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Tiki Roots

Drink dreams in Oakland


Let’s be honest: When you think of Oakland, the mai tai isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Believe it or not, the rum concoction that evokes tropical isles was invented in the city in 1944 by Victor Bergeron (pictured), the owner of the original Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar on San Pablo Avenue.

East Bay tiki enthusiasts—including brothers Mano and Michael Thanos, co-owners of College Avenue’s Conga Lounge and Alameda’s Forbidden Island along with Mai Tai campaign publicist Will Viharo—are working to proclaim the mai tai the official cocktail of Oakland. The grassroots campaign was inspired by a successful drive to make Sazerac the official drink of New Orleans and is gaining traction with city council members. Team Mai Tai is optimistic about getting the drink its due—something Bergeron’s family feels would be a fitting homage to him.

“I think it’s a rather nice tribute,” says Bergeron’s daughter, Jeanne Hittell, a Walnut Creek resident. “I grew up with that whole Trader Vic’s culture.”

The now-worldwide Trader Vic’s celebrates the mai tai’s 65th anniversary this month. Cocktail aficionados from Dallas to Dubai can sip these exotic drinks and dream of watching the sun set over the Port of Oakland.

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