Lost Lake – Chicago’s Tiki Bar Comeback Continues

Exterior of Lost Lake

After creating the smash-hit Chicago tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, mixologist Paul McGee parted ways with the company in late 2014 and joined Land and Sea Dept. (Longman & Eagle, etc.). Fortunately, his next project was another tiki bar, Lost Lake, which opened in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in January 2015. Also involved in the venture is Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. He put together a rum tasting club, The Avondale Maritime Academy, that’s starting soon.

Lost Lake fish floats

Back when McGee hosted “Tiki Nights” at The Whistler in Logan Square, a friend dubbed one of his drinks “Lost Lake” after an Oregon lake that disappears down a lava tube. He thought it would make a good name for a tiki bar (and could also allude to Chicago’s own body of water).

Bar at Lost Lake in Chicago

As you can see in the first picture, the outside is pretty nondescript (kind of like Smuggler’s Cove, as a matter of fact). There’s no “Lost Lake” signage, so keep an eye out for the banana leaf print awning and “tiki” spelled out in pink neon letters. The entrance is actually next door through sister establishment Thank You Takeout.

Lost Lake aquarium

Take a close look in the aquarium by the front of the bar and you might see a piranha or two swimming about among the skulls and driftwood. (The ferocious fish is featured on Lost Lake’s custom swizzle sticks.)

Piranha at Lost Lake

This little fellow is called “Monster” and for the moment he seems to have an uneasy truce with “Rambo,” who apparently scarfed down on his other original tankmates.

Lost Lake in Chicago

Fish traps outfitted with light bulbs are strung in a line above the bar and the ceiling is covered with lauhala matting and bamboo. The banana leaf print wallpaper (same as outside) adds some vintage-style flair. Right when you walk in there’s a seating area with a couple peacock chairs next to the frosted window decorated with netted glass fishing floats. There are more than a dozen rattan stools at the bar plus four tall four-top tables along the wall.

Booths at Lost Lake

Continuing around the corner, there are two booths that allow a bit more privacy. They’re opposite the busy service bar, which is capped off with a thatched roof. Sunlight doesn’t reach this part of the bar so there’s a moodier vibe courtesy of the glowing fish floats above.

Lost Lake grotto

Keep going and you’ll discover “The Grotto,” a neat cave-like nook with a rock wall and a gorgeous chandelier of colorful pufferfish lamps.

Lost Lake tiki mug shelf

The décor draws inspiration from the bamboo/beachcomber aesthetics of Polynesian-inspired establishments from the 1930s, before tiki carvings really started showing up in these kinds of spots. So, the only tikis you’ll find here are in ceramic form — a few Smuggler’s Cove Sunken Tiki mugs on the bar and a shelf above with mugs representing Longitude in Oakland, Trader Sam’s at Disneyland and more. There’s also a display case by the door with more fun stuff like the mask-shaped Tiki-Ti ashtray and a bottle of Lemon Hart rum.

Lost Lake cocktails

The cocktail menu presents a dozen drinks — mostly original creations priced at $12 each — plus four more for sharing ($25 serves 2-3, $45 serves 3-4). Poipu Beach Boogie Board and Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri from Three Dots and a Dash make encore appearances here.

McGee is known for experimenting with different combinations of spirits, but we inadvertently stuck to the rum-based beverages. Naturally, we had to start with the signature drink, Lost Lake, made with aged Jamaican rum, passionfruit, lime, pineapple, Maraschino and Campari. (Luckily, the Campari is not too overpowering — that bittersweet liqueur is an acquired taste.) It’s served in a signature Collins glass, available for purchase for $10, with the recipe printed on the side. (Collectors will also want to snag the Lost Lake double old fashioned glass, $10.)

Meanwhile, the South Sea Dipper (rhum agricole blanc, aged Jamaican rum, lemon, pineapple, passionfruit, ruby port) arrives in a blue seahorse mug imported by Munktiki. (This and Munktiki’s orange pufferfish mug are also for sale for $20 each.)

Lost Lake Tic Tac Taxi

The Tic Tac Taxi is a delightful frozen concoction composed of aged multi-island rum, overproof Jamaican rum, house-made coconut liqueur, passionfruit and lime. I tend to like drinks that are on the sweeter side so this was a favorite.

Mystery Gardenia at Lost Lake

I would also highly recommend the lovely and delicate Mystery Gardenia, based on a 1963 drink from Don the Beachcomber in Las Vegas. The twist is that the house-made Gardenia Mix (butter, honey and spices) is used to fat-wash the light Guyana rum, which is then shaken with lime and Angostura bitters.

Thank You takeout

Chinese food and tiki bars have been associated almost from the start. According to Jeff Berry’s book Sippin’ Safari, when Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (aka Don the Beachcomber) first opened Don’s Beachcomber Cafe in 1933, he had to serve food to be eligible for a liquor license. The Chinese chef he hired had to cook out of a wok propped up on a crate because there wasn’t enough room for a kitchen.

