Chicago Tiki Tour Stop 1 (and 3): Three Dots and a Dash

Every year my wife and I try to get away to celebrate our Anniversary.  We try our best to experience something new or different.  Last year we had a wonderful visit to NOLA (including Latitude 29 – Read my blog post here)… this year we decided to head up to Chicago.

While this trip is for both of us, I try not to let my desire to “visit every Tiki Bar Ever” take over the trip.  This trip we decided that on our first evening we would stop by Three Dots and a Dash for a Happy Hour drink to start our evening.

The entrance to Three Dots is a simple door in a back alleyway.  There is minimal signage, just a tiki torch and a doorman checking IDs. There were queue stanchions available for when things get really busy. I will definitely admit that while the crowd wasn’t to “stanchion level” it was packed inside!

After entering you decent down a staircase below the watchful eyes of the skull wall (pictured below) and then enter yet another door… this door is what takes you from the busy world of the big city into a tropical hideaway.


Upon reaching the hostess stand we found out that to get a table for 2 was almost an hour wait and the bar was packed, elbow to elbow.  Our goal was to sit at the bar and with some watchful eyes, a sexy wife and a bit of luck we were able to grab two seats at the very end of the bar right after ordering our first two drinks.

Cory was our bartender and his knowledge of “tiki” extended well beyond the amazing drinks he made up.  I started with an Aloha Felicia and my wife went with the Saturn.


Along with the delicious rums (Venezuela and Jamaican), the star of the Aloha Felicia was the coconut (of which I’m always a fan of). The Thai Basil also added the right hint of exotic flavor.


My wife has recently become a big gin fan and the Saturn didn’t let her down.  The flavors all complimented themselves and, for her, was a great option among the multiple rum drinks.


As Cory started to have a minute to come up for air we were able to talk “tiki” with him.  He was great about sharing his thoughts about the world of tiki and his travels. We asked him about Lost Lake and he said that it was worth the 20-30 minute Uber ride to experience. It was not originally on our list (well… it was kinda on mine) but we decided, based on Cory’s recommendation, to add it to our trip.

And just like that it was time for round 2… a Cheap Lei for myself and the eponymous Three Dots and a Dash for Mrs. Trader.


Can I pause here and point out that in order to be a top notch tiki bar, your drink presentation skills need to be above and beyond!  Each drink at Three Dots is carefully crafted and mixed but then it is (almost) painstakingly decorated. Mrs. Trader told me that my presentation game needs to step up a notch or seven.

The Cheap Lei was extremely different… it had this smokey banana taste… almost like if you made bananas foster over wood chips. I will admit that I’m not usually a huge fan of smokey but this was carefully “mixologized”.  It was the right amount of smoke to make you say “hey, this is different and interesting and I LIKE it!”

The Three Dots, of course, did not let us down. It was flavorful, fruity, complex… all the things that Don (the creator back in the 1940s) would have wanted it to be.  And they must go through them like crazy since they are pre-batched and “on tap” (which definitely helps when they are rockin’).


The time was coming where we had to decide which tiki mug treasure was coming back to Trader Jay’s with us.  Cory was straight up that most mugs were not for sale due to inventory (including the Three Dots Urchin), but Mrs. Trader really wanted the Urchin to find a home in Florida with us. After asking nicely, Cory was able to pull a string or two and packed one up for us (with, again, wonderful presentation).


It was time to pay the tab but we enjoyed ourselves so much that we were already thinking we would be back to explore even more of the menu. Cory recommended coming back Sunday evening so we planned on that.

Jump Here to Read about Our Adventure to Lost Lake (Coming Soon)

Or continue reading below for our second visit to Three Dots…

After catching a matinee of the amazing musical Hamilton we swung back into Three Dots just two days later. Cory told us he’d be on bar however he was MIA… instead we were greeted at the bar by Ivana.  Sunday afternoons are a little slower, offering some great tiki mixology talk. Ivana was a delight to talk with and we had an extra treat… Kevin Beary was also behind the bar. (If you don’t know who Kevin Beary is then do a little Google search because he is the Award Winning Beverage Director of Three Dots!) I will be honest, it took me a few minutes to realize exactly what a treat we were in for but I’m glad I did.  Kevin was very generous in talking about his favorite rums, his tiki and bartending travels and even a sharing a few recipes. 

Besides the great conversation we also experienced four more amazing drinks.  I started with the Chief Lapu Lapu… which I really wanted because the passion fruit foam really intrigued me.  The drink and the foam did not disappoint!




Mrs. Trader went head first in with a Jet Pilot… strong, expertly mixed, maybe the perfect Jet Pilot!

Can I also pause here and point out that Three Dots’ tiki mug game is TOP OF THE CLASS!  Look at these amazing mugs, they a all wonderful, unique, detailed… I really wish I could have brought home at least 3 more! (Side note to the Three Dots Team: If you ever have leftover inventory you need to send away, I’ll happily find a good home for any orphan tiki mugs!)

We decided that we would finish off one more round before we said goodbye to Three Dots.  I went with the Pandan Pain Killer and Mrs. Trader went with the Violet Revolver… I don’t think I need to go into detail about how these were also amazing!


  

I cannot say enough good things about Three Dots and a Dash! I want to open one here in Orlando! I’d either apply for a job or be their best patron.

