Midwestern tiki trips

While there are no extant tiki bars in Minnesota, other Midwestern states are more fortunate. Here are several of this article’s author’s favorites within an easy drive of the Twin Cities:

2160 Linden Drive S.E.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
(319) 362-7375

The first entry on our Midwest tiki tour is not actually a tiki bar. Brucemore is a historic mansion in Cedar Rapids which contains two theme rooms originally used for entertaining the guests of the families who lived there. The Tahitian Room is the one that concerns us. The room was designed by Howard Hall, a former resident of the house, in 1937, and contains a variety of Polynesian decorations. The most clever feature is a fake rainstorm that falls on the room’s false roof. This auditory trick is also a big selling point for San Francisco’s Tonga Room, a truly exceptional tiki palace.

Mai Tai Lounge
(Mt. Fuji Inn)
7215 Blondo St.
Omaha, Neb.
(402) 397-5049

James Teitelbaum gives the Mai Tai Lounge a “TiPSY” score of 2, which might be a bit generous. The overwhelming vibe in this basement dive in a nondescript commercial corridor in Omaha is grotty. However, the dim lighting and bizarre (even for Omaha) atmosphere of the place are conducive both to maudlin reveries and raucous late-night revels. Of course, it always seems like whenever you want to do one of those, everyone else in the place is interested in the other.

Trader Vic’s
(Palmer House Hilton)
17 E. Monroe
(312) 726-7500

The basement environs of the Chicago Trader Vic’s couldn’t be more different from those of the Mai Tai lounge. Located in the opulent Palmer House Hilton hotel in the Loop, Trader Vic’s is definitely upscale. If you go in the evening, you might want to make it clear that you’re only after a drink, or the polite-verging-on-obsequious staff will seat you in the fancy sit-down dining area. The drinks aren’t cheap at Trader Vic’s, but a visit to this holdover from the days of classic tiki chains is worth some expensive Zombies for its ambience and history.

Hala Kahiki
2834 River Road
River Grove, Ill.
(847) 456-3222

Many people interested in tiki culture feel that the Hala Kahiki is the best all-around tiki bar in existence. It is indubitably the best one in the Midwest. The Hala Kahiki does not serve food, and the working class suburb of River Grove isn’t overflowing with great restaurants. However, for an evening of drinking well-prepared drinks in a room dripping with tiki cred, the Hala Kahiki is perfect. The decor is intensely layered, with masks and bamboo carvings over a variety of thatched wall coverings. The attached gift shop is well-stocked with tiki decorations. Perhaps the Hala Kahiki’s only flaw is that the chairs and tables seem to be built to the dimensions of people who max out at 4-foot-11 and 110 pounds. The joint really jumps on weekend nights, so come early to ensure a seat.