Tai Wave”- a drink flight that allows you to try a little of the 3 kinds of Mai Tais in one ride of this surfboard, the Guavi, Maui, and Mango
Front of this female Menehune, back, (in retrospect I should have also gotten the side shot- her shelf is the same protrusion as her arms…) and the pair together before they got into trouble and had to be covered with a napkin.
Would you believe it, there’s actually a photo of me and of the group (mostly)? Thanks Candace for taking the photo- next time we will make you get in it too and the waitress can take it to balance out so us 3 ladies can balance out the eyesore of those dudes.