I don’t think I could sit down and pick a favorite tiki bar… each have something special and unique but I will say Three Dots is the first tiki bar I’ve visited two times in three days and that is worth something. If you are in Chicago make it your goal to go visit! The experience is wonderful and the drinks are beyond amazing. Thank you to Kevin and his team for hosting us and talking tiki! (And, Kevin, thank you for the suggestion on the Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Rum… if only I could find a bottle!!!)

We will be back!!! MAHALO! 

A Mermaid Kiss

We here at Trader Jay’s Tiki Blog are THRILLED to bring on our first Rum Sponsor… Florida Mermaid Rum.

Florida Mermaid Rum is made by NJoy Spirits, LLC out of Weeki Wachee, FL. It is a “Gold” 3 year old Florida Sugar Cane sipping rum blended with a Caribbean pot still rum then aged in their Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days.

Natalie and Kevin were very generous to provide the Trader with a sample of their local rum for tasting and mixing.


The rum recently won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition so, naturally, I was excited to try it.

I poured about a half an ounce out to just sip on. First, the aroma is very flavorful, it has a nice oak barrel smell. In the initial taste you can feel the natural rum taste, slightly strong, but then the sweetness peaks through and you can sense the Florida sugar cane (important to me as a Florida native). Finally, the finish ties it up in a bow as the smooth oak from the whisky barrels stays with you as the taste fades. Overall, a really nice, hardy 3 year pot still rum.

    
After a few sips I wanted to try a simple drink. Kindly, NJoy provided a few recipes to try. I decided to keep it simple with a Mermaid Old Fashioned. I took 2 ounce of Florida Mermaid Rum and mixed with the suggested 1 ounce of simple syrup (I used my homemade Mai Tai simple syrup). I then added 2 dashes of aromatic bitters, shook lightly and poured over a big single ice cube (I like to use these tiki ones). Once again, the oak was the star as it was the highlight of every sip. The 2:1 was a little sweet for my pallet, probably would pull back on the simple syrup and add an citrus peel (as suggested) but still a good after dinner sipping cocktail.

Now that I have tasted the flavor subtleties, I have a few Trader Originals in mind. Hope to experiment right after Turkey Day and share my findings. In the meantime, please give Florida Mermaid Rum a try. It is available in Florida and Georgia (full list) or you can order online here.

A special Mahalo to Natalie and Kevin for “sponsoring” my Tiki Blog.

Review: Latitude 29 (NOLA)

I will admit that prior to planning a trip to New Orleans, I didn’t know much about Beachbum Berry but after reading a little it seems I should give him a HUGE “THANK YOU” for having a big hand bringing Tiki back.

Head over to his site to learn more about him, and I urge you to read about his mission to find Don the Beachcomber’s original Zombie recipe.

But I’m here today to talk about a visit to his bar/restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans, LA…

I’ll start with the decor which was fantastic and amazing! It was a very clean, crisp bamboo build with a good number of interesting tikis. My favorites, of course, were the duel tiki drummer replicas from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (I only have 1). The way they utilized different bamboo and paneling really gave me some good ideas for my bar. The other item that really stood out was the map of tikis behind the bar, full with limited edition tiki mugs. And, finally, my wife and I were trying to figure out how to hijack one of the Tahitian fish trap lanterns to repurpose as a Trader Jay’s centerpiece.

latitude29_2152  fish-trap-lanterns

The decor is all well and good, but most people go to a tiki bar for drinks and Latitude 29 does NOT disappoint. I started with the drink that Berry spent 20 years searching for the original recipe… Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie (seriously, read about his hunt here).


It tasted just like I feel like it should… strong without hurting, mixed very well and the final secret ingredient (cinnamon syrup) really shined.

My wife ordered a Paniolo which was also very delightful. It has Macadamia Nut liquor in it which is a Trader Jay’s house favorite.

#cocothumbsup for our first round of drinks – Paniolo & Zombie

For our second round I went with the Banshee… it was delish with the coconut, banana, lime and, of course, rum (plus I really needed a Latitude 29 coconut mug for my bar). My wife went old school with a Navy Grog. She is finding that she is a Grog fan and this didn’t let her down (she especially enjoyed the cone ice and Union Jack).

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Round 2 – Navy Grog & Banshee

Which brings me to maybe my favorite thing about Latitude 29… the garnish station! They take garnishing their drinks to a whole new level! All their signature drinks have at least 1 special garnish, and many have more. Everything from their signature stirrer to plastic snakes, mermaids and monkeys. A drink arriving is an event and I loved watching all the different ones go by. (Side note: thank you to our waitress who let me raid the garnish station!)

 

The garnish on my Banshee, a coconut milk tiki ice cube

A quick word about the food… Obviously the drinks are the star, but the food should never be a side thought here, it was exceptional! We started with Taro Chips (order them just for the siracha mayo alone) and Rumaki. I’m not a big chicken liver guy but let’s say that the Rumaki were so good that my wife had a second order as her dinner. I went with the Hawaiian Cuban Sandwich and it was also fantastic. I enjoyed the Hawaiian pulled pork mixed into a traditional Cuban… very flavorful and a good portion.

Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, our appitizers were brought to the table by none other than Mrs. Beachbum! She was very nice to take a few minutes out of her evening to talk about my Tweeting the restaurant earlier, discuss the decor (and my tiki bar-work-in-progress) and Berry’s Zombie recipe mission. It was very much a pleasure meeting her!

So, there ya go, the overarching theme is that if you are in New Orleans, you MUST make Latitude 29 a stop! The location is great… it’s not in the middle of Boubon Street madness but also close to everything. Stop in for a Zombie… Without the Beachbum we would still all be drinking imitations!