First Taste: Lost Lake and Thank You
The trajectory of Paul McGee's cocktail career over the past few years has been quite impressive. Criss-crossing the city, the bearded gent helped pioneer Logan Square's dining and drinking scene, as well as Chicago's craft cocktail landscape at large, with The Whistler. He then wowed everyone by decamping to align with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, one of the biggest restaurant groups around, to open a subterranean, clandestine tiki wonderland called Three Dots and a Dash, a magical bar that feels like being roofied while on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And I mean that with sincere love. McGee's move from Three Dots and a Dash was perhaps the most surprising of all; at the height of Three Dots' success, hot on the heels of world-class accolades, McGee parted ways with the bar to team up with Land and Sea Dept., another superstar restaurant group (Longman & Eagle, Parson's Chicken & Fish), and open a new tiki bar back in Logan Square. Lost Lake is tiki done his way, adjoined by a quirky Chinese takeout concept called (adorably) Thank You.
Upon first visiting Lost Lake, the comparison to Three Dots is inevitable, both in similarities and differences. Where it's different is the size, the vibe, and the clientele. The cusp of Logan Square and Avondale is a far cry from River North's trendsetting epicenter, and the leisurely atmosphere and artsy customer base echo that. The bar is also quite a bit smaller than Three Dots, with a long bar running the length of the space, a few small tables in front, and a handful of high-tops along the west wall. The decor is a bit less overwrought than Three Dots, featuring a more modest array of tiki adornments like beachy lights, frilly palm fixtures, and the like. Things get cramped pretty quickly, even by 4:45 p.m. on a Friday. Aside from the obvious aesthetics and space, other elements of Lost Lake are pretty similar to Three Dots, for better or worse.
The cooly cartoonish menu, drink illustrations, drink names, garnishes, and animated glassware are all in line with Three Dots' ethos. Even the servers are similarly clad, dressed like they're ready to dance around a fire pit on a Hawaiian beach. While McGee surely has more flexibility here to alter his menu and update as he pleases, the opening menu reads pretty close to Three Dots, starting with the Bunny Banana Daiquiri, one of the most popular drinks at Three Dots adorned with a banana dolphin, which McGee appears to have taken with him to Lost Lake. He differs with some standouts like the Coconut Grove Cooler, a quenching beverage made with Scotch, passion fruit, pomegranate, pineapple, and lemon. I never thought I'd see the day where I referred to Scotch as "quenching," but McGee is just the mixology magician to alter preconceived notions. Colorful garnishes and glassware are key here as well, from the parrot-shaped cups to the twirly straws that take you right back to lunchbox days of cafeteria lore.
Considering how reliably boozy these drinks are, it's good that a Chinese takeout-inspired operation opened right next door, which allows Lost Lake drinkers to order food off the menu. Thank You shares the same entryway as Lost Lake, differentiated by its stark white, minimalist motif and pared down menu of reimagined takeout favorites like egg rolls, chicken wings, and fried rice. Offset some of that tiki booze with spicy-smoky chicken wings, which come glazed in umami-rich sauce perfect for balancing Scotch, rum, tequila, and whatever else you may be slurping through a bendy straw.
While some of the similarities may seem jarring and unexpected at first sip, it's important to note that McGee is a man pivotal in Chicago's recent tiki revival. He made Three Dots the internationally acclaimed bar it is today, and now he's jumped ship to concentrate on a smaller, concise, more flexible tiki concept in a different part of town, where he can make the type of indelible mark he first made back in his Whistler days. Chicago's tiki scene — and it's drinking scene altogether — is a better place because of it.
- Matt Kirouac