Havana, Cuba & Oakland, California: Trader Vic’s, 1958/1962. Menu. This staple-bound menu measures 8.5” x 15”. The internal drink pages measure approximately 8.25” x 13.5”. Light wear with a couple of short, thin stains at the bottom margin of the cover.
A printed message in Trader Vic’s hand is inside the front cover; it reads: “No more fine Cuban Rum since that stinker Fidel Castro took over – but we’ve a helluva lot of menus – Vic”.
There isn’t much information available about this souvenir menu and what is available online is usually incorrect. Some claim that the “stinker Fidel” message is hand-written and personally signed by Trader Vic. It is not; it was overprinted on what appears to be an original Havana menu that bears a “Trader Vic’s / for the habana hilton / Habana, Cuba / Copyright Trader Vic 1958” statement inside the front cover with a “San Francisco / Oakland, Calif./ U.S.A.” imprint on the front.
While the menu cover is original, the drink menu pages were inserted when the souvenirs were distributed (or sold?) as they are marked “Copyright Trader Vic, 1962.” At least one Tiki collector has suggested that Trader Vic assembled these souvenirs in 1962 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco as anti-Castro propaganda.
Another falsehood about the Havana Trader Vic’s restaurant is that its American manager was shot while running to catch one of the last airplanes out of Cuba back to the US. While that makes for a good story, it is not true. I. Keith Hardmen, a Trader Vic’s manager from Chicago, traveled to Havana in 1957 to supervise the opening of the restaurant. When Castro took control of Cuba in 1959 and established his headquarters in the Habana Hilton, Hardiman personally delivered Fidel’s first meal. When the revolution eventually forced the restaurant to close, Hardmen along with his wife and baby, was reassigned to manage the Trader Vic’s in Portland, Oregon (see Hardiman’s obituary at the San Francisco Gate website. Very good. Item #009423
Shortly after the Havana Trader Vic’s closed, the Cuban government reopened the restaurant as “El Polonesio,” and it remains in operation today with most of its 1950s décor intact. It is the oldest original Trader Vic’s restaurant still in existence.