The Traders, Palmer House Hotel Chicago, 1960s
Tiki culture was all the rage in the US when the historic Palmer House hotel in Chicago opened its Traders restaurant and bar in 1957. And, lest anyone think this was an unauthorized copycat – it was made clear that the location was ‘created and personally supervised by Trader Vic – Victor Jules Bergeron jnr who founded the Polynesian-themed restaurant chain in Oakland, CA.
From old photographs, it must have been fun to walk off the chilly streets of Chicago and enter a South Seas paradise on the lower level of the hotel, owned by Hilton.
Tikis guarded the thatched entrance to Traders and once down the stairs, customers found themselves amid a castaway vibe with ornate wicker chairs, tapa cloth wall hangings, fish floats and fishing nets hanging from the ceiling and puffer fish lamps on wooden tables. There were tikis galore including a huge tiki carved by Barney West (1919-1981) the talented tiki wood carver from Seattle, whose work was in huge demand during the midcentury era of Polynesian pop. Drinks were highly decorated and heavy on the rum, and the food included barbecued meats, Chinese dishes and curries.
The Traders was at some point renamed Trader Vic’s and endured until 2005 at Palmer House, which is now owned by Hilton. The hotel, established at East Monroe Street in 1873 after the original burnt down, has other claims to fame. It was the first hotel to incorporate the lightbulb, the telephone and the vertical steam lift (elevator.) Its kitchens also invented the brownie.
Courtesy Eric Lynxwiler Collection.
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