Mixed Feelings About Mahiki – London

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Mahiki was one of the first in a new breed of tiki bar—it’s really more of an exclusive lounge/nightclub with a tiki theme. (It’s a concept that’s already been cloned in a London a few times, and made its way across the pond with Riff Raff’s in NYC.)

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Nightlife entrepreneurs Nick House and Piers Adam opened Mahiki in 2006 and it quickly became a hotspot thanks to frequent appearances by celebrities and Princes William and Harry (their friend Guy Pelly handled promotions). The brand has since expanded with launches of signature rum, limited-edition swimwear, and pop-up events, plus a second Mahiki location to open in Dubai, and a huge space to be converted into Mahiki East for the London Olympics.

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An enjoyable, low-key time can be had at the Mahiki, but you have to follow these two rules: 1) Dress up. (No jeans or sneaks) 2) Arrive early. At 9 p.m. a velvet rope goes up out front, cover charges might apply (£15), tables are reserved for bottle service (though they’ll stay empty for a few hours until those folks actually show up) and the cocktail prices shoot up when the “moonlight menu” replaces the “sunset menu.”

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Once inside, you head down a staircase—fitting as Mahiki is named for the path to the underworld in Polynesian mythology. The owners wisely brought in CheekyTiki to do the decor and they went all out. The lounge is filled with tons of bamboo, lauhala matting, shell lamps, rattan chairs and tikis. I especially loved this Hawaiian Chief seat of honor.

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Another level below that is the nightclub, which seems to downplay the theme a bit in comparison, though there is a glassed-in tiki garden in amongst the big round booths and dance floor. Somewhere about is the “No-Tell Motel,” a retro-trashy styled private party space which from their photos has karaoke in a shower, disco balls galore, a bed and a stripper pole.

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The modelesque hostesses wear tropical printed dresses and headsets, flitting about like secret agents out of “Hawaii 5-O.” At our service was a jolly fellow in full sailor suit, complete with a cap and faux American accent, who rolled around one of those Old World-style globe bars. Quite a juxtaposition between the serious and silly attitudes.

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Food-wise there’s a short menu of “light bites” like calamari, mozzarella sticks and lobster nachos. The Sliders (£12), mini burgers on brioche buns, were juicy and flavorful, while the truffle and wild mushroom arancini (£7.50) couldn’t have been more perfect: light and crispy with rich, creamy risotto inside. I was swooning with every bite…

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The beautifully designed cocktail menu offers about three dozen selections, including some classics like the Zombie, but mostly original creations by Soul Shakers. Mr. Hockey was a fan of the tart and bubbly Mahiki (£8), comprising Bacardi Gold, Sailor Jerry, pear and strawberry purée, lemon, crème de fraise and Champagne. Meanwhile, my favorite of the night was the off-menu Paradise Club made with Mahiki Coconut, coconut creme, lime and guava juice.

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Round two kicked off with the Honolulu Honey (£7.50), an interesting concoction of Bacardi Gold, honey cream, mango, pineapple and lime. The Good Time Girl, however, was just an OK time. Rumored to be a favorite of Kate Middleton, it’s a bland blend of Finlandia vodka, mango and passion fruit purée, and vanilla ice cream. Mahiki has custom mugs made for them by Cheekytiki, including some neat designs by TikiRacer, but they’re not really for sale as souvenirs. (Apparently people just take the liberty of pocketing them instead.)

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For £10, you can spin the Wheel of Fortune (a bit reminiscent of the Tiki-Ti) and land on a cocktail or possibly tap water, or be ordered to run around naked, or hit the jackpot! When we were there, two different parties were lucky enough to win the legendary Mahiki Treasure Chest (£135), rum punch topped off with a bottle of Moet & Chandon that does indeed arrive in a treasure chest and serves 8 people. (It’s just one of their creatively presented large-format drinks.)

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Mahiki definitely does some things right, like the decor and the drinks, but they seem to give a cold shoulder to anyone that’s not a socialite or bigspender. There are numerous reviews online about people being rejected at the door for flimsy reasons (or being told there’s no guest list when there actually is), so proceed with caution. And if they give you any trouble, Trader Vic’s London is less than a kilometer away.

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Mahiki
1 Dover St.
London, W1S 4LD, United Kingdom
020-7493-9529

Mahiki on Urbanspoon

Trader Vic’s – London Hilton on Park Lane

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After checking out the Moai and other antiquities at the British Museum, we had planned to meet up with a friend at Trader Vic’s. This was the first overseas location of the chain, opening in 1963 in the London Hilton on Park Lane. (Trader Vic’s once had a franchise partnership with Hilton hotels, but most of those restaurants have closed.)