Thus, it was very fitting for Land and Sea Dept. to set up a Chinese takeout counter, Thank You, in the adjacent space. Hungry patrons at Lost Lake can order from the short menu, which is also available for takeout and delivery. We overdid it for just two people. Next time I’d forgo the egg rolls ($5) and Mongolian beef ($10) and just get the addictive peanut snack mix with whole cloves of garlic and bird’s eye chili ($3) and the fried rice with Chinese sausage and an egg yolk on top ($10).

Lost Lake life preserver

Lost Lake is open every day from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. (3 a.m. on Saturdays). There are a few daily specials, including an $8 daiquiri and $7 Tiny and a Tot (a pony glass of Lost Lake Exotica Ale with a shot of rum). McGee collaborated with Marz Brewing on this Maibock-style beer with fruit flavors intended to complement rum. Yet another reason you’ll want to wash ashore at Lost Lake.

Lost Lake
3154 W. Diversey Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773-293-6048
www.lostlaketiki.com

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Thrilled by Three Dots and a Dash
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Thrilled by Three Dots and a Dash – Chicago

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Chicago’s suburbs have beloved tiki spots like Hala Kahiki, Chef Shangri-la and Tiki Terrace, but there hadn’t been much in the city since the new incarnation of Trader Vic’s closed in 2011. Yes, there’d been some tiki nights and menus at bars around town (The Terrace at Trump, Curio, The Whistler, etc.) but nowhere with a tropical setting to match.

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That changed in July 2013, when the much-anticipated Three Dots and a Dash opened in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. It’s a project from Paul McGee (formerly of The Whistler) and R.J. and Jerrod Melman of the Chicago restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You (Everest, L2O, Tru). (NOTE: As of December 2014, Paul McGee is no longer directly involved.) The bar’s name pays tribute to the drink Three Dots and a Dash. Don the Beachcomber, who also invented the Zombie (and tiki bars, for that matter), created it in honor of the end of World War II. (In Morse code, three dots and a dash means “V” — as in “Victory.”)

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The Clark Street address is sort of deceiving as the speakeasy-style entrance is actually down an alley off Hubbard, directly across the street from Paris Club (another LEY venture where you can valet, though apparently there are a few self-park garages nearby too.) Look for blue glowing lights and a couple heat lamps and you’ll find a blue door and above it a small sign for Three Dots and a Dash.

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You’ll enter a dark corridor and then go left down a set of stairs underneath an eerily lit wall of spooky skulls — sort of like you’ve stepped into an Indiana Jones movie. Keep going and you’ll find the host desk, which is one several relics purchased at auction after Trader Vic’s closed, and then the dining room is on the left.

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But before that is the semi-hidden entrance to the private room, decked out with leopard-print banquettes, lots of fake (but very realistic) pillar candles and a revealing black velvet painting on the wall.

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Blue and green fish float lanterns give a mysterious glow to the main space. Big round leather booths line the walls while four-top tables fill the center of the room. The showpiece is the gorgeous thatched roof bar with about a dozen barstools where you can admire the extensive rum collection.

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Some tiki bars cultivate clutter, but this one keeps things more minimalistic in some spots like this corner with just a few spotlit ukuleles and tikis above the sleek banquettes. (The tikis that McGee snapped up in the auction date back to the 1950s and the original Chicago Trader Vic’s at the Palmer House hotel.)

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According to Serious Eats, the Melman brothers visited some of “London’s famed tiki bars” before starting this venture. Clearly, Mahiki must have made an impression — though thankfully there’s no dress code or velvet rope attitude here. Three Dots and a Dash even serves their own version of the Treasure Chest, also topped with a bottle of Champagne and presented in a wooden chest made by Cheeky Tiki. (Reminds me of how both the Mai-Kai in Florida and Kahiki in Ohio had the ritual of the Mystery Drink presented by a lovely Mystery Girl, which the Mai-Kai still performs to this day.)

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Three Dots and a Dash has a capacity of 240 but it’s still a new place — and a fun novelty for Chicagoans suffering through the winter — so you’ll likely find a line on popular nights. If you arrive quite early like we did you shouldn’t have any issues and you might even get to hear some exotica music — much preferable to the DJ that goes on later when it becomes more of a nightclub scene. Reservations are now accepted online.

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The menu is beautifully illustrated in a vintage style with pictures of the drinks alongside their descriptions. Half are “classics” (Mai Tai, Jet Pilot, Three Dots and a Dash) while the other eight are “modern” concoctions from McGee. Each of these is priced at $13. Then there’s a section for shareable options like the Zombie Punch ($65 serves 3-4) and aforementioned Treasure Chest No. 1 ($385 serves 6-8). On top of all this there’s also a separate tome listing more than 200 rums for tasting, plus 16 classic rum cocktails (daiquiri, Navy Grog, Hurricane, etc.).

