The Lake Effect

A Tale of Two Tiki Bars: Lost Lake and Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago

By | August 01, 2017
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Paul McGee, Beverage Director at Lost Lake Tiki
Paul McGee, Beverage Director at Lost Lake Tiki Photos: Facebook/LostLakeTiki

Lost Lake

Just off the Blue Line Logan Square stop sits Lost Lake, a charming tiki den tucked behind a windowed storefront. The banana leaf awning and tiny neon sign whispering “tiki” give the game away; once inside more banana leaves, bamboo, wicker, and an impressively stocked bar make it very clear you’re in the right place.

Though the vibe is low-key and mom-and-pop-esque, there’s nothing slapdash about any element of the Lost Lake experience. Riotously garnished cocktails showcase the extensive stock behind that warm wooden bar: mostly modem interpretations of traditional tiki drinks, with a few gently tweaked classics like the Fogcutter and the Beachcomber, as well as an ever-changing Daily Daiquiri.

Lost Lake Drink

Unlike many tiki palaces, which cut off the outside world for a moody, all-enclosed fantasy environment, if you arrive soon after Lost Lake opens at 4pm, you’ll catch a few rays of sunlight through the netted orbs dangling and partially obscuring the front window. Arriving early is a good idea for a few reasons: one, because no reservations are accepted and the airy but cozy space can fill up quickly as the night goes on.

And two: because focus here is drinks only, with only a few chips and snacks on offer, you will probably want something more significant to soak up some of the effects of your potent sips. Though you can order delivery from the neighboring Chinese spot, my recommendation would be to walk down to Lost Lake's sibling restaurant, Longman & Eagle, for beef fat fries at the bar.

Lost Lake
3154 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL

Two Dots and a Dash sign
Kevin Beary of Three Dots and a Dash
Photo 1: Photos: Facebook/ThreeDotsAndaDash
Photo 2: Beverage Director Kevin Beary Photo: Facebook/ThreeDotsAndaDash

Three Dots and a Dash

For the opposite experience, head down to the River North neighborhood for a full-on dose of tiki glamour at Three Dots and a Dash. (Fun fact: Acclaimed cocktail guru Paul McGee is the co-founder of both spots; he departed Three Dots to open Lost Lake.) Three Dots is the opposite of a casual neighborhood tiki bar: From your first steps past the glowing blue skull wall to its cavernous subterranean rooms, you'll know to recalibrate your mindset and immerse yourself in the moment.

The faux speakeasy entrance is much more well-marked than it used to be when Three Dots first opened, but it's still a little sneaky. Though the bar's address says it's on Clark, enter via the alley on Hubbard, next to Firecakes Donuts. (Take note of Firecakes, because you'll probably need a donut the next morning after your tiki adventures. But that's for another story.) If you're arriving late enough, you'll see the blue lights bouncing off the stone buildings, and there will probably be a line and definitely a bouncer.

If you've made a reservation (which I recommend doing), you'll be whisked through the dramatically low-ceilinged, neon-tinged dining room to a round banquette. Here, too, you'll find both traditional tiki cocktails and original concoctions on the menu-the multi-page binder calls back to the days of high tiki, with colorful illustrations and midcentury flair. You'll also get a full taste of the Polynesian Pop aesthetic via the retro-inspired food options, including a full-on pu pu platter. (Do it. You should really do it.)

If you're a fan of the Disney-ish oversaturated, heightened sense of reality that comes with the tiki experience, you'll dig everything about Three Dots and a Dash. If you yearn for rustic island escapism and the breezy vibe of a hideaway spot, you'll feel right at home at Lost Lake. Me? I love both in equal measure, and would never think about choosing one Chicago tiki bar over the other. The city is big enough for both of them.

Three Dots and a Dash
435 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL

Originally published on and reprinted with permission of the author.

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