A Tiki Bar With a Twist

Chicago's new Lost Lake rethinks the tiki tradition by ditching the kitsch.

Chicago's new Lost Lake rethinks the tiki tradition by ditching the kitsch.

The notion of a tiki bar in Chicago seems far fetched despite its history. But At the recently opened Lost Lake tiki bar in Chicago, a blissful sense of escapism becomes apparent. Designed (and partially owned) by a local concept-and-development studio Land and Sea Dept., the bar presents a revitalizing take on what’s typically a tacky setup.

Home to pet piranhas and wild cocktail recipes, Lost Lake sits on the northern edge of the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. Robert McAdams, a partner of Land and Sea Dept. and co owner of Mode Carpentry, explains the bar’s vision this way: “We were inspired by the early wave of tiki bars in the U.S. As with all of our projects, we tried to give it our spin and add some clear modern touches.” Here, the intent is passion, not irony, with a focus on the drinks rather than cutter and appropriated tiki-god artifacts.

Upon entering, guests step through “Thank You,” Land and Sea Dept.’s sleek American-Chinese takeout counter, then approach the main bar through Martinique fabric curtains. The bar winds into the next room with a distinct shift in texture and atmosphere, transitioning from a thatch ceiling and banana-leaf wallpaper to a black bamboo ceiling and woven walls. The space’s final room has the feel of a tropical grotto decked out with mossy rock interiors. 

To maintain simplicity, Land and Sea Dept. chose clear-finished spell wood for the bar’s face, with a bold blue-turtle granite top. The back bar, made of mahogany, sits beneath a thatched hit roof and houses oodles of rum. Patrons may sit at larger spell tables on rattan stools, at more intimate ebony tables on peacock-inspired wicker stools, or in simple horseshoe booths. Like the seemingly ramshackle décor, the flotsam-inspired light fixtures throughout were also “mostly made up,” McAdams says. Over the bar, the team strung Japanese fish traps together with rope and outfitted the rig with light bulbs. The main room’s glass window was been frosted to complete the escape from the city, and suspended Japenese fishing floats are aglow with spotlights. Especially evocative is the puffer-fish chandelier in the bar’s “cave” room.

Land and Sea Dept.’s beverage director the bartender Paul McGee, oversees the cocktail selections. While paying homage to the original recipes, McGee explores escapist dreams associated with a tiki-style space. “If you’ve ever sat on a beach under a coconut tree and sipped a rum cocktail from a pineapple while looking at the sunset – that’s what we’re trying to recreate,” McGee says. Offerings include traditional picks, such as the Lost Lake (aged Jamaican rum, passion fruit, lime, pineapple, maraschino cherries, and Campari) or the more adventurous Hula Hips of Heaven (reposed tequila, mezcal, grapefruit, lime, falernum, cinnamon, Angostura bitters, and absinthe).

What’s next for this Windy City getaway? McGee and Martin Cate of San Francisco’s tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove are preparing Lost Lakes’s own rum club. 

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