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My favorite — and Chicago magazine’s, too – was the Painkiller No. 3, a creamy, dreamy combination of Bajan rum, Jamaican rum, coconut liqueur, passionfruit and pineapple. Named after a lyric from “South Pacific,” A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea is a riff on the Mr. Bali Hai featuring aged rhum agricole, blackstrap rum, Indian rum, cold brew coffee, pineapple and lime. It’s labeled with a skull warning of its “impressive strength” and it’s no joke. Our designated driver asked for a recommendation on a drink to get sans alcohol and our server suggested the Poipu Beach Boogie Board. This sweet and tart tipple of guava, maraschino, grenadine, pineapple and lemon is usually given a kick with rye whiskey and overproof rum.

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I’m not a fan of bananas, but I still insisted we get Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri for the garnish, a half banana turned into a dolphin. Don’t expect too much sweetness when you sip this blend of fresh banana, coconut liqueur, lime, Jamaican rum, spiced rum and overproof rum. Of course we also had to order the namesake drink, here made with aged rhum agricole, Guyanese rum, honey, falernum, lime, allspice and Angostura bitters. It was a well-balanced winner, presented with three Luxardo cherries and a pineapple spear. (Three dots and a dash, get it?)

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Foodwise, there’s a small menu of about 10 small plates and we sampled almost all of them, starting with the “luau chips” ($9). The pineapple-flecked guacamole came with puffed rice crackers, though I probably would have preferred tortilla chips.

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The Thai fried chicken ($11), which is highlighted on the menu as a signature dish, was a hit with us and disappeared the fastest. The boneless nuggets were lightly breaded and doused in an amazing garlic-chili sauce. Crag Rangoon ($11) is usually heavy on the cream cheese, but the filling in this rendition was actually loaded with blue crab. It came with a tray of four dipping sauces: Thai chili, peanut (so good!), sweet and sour (also tasty) and hot mustard (not too spicy). The award for best pupu presentation would go to the coconut shrimp ($13), which are served in half a coconut perched on top of panko breadcrumb “sand.”

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The meat on the Polynesian spare ribs ($16) didn’t fall off the bone but the pineapple glaze was tasty enough. Also decent were the Hanali spring rolls ($12) and curry chicken skewers ($13) though with such steep prices for small portions I think next time we’ll pass on all three of these and stick with the Thai fried chicken and crab Rangoon.

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(Photo by Three Dots and a Dash)

I love when tiki bars come out with souvenir mugs custom made for them, and Three Dots and a Dash already has three designs produced by Tiki Farm. First was the blue sea urchin mug, definitely one of the most beautiful mugs I’ve ever seen, then came this golden bamboo mug and a likeness of McGee with seashell spectacles ($20 each). They also serve and sell several other styles of Tiki Farm mugs, including a few imprinted with the bar’s logo.

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Three Dots and a Dash takes the state of tiki in Chicago to a new level with its serious mixology, good food, signature mugs and swizzle sticks, and impeccable decor that provides the perfect setting for a bit of tropical escapism. It should come as no surprise that I’ve added Three Dots and a Dash to my list of the Top Tiki Bars in America.

Three Dots and a Dash
435 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654
312-610-4220

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in Chicago

Three Dots and a Dash on Urbanspoon

Say “Aloha” to the Chicago-based band Tiki Cowboys

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Until recently, the only connection I knew of between “tiki” and “cowboys” was a famous little tune called “Hawaiian Cowboy.” (I remember it from “The Muppet Show,” but according to legend it was composed off the cuff by Solomon K. Bright in 1936.) In further researching these seemingly unrelated subjects, I also discovered that Hawaii’s history of cattle wrangling actually goes back before the heyday of the Wild West in America. Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of introducing Eric “Baron” Behrenfeld’s band: the Tiki Cowboys.

He sent me a copy of his 2009 debut EP “A Taste of Tiki,” on which Baron was a one-man band, supplying vocals, ukulele and percussion. Of the four original songs, the first track “Tiki Lady” is my favorite. It’s upbeat and fun and has some suggestive lyrics (ooh la la!). “My Little Song” takes on the country music trope that goes something like “my dog died, my wife left and she took my truck.” “Slap, Clap & Tickle” is a syncopated instrumental while “Feel So Good” brings in some elements of surf music.

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Their logo tiki, a cowboy hat-wearing carving with its tongue hanging out, appears on swag like stickers and even a coconut-scented car air freshener. (Available on the Tiki Cowboys web site if you’re so inclined.)

Sharp eyes might recognize the setting in that first photo as the Tiki Terrace in Des Plaines, which is where Baron and the other musicians that make up the Tiki Cowboys perform live every third Thursday from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Later this year we should also be able to look for a full-length album with more of their “Beach Blues and Tiki-Twang” sound.

For more information, check out the Tiki Cowboys Facebook page.