We’ve been talking about going to Chicago for awhile, but we’ve been putting it off since we only really had one motivation for going, and tiki bars seemed like a questionable reason to fly halfway across the country. But then suddenly it was August, and Kristan’s birthday was coming up, and going to Chicago for tiki bars for Kristan’s birthday is totally reasonable.
We arrived on Kristan’s birthday eve and found that the Virgin Hotel was getting the party started for us, with balloons and “birthday cake” chocolate and even a gift! (Two glasses of Moët at the bar, natch.) We decided to keep it going and hustle over to tiki bar #1, Lost Lake. On our way back we realized we could get into the Stranger Things popup bar, so Kristan took off her tiki shirt outer layer and pulled her hair into a side ponytail and we were ready for a visit to Hawkins Energy Lab. Snack Pack, anyone?
Kristan’s birthday was a chill day of exploring and stopping for food whenever the mood hit us. Avocado toast and a lemon birthday donut, a Chicago-style veggie dog by the river, Japanese bites on a roof deck. For a special birthday treat, we went to a “secret” bar in the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, for a side-by-side comparison of vintage amaros and their present-day counterparts. (1970s Suze is completely different from today’s and they’re upfront about it, Fernet and Campari like to pretend they’re the same, but they’re not, and Cynar is so consistent we couldn’t tell the difference between the 1960s version and today’s!) Kristan got a deconstructed mint chocolate cake for dessert, with a minty fernet to pair.
Tiki bar #2 was a surprise for Kristan – Hala Kahiki in a suburb about 45 minutes away. They opened in 1964, and it is pretty much exactly what you’d want out of a Midwest tiki bar from the 60s. But one Saturday a month they have a hula show with two dancers and a buffet and an over-the-top hostess, and it was super silly and lame and wonderful all at the same time. We had a blast! But the show ended around 8 and we were jazzed, so we decided to head back downtown and hit tiki bar #3, Three Dots and Dash. Wowza. What a place! It was crazy on Saturday night, packed and with a DJ playing not-quite-Top-40-but-definitely-not-tiki-lounge-music. We managed to get a little spot on the corner of the bar and spent a couple of hours just people watching. The drinks were great and the staff took good care of us, but we knew we’d have to come back to really get a feel for it.
We started our last morning with something nice and touristy – an architecture boat cruise! It was almost the perfect Sunday morning – a spicy Virgin Mary (topped almost the same as a Chicago hot dog), boats, pretty buildings – but we weren’t quite prepared for the ten minutes of rain. Oops! Somehow Chicago felt like a combination of New York and a European city, with those little river-side cafes, the small transit stations and all the brick buildings and the fancy apartments across from the big parks. (Also, the 24 hour Dunkin Donuts, which were never where we wanted them.) It was very nice to see how the city has recognized what resource for quality of life the river is. The 1960s Marina City buildings were way ahead of their time!
Three Dots and a Dash was our last stop. We had made a table reservation, but quickly realized we’d be better off at the bar. We unintentionally ended up in front of the beverage director, with whom we had some great conversation about what people order on Saturday nights, how to manage an ever-expanding tiki mug collection and great tiki bars across the country. At the end of the night he even scrounged up some of their discontinued mugs for us. It’s funny, you don’t have to be a regular at a tiki bar to be family (well, maybe at Lost Lake) – just wear your tiki shirt and you’ll be welcomed with open arms!