Chicago's New Tropical Hot Spots
Tiki bars aren’t your only options for tropical dining and drinking in Chicago, thanks to a recent intriguing uptick in beachy bars and restaurants. Joining the ranks of Three Dots and a Dash and Lost Lake, two newcomers include Dive Bar in Boystown, Hawaiian inspired Mahalo in Wicker Park and the aptly named Surf in Logan Square. Here’s a breakdown of these three tropical haunts:
About: It’s seafood and tropical tipples aplenty at this Boystown spot. Unique to the neighborhood, the restaurant and bar is a transportive and wholly immersive experience decked out to make guests feel like they’re boarding a ship. Divvied into three distinct areas, there’s the front called The Dock, which has $5 cocktails and late-night eats; The Galley is a rum bar outfitted with shipping containers; and The Wharf is a gorgeous outdoor space.
What to Eat: There are three seafood boils to choose from, all of which are great for groups. There’s also po’boys served with curly sea salt fries, plus surf & turf plates of steak and lobster. More casual items include fish & chips, fried chicken and grilled Caesar salad.
What to Drink: With a focus on rum and tropical cocktails, The Galley boasts a bottle list of 200 and the menu contains 41 flavors of daiquiris and frozen drinks.
About: While many tropical newcomers skew towards the Caribbean for inspiration, Mahalo borrows a page from Hawaii for its motif and menus. The sunny, white-washed oasis in Wicker Park is a bi-level Mecca of fresh eats, bracing drinks and a design scheme sure to make you feel like you’ve jetted off on vacation to Oahu. A central bar anchors the first level, surrounded by stools and small tables, while a second-floor dining room and bar is adjoined by a rooftop patio.
What to Eat: Traditional Hawaiian poké is a star on the food menu, available in three versions: tuna with green onion, soy, macadamia nut, sesame, and nori; braised octopus with ginger, sweet chili, pineapple and seaweed; and poached Gulf shrimp with lemon, mint, soy, cucumber, and chili. Other items lean contemporary, such as Spam meatballs and the “Huihui” Cobb salad with grilled chicken, kahuku-corn, pipikaula, avocado, egg, grape tomato, onion, pineapple, bleu cheese and charred Maui onion ranch.
What to Drink: Creamy, fruity and lustrous, the cocktails at Mahalo include a Mai Tai, a passion fruit-infused mezcal margarita, a coconut-filled piña colada, and a beachy riff on a Moscow Mule called the Maui Mule, with Pau Maui Hawaiian vodka, Blue Curaçao, ginger beer and lime juice.
About: The folks from nearby Emporium Arcade Bar are behind this beach-inspired late-night hangout in Logan Square, where sand, swings and surfboards serve as decor, DJs provide the entertainment and tropical eats and drinks provide something fresh and fun to the bar-saturated neighborhood.
What to Eat: Much of the food menu features cheeky names inspired by the beach and the ocean, like an appetizer of “shark teeth,” aka crisp sweet candied bacon with maple sugar and smoked paprika cayenne rub, or “boogie boards,” which are actually baked nachos with Monterey pepper Jack and aged cheddar cheeses, BBQ turkey chili, guacamole, pico de gallo and spicy crema. The “bodacious burrito” is a good option if you’re drunk and/or starving, and pizzas are surprisingly well-represented in flavors like “Banzai Pipeline,” which has BBQ chicken, tomato BBQ sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, pepper Jack and balsamic glaze.
What to Drink: Draft cocktails take top billing at Surf. These include “Slipping of the Sun” with El Dorado Blanco rum, Rare Tea Cellars hibiscus tea syrup and cold-press ginger syrup; “King of the Beach” with Rhum Neisson Agricole Blanco, fresco pepper-infused Demerara syrup, fresh watermelon juice, fresh lime and mint; and “Phantom Surfer,” with Cazadores Reposado tequila, angostura bitters, cinnamon-infused honey syrup, fresh passion fruit juice and fresh lemon juice. There’s also virgin cocktails, local beers on draft and “tourists,” aka beer in cans from outside Chicago.
- Matt Kirouac