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Tiki Central Forums Locating Tiki The Traders (Trader Vic's) Palmer House, Chicago, IL (restaurant)
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The Traders (Trader Vic's) Palmer House, Chicago, IL (restaurant)
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 16, 2007
Posts: 5150
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Posted: 2009-06-08 10:39 pm   Permalink

I picked up an old Chicago guide with this ad from the Trader Vic's


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Sabu The Coconut Boy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2002
Posts: 2804
From: Carson, California
Posted: 2010-02-20 8:47 pm   Permalink

I managed to find one of the old-style TRADERS menus from the Palmer House location and paid $5.00 for it. Inside was a treasure-trove of ephemera-swag from the 1957 opening-night inauguration of the restaurant:

Parchment-paper embossed invitation with deckled edges. The piece on the left is the folder. On the right is the invitation card.

The menu itself is a special opening-night souvenir edition. This is the first page. (August Pritzlaff was the Director of Health and Physical Education of the Chicago public school system)

Cocktail napkin

Coasters and giant paddle-swizzle

Best of all is this yellowed, 2-page article from the June 16, 1957 edition of the Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine. I've never seen it before.

BREEZING IN AND OUT of Chicago these days is a salty, rough-hewn character with a name that many people mistake for a Navajo trading post or a fictional South Sea island beachcomber.

He is Trader Vic, the one and only original.

By profession, Trader Vic is a restaurateur who prefers to be called a saloonkeeper and whose name is synonymous with exotic rum drinks and tropical foods. By reputation he is an enigmatic, legendary incarnation of a refugee from a pirate ship. He has a sailor's pungent vocabulary, a flair for yarn-spinning, and a wooden leg. His story is that the sharks got him. He also plays Tahitian drums like a native.

By now most Chicagoans know that he is also the man who recently separated Conrad Hilton from the $500,000 to move a chunk of South Sea islands into the Loop, complete with escalator, in what is probably the most expensive Polynesian snack-shop in the world, if not the most fabulous. It is called the Traders.

Trader Vic is neither Navajo, Polynesian, nor a sea-dog. He's an American-born Frenchman, married to a former Chicago model. He has never set eyes on Tahiti and doesn't intend to, because he gets seasick.

He made his fame and fortune from introducing South Sea island food and drinks to the United States - after a plane ride to Cuba.

His shark story is pure yarn. His sailor's background consists of paddling a canoe as a Boy Scout. His first tropical emporium, a place called Hinky Dink's, was decorated with deer antlers. It was a one-room (and W.C.) bar and sandwich shop started on $500 borrowed money in Oakland, Cal., in 1934.

What he did before that he figures is nobody's business.

"But it was all strictly legitimate. I was never in jail," he says.

Trader Vic, whose real name is Victor Bergeron, is a brusque, blue-eyed man with mammoth topsides and a croaky voice that bellows orders like a Prussian general. He has a strange and strong aversion to personal publicity, refuses radio and television interviews, tells reporters to write whatever they want without bothering him with questions.

Under duress he succumbed to a Tribune interview.

Most questions he answered with an uncommunicative scowl, or, "- - - - -! How corny must we get?"

Behind his hardshell exterior is a man with a phobia against Horatio Alger success stories. He's just a bartender, he says - the one who dreamed up such potent guzzles as the Samoan Fog Cutter, Rangoon Ruby, Suffering Bastard, Martinique Swizzle, Tiki Puka Puka, and the Scorpion, with a floating gardenia.

Before he switched from deer antlers to South Seas decor and became Trader Vic, he was known only as Victor Bergeron, the handicapped son of a French-Canadian father and French mother who ran a little grocery store in Oakland.

Trader Vic likes his own man-eating shark yarn. But in the right mood he'll ask gruffly, "You think a man goes chasing sharks at the age of 4?" That's all.

Only his wife and a few close friends know the truth.

As a child he had a dread bone disease now known as osteomylitis. He was rushed to the hospital for a foot amputation. This was in 1906, the year of the great San Francisco Earthquake. Trader Vic still remembers his father carrying him out of the hospital in his arms, with bricks falling all around. By the time the hospital was ready for patients again, the disease had spread upward. He was 4 years old, a frail child, not expected to live.

His parents spent most of their modest income keeping him alive and helping him develop the rest of his body. They bought him a small canoe to strengthen shoulder and chest muscles thru paddling. They encouraged him in all forms of sports and athletics.

Today he has a physique like Sampson, beats his wife at badminton and tennis, is ambidextrous, and can streak over pheasant fields for miles without tiring.

He went to business school, then worked for his father in the grocery. Three successive amputations had drained the family finances and might also have drained the hope of a young man with less spunk than Victor Bergeron.

He was past 30, an age when most men are at least on the way, before he was physically able to start out on his own with some reasonable assurance that the disease was under control.

His father's grocery and his mother's fine French cooking were largely responsible for his inclination toward the restaurant business.

In a few years the little sandwich shop and bar he started on a $500 shoestring became internationally famous.

His press agents usually say it was atrip to the South Pacific that changed his whole life. Havana isn't extactly in the South Pacific, but it did inspire the first rum concoctions that parlayed a two-bit bar into a million-dollar byword in the restaurant world. The drinks, naturally, came first, the food later.

Bergeron's bartending was such an immediate hit that he was compelled to make a flying trip to the Pacific islands of Hawaii in search of suitably exotic foods to match is fancy rum swizzles.

He also brought back a few tapa cloths and bamboo mats. He took down the deer antlers and stopped serving sandwiches.

He was still rather sensitive about his physical handicap and one day when a customer, after too much voodoo grog, boldly asked what happened to his leg, Bergeron snapped irritably, "The sharks got it."