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The entrance itself is kind of magical, with a giant chandelier and beautiful tapa cloth wrapping around the staircase that takes you down to the restaurant. Also at the top is a display case with some of the standard Trader Vic’s souvenirs, but at prices that will make you cringe if your currency is on the weaker side (£20 for the coconut mug!).

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There was a close call this summer when the hotel suffered a fire in the basement kitchens, but luckily Trader Vic’s needed only minor repairs. They were only serving a limited menu while we were there, and had closed off the lounge area on the right. (The restaurant is scheduled to fully re-open on November 1.)

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We were seated up on the left in the dining room. The decor is topnotch, with carved tiki poles, suspended outriggers, fish floats, large shells and bamboo, but I particularly liked the nautical touches of the lanterns, model ships and small yacht club flags along the wall.

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Between these spaces is the bar, where an amplified acoustic guitar player was performing. Alas, the music was too loud and the wrong style (Latin) and detracted from the ambience. Earlier in the night it was filled with businessmen sipping scorpion bowls. (But sadly no werewolves drinking Pina Coladas…)

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In recent years Trader Vic’s has censored their original menus by making the ladies much more modest, so it was amusing to find this saucy sign.

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I always like to order the signature drink of that particular Trader Vic’s, and here it’s the London Sour (£9), which Trader Vic himself made for the restaurant’s debut. It’s composed of Scotch whisky with orgeat, orange and lemon juice. (At other Trader Vic’s, it’s made with Bourbon and dubbed the Eastern Sour.) I don’t drink much Scotch so I was a bit hesitant about this one, but I loved it. The balance between sweet and sour was just perfect.

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Now if only I had quit while I was ahead. Instead I was intrigued by the section of the cocktail menu that went beyond the Trader Vic’s classics and ordered the Wanilla (£13.50), made with St. Aubin vanilla rum, pineapple, “a touch of Mandarin” and Prosecco. I had hoped for something fruity and bubbly, but there was an artificial taste to this that was a total turnoff.

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Minor missteps aside, it was such a thrill to visit one of the original Trader Vic’s. It was also great chatting with one of the friendly hosts about Trader Vic’s—he seemed impressed by my enthusiasm. 🙂

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Trader Vic’s is located in the Mayfair district just east of Hyde Park and is quite convenient to slake a thirst after sightseeing. Plus, Mahiki is less than a kilometer away so you could turn the night into a tiki bar mini-crawl. (Definitely hit up the Mahiki first, though, for reasons that will be explained later.)

Trader Vic’s
London Hilton on Park Lane
22 Park Lane
London, W1K 1PN, United Kingdom
020-7208-4113

Trader Vic's on Urbanspoon

Rapa Nui Moai at the British Museum – London

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There were so many tiki bars in London, and alas not enough time for us to visit them all. We did have to fit in some legitimate sightseeing here and there! Coincidentally, the British Museum happens to have some South Pacific artifacts along with the very impressive Egyptian collection, Parthenon frieze and Rosetta Stone.

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Their Rapa Nui Moai (Easter Island statue) is quite a sight. This handsome fellow is named Hoa Hakananai’a (roughly translated as “Stolen or hidden friend”) and is dated around 1400. About a thousand moai were made on Rapa Nui, but apparently this is only one of 16 that was carved from basalt.

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What’s really compelling about this one though are the unexpected carvings on the back, which are Birdman symbols that were added after the moai was moved to ‘Orongo. It was brought to England in 1869 by the HMS Topaze, and Queen Victoria gifted it to the museum (presumably because it clashed with the Buckingham Palace curtains).

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It’s part of the “Living and Dying” permanent exhibition that’s been in the Wellcome Trust Gallery since 2003. There are also objects from Africa, North and South America, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, like this carved wooden post from the 1830s-1850s. If you look closely you can see the rauponga pattern—the notched “V”s are supposed to resemble the namesake fern frond.

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I was also intrigued by this housepost (circa 1900-1950 from the Sepik River region in Papua New Guinea) with its long face and mysterious animal. (Crocodile? Platypus?)

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The British Museum also has a Hawaiian Ku (see info on Critiki) in their Oceania collection but from what I can tell it doesn’t seem to be on display at the moment. (Last summer it was sent to the Bishop Museum in Hawaii for a special reunion exhibition.)