Happy Birthday Trader Vic

Everyone’s favorite Mai Tai inventor was born on this day in 1902. Victor Jules Bergeron had a difficult childhood, losing a leg to tuberculosis when just six year old. Early adulthood was no better until he scrapped some money together to open a small restaurant and bar at named Hinky Dinks at 65th and San Pablo avenue in Oakland in 1934.

A visit Don the Beachcomber’s convinced Bergeron to adjust the theme of his venue. The Bamboo Room at “Trader Vic at Hinky Dinks” opened as initially as an exclusive ladies’ lounge. Later, it became a co-ed destination and eventually the Trapper Lodge theme of Hinky Dinks gave way entirely to a Polynesian theme. The venue eventually got a shorter name, simply Trader Vic’s in 1938.

This photo shows Bergeron in the midst of that transition, sporting a Pith Helmet that never became his trademark and was soon forgotten. One guesses that Bergeron thought a hat would add character to his persona, as it did for Donn Beach. One also guesses that Bergeron got fed up wearing such head-ware and might have even thrown it into the trash accompanied by colorful profanity.

Bergeron’s fame soon spread as a restaurateur and cocktail developer, a celebrity chef of sorts. That fame as the Gordon Ramsay of his day was one reason he was asked to develop a cocktail menu for the Matson hotel properties in Waikiki where the Mai Tai became a viral sensation starting in 1953.

Bergeron died in 1984 at the age of 81, but today let’s remember the young man who was about to shake up the restaurant and cocktail world. Raise a glass of rum or brandy, or maybe a famous Trader Vic’s cocktail such as the Fogcutter, Eastern Sour, or a Mai Tai. Cheers and happy birthday to Trader Vic Bergeron.

Photo courtesy Trader Vic’s

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