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Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Saw a Werewolf Drinking a Piña Colada at Trader Vic's…

Warren Zevon has been gone many years now, but I still miss him and his brand of music.  

I met Warren Zevon while at Buffalo State College in 1984. I was a member of the entertainment committee called the Student Union Board and our concert chairman had booked him to perform in the student union building. The night was a blur, but I do remember a strange request Mr. Zevon made a few hours before the show. 

“I need a skeleton.” Warren exclaimed.

Yes, we really embarked on a mission prompted by this unique folk pop star. Heading directly to the science building Warren and 4 of us found a classroom that either contained a full or partial skeleton and/or a pull down chart of the human body skeletal structure. We borrowed one or both and there that sat with Warren on stage for his performance. 

Sell Art Online
Warren Zevon as he performed at Buffalo State College in 1984
Warren, this post is dedicated to you.

Despite my appreciation for the song lyrics, I didn’t know the significance of Trader Vic's until just a few weeks ago when I found an actual 1965 menu. It was a luncheon menu from the New York City location, located for a time in the Savoy Hilton. 

If you are unfamiliar with Trader Vics, here is the shortened version.

Victor Burgeron opened a small bar/club in California in the 30’s called the “Hinky Dink.” It was a place like many others and it was only after Vic travelled to Hollywood and saw a bar whose style caught his eye, that he got an idea. “Don the Beachcomber” was the creation of another vagabond spirit named Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who had returned from a South Seas journey and decorated his bar in a polynesian style. Victor, who felt he could do it better, converted his bar in Oakland to the same style and “Trader Vic’s” was born. In the post prohibition era, a menu of Rum-based drinks was easier with the new availability of the inexpensive liquor. 

While both claimed to have invented the Mai Tai neither ever came to blows over it, though Burgeron as late as the 1970s was still claiming the title. Victor was the better businessman of the 2 and his place became popular enough to open in several other classy locations: Beverly Hills, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and Hawaii, and in 1958 Trader Vic's opened in the Savoy Hilton, NYC.

The Pina Colada, consumed by the Werewolf in the famous song, was less well know than the Mai Tai, but Warren wrote the song that way.  Pina means pineapple and colada means strained, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that alcohol was added to this refresher that was founded in Cuba.

The Savoy Hilton location closed in 1965, making my found menu the last of its kind. The restaurant moved next door inside The Plaza Hotel with a renewed vigor until about 1990. Sadly, it did not survive Donald Trump's purchase of The Plaza Hotel, who felt the decor was tacky and closed it. Many people still remember their memories of escaping there. Though Victor died in 1984, the Trader Vic’s brand lives on in 17 countries.
Werewolves of London, again.

My thanks to Greg Morabito, editor of NY Eater and his comprehensive article that I drew from for this post.

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