In 2023 the Trader Vic’s in London will turn 60 years old—or at least it might, if plans to shut it down at the end of 2022 are averted. It was revealed in late November that the London Hilton will shutter the famous tiki bar by Dec. 31 in order to launch a new restaurant concept next year. The oldest continuously operating Trader Vic’s in the world, the one Warren Zevon sang about in “Werewolves of London,” and one of only four Vic’s left in the Western hemisphere will most likely be gone within the next 10 days.
The loss of the London Trader Vic’s is a blow both to that city and to tiki fans across the globe. Waking into the London Vic’s is like stepping back to the early ‘60s, when the tiki craze was at its peak and the idea of cultural appropriation was still largely unknown. Much of the original decor remains today, with authentic Polynesian art and artifacts celebrating the cultures from which they came. At a time when new tiki bars trying to recreate the past are springing up across the world, the Trader Vic’s in London is the real deal. It’d be a shame to lose it.
If this location closes, it’d just be the latest step in the long, slow deterioration of the Vic’s / Hilton partnership. For almost 70 years Trader Vic’s has had a relationship with Hilton. Victor Bergeron didn’t create the tiki bar, but he helped make it an indelible part of American culture when his Bay-area restaurant struck a deal with Hilton in the early ‘50s and brought Trader Vic’s to cities throughout the country and abroad. Over the next few decades Trader Vic’s could be found in Hiltons in several major American cities, from the Pacific Northwest to New England to the Deep South, and in hotels from Cuba to Tokyo. Vic’s was the tiki standard-bearer, the original home of the Mai Tai, and the restaurant that defined tiki more than any other. Most of those locations gradually closed from the ‘80s through the ‘00s, until eventually few Trader Vic’s existed outside of the Middle East. Of the handful left in America, Europe, or Asia, only two were located in Hiltons—and now one of those will be shutting down.
Tiki fans in the U.K. aren’t just rolling over. A petition to save Trader Vic’s has over 7000 signatures. According to Londonist, the effort to save Trader Vic’s includes history professors and TV presenters, whose expertise and prominence could be useful in swaying Hilton’s decision makers. Still, it’s not looking good. There’s no indication that the hotel chain is rethinking its plans. I’ve reached out to Hilton to ask about the closure of the London location and the company’s future with Trader Vic’s twice but haven’t gotten any replies. Despite its history and its devoted fan base, this Vic’s seems destined to join the dozens of other locations that have faded away over the decades.
I’ll cop to having a bit of a selfish motive in writing about this. I live in Atlanta, where the last Hilton in America with a Trader Vic’s can be found. The Atlanta Vic’s opened over a decade after London’s, in 1976, but it similarly hasn’t gone under any major refurbishments in the almost 50 years since opening. You can feel the years when you enter the Atlanta Vic’s, and that gives it a charm and gravitas that you won’t find at tiki revival spots like the nearby S.O.S. Tiki Bar.
That age and the news out of London make me afraid that Atlanta could be next on the chopping block. If Hilton is willing to close the older, more famous, and more historic London location, they absolutely would have no problem gutting the Atlanta one too. Part of why I reached out to Hilton was to ask about the future of Atlanta’s Trader Vic’s, and I’ll admit that’s a more pressing and urgent matter to me than London’s closure. The Atlanta spot is often crowded, especially when there’s a convention in the Hilton or nearby hotels (if you’ve ever wanted to see a werewolf actually drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s, come to Atlanta’s during Dragon Con), but any bar or restaurant in its location would probably be packed at those times. If Hilton believed a newer concept without the mid-century kitsch or cultural baggage of a tiki bar could make them more money, they’d surely have no problem shutting down a 50-year-old favorite that’s one of the last outposts of a legendary chain. If they’ll close the London Trader Vic’s, they’ll close anything.
Hopefully that doesn’t happen, not in Atlanta, and not in London. Internet petitions are less than meaningless, but hopefully the real-life outcry over Vic’s English demise will make Hilton reconsider. And although there’s no specific reason to fear for the Atlanta location—there are no rumors that it’s next to close, or that the Hilton here is eyeing anything else for that spot—hopefully it’ll get to live on for decades to come, keeping the Vic’s name alive for everybody who loves tiki or anybody who just wants an old-fashioned night on the town.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.