This week Trader Vic's, the classic repository of tiki culture and gaudy cocktails, reopens to apparent anxious expectancy stoked by nostalgia. "There's a multitude of people coming by," says Rusty Fenton, a principal in Realty America Hospitality, which is reanimating Trader Vic's. "It's like a Mecca. Our PR is almost organic." That's because Fenton and Realty America went out of their way to preserve all of the existing circa-1967 Trader Vic's fixtures preserved in the old Hilton (and Hiltop) hotel that Realty America Group turned into the Hotel Palomar. To this they added new tikis carved in Indonesia and fresh planks painted in New Guinea. The only modifications in the $2 million Polynesian retrofit are massive fireproofing and new heating and air conditioning systems and kitchen equipment, making the new Trader Vic's perhaps the most expensive used restaurant in Dallas history. In this nostalgia cyclone, chef Mickie Crockett will cook. Crockett, a veteran of Old Hickory Steakhouse, Culpepper Steak House, The Riviera and Timpano Italian Chophouse, as well as its defunct reincarnation Eddie Merlot's Prime Aged Beef & Seafood, is marked as the first female chef in Trader Vic's 74-year history. Fenton himself is a veteran of Stephan Pyles' Taqueria Cañonita and the then e brands branch of Carlson Restaurants that spawned it. In fact, Fenton engineered the shutdown and sell-off of the e brands portfolio (Timpano, Samba Room, Mignon, Fishbowl, etc.) before he went over to TGI Friday's, which has a tiki culture all its own if you count its Hawaiian Volcano and the Head Shrinker shooters.
Speaking of refurbishments, Toby Blakley has been tapped to rejuvenate Tony's Restaurant, the food portion of Tony's Wine Warehouse. "I'm just trying to work out all of the kinks," says Blakley, who is spinning a New American global ligature with things such as lamb in pomegranate demi-glace and tuna tartare with toasted cumin, sweet gherkin guacamole and ginger soy vinaigrette; kind of a spaghetti Western sashimi. And like Tony's, Blakley has a history. He was chef/partner ("I put up 10 grand.") in Dragonfly Bar & Restaurant, the notorious late '90s Greenville Avenue hot spot that collapsed under the weight of cocaine and embezzlement allegations lodged against managing partner Steve Kahn. Dragonfly became Milkbar which became Syn Bar, which burned to the ground last year. In the ensuing years Blakley has taught cooking classes, worked for Houston's and cooked as a private chef for families in Fort Worth and Dallas. "I'm like the Tony Romo of this industry," he says, vowing not to muff his Tony's snap.