For decades, Trader Vic's rode on its vanished reputation as the Bay Area's premier hotspot, a place where one could enjoy fabulous tropical cocktails and exotica like sweet-and-sour spareribs in a setting that managed to be goofy-looking and elegant at the same time. Times changed, our taste buds outgrew the Trader's once-enticing declinations on authentic Island cuisine, and just over a year ago the chain's Emeryville flagship closed for several months of renovation and reinterpretation. Today the place is less stuffy and more fun with plenty of that old special-occasion allure still intact. But the best thing about the new Vic's is something that's nearly seventy years old: the original mai tai, invented by the Trader himself at the inaugural San Pablo Avenue location back in 1944. For years the bar had been serving a lighter version of the classic cocktail in deference to the cosmo-and-lemon-drop crowd, but the vogue for vintage libations has inspired a revival of the number-one recipe. Curaçao, almond syrup, lime juice, shaved ice, fresh mint, and a healthy slug of rich, dark Jamaican rum come together in a sweet, potent wallop of a cocktail.
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