A Tiki Speakeasy: Curio at Gilt Bar in Chicago

Thanks in part to topnotch new(ish) tiki bars like Smuggler’s Cove and Painki…I mean PKNY, tiki drinks seem to have overtaken Prohibitian-era cocktails as the darling of current liquid culture. “Tiki nights” have popped up all over the country and bars with barely any thatch or bamboo are encouraging their patrons to put down the vodka-soda and rediscover rum.

The summer menu at The Terrace at Trump is one of the most recent examples in Chicago, and when we were there back in November we checked out another tiki cocktail program at Curio, which is hidden away under Gilt Bar by the Merchandise Mart. (Again I have to credit Tasting Table for bringing Curio to my attention in their Fifteen Best Cocktails in Chicago feature from last year.)

After entering the restaurant, you head down the stairs next to the bar. Keep going down the hallway and you’ll find Curio on the right, behind black velvet curtains.

As I’ve mentioned before, I adore the 1920s era so the speakeasy style will never get old for me. The room was very dimly lit, with candles on the tables and a chandelier above the bar at the opposite end of the space. There were leather banquettes for larger groups, but since it was just the two of us we shared an antique loveseat.

A different cocktail menu is offered down here. In addition to a special section featuring Chartreuse, there were five “Tiki Inspired” drinks each priced at $13. Prospective patrons should take note that Curio is cash only (I suppose that really brings the old-fashioned—or illicit—theme home).

Pago Pago (Matusalem rum, creme de cacao, green Chartreuse, lime and pineapple juice) took the top prize from Tasting Table, but I preferred The Mariposa Fizz (made with Flor de Cana rum, creme de cacao, egg whites and lemon). It was so light and delicious, sort of like a spiked egg cream. I’ve been meaning to try and reverse engineer it in my home bar.

UPDATE: Curio has been replaced by The Library, a new cocktail bar from Brendan Sodikoff that opened in March 2013.

Gilt Bar on Urbanspoon


The Terrace at Trump Tower Chicago Turns Polynesian

The Tasting Table Chicago newsletter tipped us off that The Terrace at the Trump hotel in Chicago was featuring Polynesian-themed food and drinks this summer. We were in the Windy City for Memorial Day weekend, so I insisted we check it out.

This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought it would be with all the wacky weather we had. The first night we tried to go, The Terrace was closed because high winds were knocking glasses right off the tables!

But when we did make it up to the sixteenth floor (next to restaurant Sixteen), I was absolutely blown away by the view. You could walk right up to the glass divider, with the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower front and center, and the river below.

The hostess led me, Mr. Baseball and his brother and sis-in-law to this spacious, freestanding booth. We thought it was pretty neat until we noticed that it was already inhabited…by about a dozen big spiders that had spun their webs between the bamboo.

Generally speaking, tiki drinks are not cheap—and if they are you can bet you won’t be getting something made with quality rum or fresh juices. But throw in a swank setting with a killer view and the prices can get pretty outrageous. (Expense accounts definitely recommended here.)

The summer cocktail menu features eight “Divine Nectars” and we tried half of them. The best of the bunch was the Motu-Ahe ($19), made with Cruzan light rum, dark rum, papaya, mango and guava juice. The other two were good but I wasn’t as wowed by the Coconut Castaway ($23)—the bar was out of coconuts so this concoction of Ciroc coconut vodka, pineapple juice and Ketel One vanilla was served in a melon instead—or the The Lagoon ($18), composed of light and dark rums, blue curacao, grenadine, pineapple, orange and lime juice.

The Terrace is open until 12:30 a.m., but the kitchen closes earlier. Mr. Baseball went for the marinated beef and pineapple skewers with Thai peanut sauce (they were tasty, but twenty bucks, really?). Also on the menu were seafood platters, sushi, curries and other global eats. I can’t resist a whimsical dessert, so I got the Mai Tai Push Pop ($13) with Mai Tai sorbet, Myers’s rum and guava gelée. It was just like the push pops I remember from being a kid, except alcoholic (and expensive).

Us ladies decided to close out the night with the Tahitian Traveler ($34), served in dramatic fashion with wisps of dry ice materializing from the hollowed out pineapple. I never would have guessed at all the liquor they loaded in it: Belvedere vodka, Beefeeater 24, 10 Cane, Cruzan rum and Amaretto.

The official Trump web site steers away from the “T” word (instead saying the theme is “Polynesian Chic”) but I did spot some tiki masks around the bar. The prices might still be causing me sticker shock, but the view is worth a million bucks (or two, just ask Patrick Kane).

The Terrace at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
401 North Wabash Ave., Sixteenth floor
Chicago, IL 60611

The Terrace at Trump on Urbanspoon_)

Chef Shangri-La – North Riverside, IL

A few months ago, Mr. Baseball and I had the pleasure of visiting Chef Shangri-La, a Chinese restaurant in North Riverside in the western suburbs of Chicago. It was opened in 1976 by Paul Fong, a chef from a restaurant called Shangri-La (hence the name) who had also worked at the original Don the Beachcomber and Mai-Kai before that.

Mr. Baseball wanted to know how a Chinese restaurant could be tiki, so I explained that when Donn Beach opened his first Polynesian-themed restaurant in the 1930s, his chef was Chinese. Cantonese cuisine seemed “exotic” enough for the time and it became popular with tiki spots. Likewise, Chinese restaurants around the country embraced the trend by adding tropical drinks to their menus.

The decor is kind of eclectic, with Chinese touches mingling with Christmas lights and tiki masks, but most impressive are the Orchids of Hawaii lanterns and large carved Witco tikis. According to Tiki Modern, the restaurant acquired the Witco pieces not long before the iconic furniture company shut down. (This was after the mid-century heyday of tiki, after all.)

It just happened to be the third Saturday of the month, when the restaurant hosts an event called “An Evening in Shangri-La” with live bands and a free tiki-themed raffle. We were lucky enough to win a neat Exotica 2003 poster (now up in my tiki room) and we thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of The Western Casuals, especially their cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

I love crab rangoon, but Mr. Baseball doesn’t like seafood so we started off with an order of potstickers ($5.50). These suckers were huge!

And it was a cold November night (I know, I’m trying to catch up) so Mr. Baseball warmed up with a bowl of wontwon soup ($5.25).

I was quite pleased when the “Volcano Beef” ($13.95) arrived at our table and it was ON FIRE. It wasn’t as pyrotechnic as the Flaming Ambrosia at Kowloon in Boston, but still a nice touch.

Fortune cookies and almond cookies come with the bill. I don’t think either of our fortunes were very exciting since I didn’t think to hold on to them. (As if I wouldn’t have lost them by the time I finally got to posting this.)

What also makes Chef Shangri-La stand out is that they serve their own original cocktails in addition to classic tiki drinks like the Fogcutter, Navy Grog, Scorpion and Mai Tai. For the first round, I went for their signature Dr. Fong (seen in the pic at the beginning of the post) but I preferred the Port of Love. After dinner, we went to the bustling bar area where there’s a few booths and a circular bar capped off with a thatched roof.

I thought the drinks were pretty good for the price ($6.50 for small, $9.50 for large) and we had a ton of leftover food. It’s quite a trek from the north ‘burbs, but I’m looking forward to getting back to Chef Shangri-La again when I have the chance.

Chef Shangri-La
7930 W. 26th St.
North Riverside, IL 60546

Chef Shangri-La on Urbanspoon