Shortly thereafter a rumor started - probably inspired by the Honlulu decor - that Bergeron was a South Sea island trader. Bergeron obligingly hopped a boat to Pago Pago in American Samoa to bring back some native arts and crafts. That's when he learned about seasickness. It was his one and only excursion to the South Pacific.

He capitalized on his customers' imagination, adopted the name Trader Vic, cultivated a salt-water, swashbucking flair, and got rich.

His original spot in Oakland expanded, room by room, until it is now one of his largest. He opened another in San Francisco which cost $60,000 and does a million dollar business annually, and one in Honolulu which he no longer owns.

He has designed and supervised tropical restaurants, bars, and hotel dining salons across the country and has been commissioned to do the restaurant for the new United Airlines terminal at Idlewild, N.Y.

But by far his most elaborate establishment is the South Seas improvisation in the Palmer House in Chicago, complete with tikis - gods carved from coconut trees, open Chinese ovens for roasting Indonesian lamb, and a $94,000 escalator.

Trader Vic is most happy about coming to Chicago. It's his wife's home town. She's the former Helen Harwood. She met Vic as a customer in his San Francisco place and was wooed and won in a whirlwind romance.

"He does things with a flourish," she says. "But underneath he's a very humble man."


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Trad'r Bill
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 14, 2008
Posts: 493
From: Hercules, CA
Posted: 2010-02-20 9:39 pm   Permalink

Nice come-up Sabu... I never knew that swizzle was used that early on.

Thanks for taking the time to type up that article.

Trad'r Bill

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Posts: 606
From: Lodi, CA
Posted: 2010-02-20 10:42 pm   Permalink

Fantastic treasure, what a great find!!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 18, 2004
Posts: 682
From: Tiki in a Crowsnest, AB., Canada
Posted: 2010-02-21 10:18 am   Permalink

That's awesome Sabu!! Thanks for posting all that!
It's great to see a little treasure trove of stuff like stay together all these years and then end up in one of ours hands complete.

It's also cool to see personalized menus and initiations way back from 1957!! Nice photos too!

Mahalo, TabooDan

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Or Got Rum?
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 29, 2009
Posts: 530
From: Wisconsin
Posted: 2010-02-21 1:27 pm   Permalink

Super group of artifacts! Thanks for posting!

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Sabu The Coconut Boy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2002
Posts: 2804
From: Carson, California
Posted: 2010-02-21 8:27 pm   Permalink

Thanks, All.

I get excited about a collection like this too, because it allows the geek in me to apply actual dates to artifacts - (This style-napkin was in use in 1957, etc.)

I also didn't know much of that 'true' biography of Victor Bergeron laid out in the newspaper story.

I don't know if the owner of the collection, Mr. Pritzlaff, was much of a drinker though. The drink coasters have no ring-marks. The napkin is badly stained on the other side, but with coffee.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11604
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-02-22 11:49 am   Permalink

Great score, Sabu. This belongs in a museum.
Funny the article does not mention the Mai Tai as his creation, it must have been a point of contention already then.

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Const Tiki
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Jun 16, 2007
Posts: 36
From: Portland, Oregon
Posted: 2010-03-21 1:51 pm   Permalink

This quote from a Chicago Tribune article from 1/10/06 has been haunting me for years and I wonder if someone might know something about it. On the contents of the restaurant:

"Artifacts will be shipped to San Francisco for refurbishing, though souvenir-hunters have cut down the load by stripping the restaurant of ship models, seashells, table silver, table lamps, drink decorations and almost every glass with a Trader Vic's label, Richter said."

Who got all the swag?

The last chance I had to visit this restaurant was in September 2005, but I wasn't able to get even the smallest souvenir. I've been trying to find something ever since. Even the stuff on eBay for this location is sparse.

Thanks for any help.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 27, 2002
Posts: 1506
From: Honolulu Lounge,Lewes, DE
Posted: 2010-03-21 6:58 pm   Permalink

Great personal history in that article Sabu. Mahalo for sharing it.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 16, 2007
Posts: 5150
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Posted: 2010-06-07 4:12 pm   Permalink

Great score on that piece of history Sabu.

I picked up a drink menu from the Palmer House Traders.

Nice cover art.

Some of the drink mugs and bowls.


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jan 08, 2006
Posts: 189
From: Grand Rapids, MI
Posted: 2012-08-07 09:25 am   Permalink

"Want To Buy A Real Trader Vic's Tiki?"

Looks like a bunch of stuff is up for auction.

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Site Administrator

Joined: Aug 10, 2004
Posts: 3452
From: Redondo Beach, CA
Posted: 2012-08-07 1:12 pm   Permalink


On 2012-08-07 09:25, aloha.taboo wrote:
"Want To Buy A Real Trader Vic's Tiki?"

Looks like a bunch of stuff is up for auction.

Info re-posted in Tiki Marketplace.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 11, 2011
Posts: 929
Posted: 2012-08-08 08:17 am   Permalink

Is someone already saving the photos from this auction to post on this thread so that we have record of what was there?

Just wanted to check before I spent time at "work" not working today

Wish I had a few extra thousand dollars...this would look rad on my porch!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 16, 2007
Posts: 5150
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Posted: 2013-02-25 6:09 pm   Permalink

I bought this nice PNG Spirit Hook a while back that was advertised as coming from the Traders in Chicago.

In has this chalk number on the side that would indicate in came from an auction.

It looks like the one that Tiki David got from the Mauna Loa.

Anybody got any intel to confirm it's a Trader Vic's piece? Do the Vic's auction items include the chalk numbers?

Thanks for any info you can provide.


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