Lost Lake: Tiki Gone Modernly Elegant

Our second stop in our 24-hr 5-bar whirlwind tour of Chicago turned out to be our favorite. Tucked behind a nondescript exterior in Logan Square is Lost Lake, a well known tiki joint (but usually mentioned AFTER tiki empire Three Dots and a Dash).

We jumped in right at their 5 PM opening time and were rewarded by an atypically bright and cheery tiki environment (as opposed to the usual DARK and cheery environment of most tiki bars) – this gave us the rare opportunity to get DECENTLY lit tiki cocktail photos.

Tiki bars generally have fun, voluminous, well illustrated and meticulously described drinks and Lost Lake was not the exception!

I didn’t need a menu for my first drink, though, having read about Paul McGee’s reinvention of the Fog Cutter,  I’m a sucker for tiki drinks with atypical base spirits, so I’ve had several Fog Cutters with the usual rum, cognac and gin splits but I confess most of them end up becoming the Amorphously Pleasant But Generically Unfocused Tiki Cocktail.

Our terrific bartender Vince (sporting the wicked Instagram handle @trader_vince) verified that the Fog Cutter on the menu was indeed the modern’ed up one. He offered the option to make the classic recipe, which I happily declined so I could be presented with this beauty:

Paul McGee’s improved Fog Cutter

This was everything I was looking for:  strong, boldly defined flavors that were solidly classic tiki in spirit but modern in execution. Instead of getting the dreaded “fruit punch” sensation from a pile of lemon and orange juice, I got sharp lemon complemented with intensity of Dry Curacao. Instead of a boozy rummy mix of spirits, I got the savoriness of agricole rhum and a quality amontillado sherry.

This was a Fog Cutter that truly cuts, and I hope more bars take up the challenge of honing the elements of tiki into fine cocktails that match the intensity and refinement of a well crafted Negroni, Daiquiri, Corpse Reviver ….

… or Old Fashioned, which brings us to Lorri’s selection, the Feet First in the Deep End. We’re really happy to see the trend of tiki bars showing off their stirred cocktail chops because that means that Lorri can discover something she really likes in a world literally FILLED  with her various cocktail kryptonites (crushed ice, orgeat, absinthe, sherry, sweetness, fruitiness).

Feet First in the Deep End

This was a novel mix of bourbon and rums (Panamanian and Guatemalan) with Banana liqueur (probably Giffard’s excellent offering) and a little kick of amaro. A perfectly clear big cube is always appreciated as well. It was rich without being overly sweet and lovely to the last drop.

On the back bar we noticed a surprising number of THREE Caroni rums .  The Caroni distillery from Trinidad closed in 2002, a real tragedy because it was probably the finest of its style, the “heavy rum”, full of richness and power and intensely long and developing finish.

Obviously, being from a “lost” distillery it’s become quite difficult and expensive to find. Lorri and I were lucky to taste an independent bottling of 18 yr Caroni from AD Rattray that Will Thompson (then at Ruka in Boston) had us try about 3 years ago.  We immediately snagged a bottle for <$100, thinking it was outrageously expensive for rum.

Of course now it’s selling for multiples of that amount and we nursed our bottle bit by bit until we hosted a recent rum share at our house. Our Caroni wasn’t in the lineup because our group brought over 40 rums and we thought “Well, we think our Caroni is nice but there are so many heavy hitters in here …”. Sure enough, we got to the topic of Caronis after tasting an excellent Black Adder Caroni and we brought out out AD Rattray, which became one of the big hits of the day despite being unlisted.

Vince was gracious enough to pull out the three visible Caronis … and then found a few more … and a FEW MORE until we had an unbelievable lineup in front of us:


Of course we thought this was ridiculous … until the second wave came out …


We had to pick from this impossible lineup, so we took the recommendations of Vince and his co-bartender (who both seemed just as enthusiastic as us about these rums) and settled on a powerfully spicy 17 year Caroni from 2000 (which apparently is one of the few official bottlings shipped to the US) and a decadently deep and rich 15 year with a label matching the classic label from decades before.

Caroni 2000 17 yr and Caroni 15 yr Extra Strong 15 yr

After all of this madness, we were presented with Lost Lake’s SECRET menu, featuring page after page of tiki cocktail history just begging to be made for us.

It took every bit of willpower not to throw away our entire itinerary for the night and spend the next 4 hours at Lost Lake … but we had paid-for reservations at the Ladies Room and The Office (at the Aviary) and we had to bid Lost Lake adieu.

We’ve been to a decent sampling of the country’s better tiki bars (Hidden Hideaway, Three Dots and a Dash, Hale Pele, The Baldwin Bar, Broken Shaker Miami & NYC, The Polynesian, Shore Leave, Tiki Rock, to name, ….  well, MOST of the ones we’ve been to), but the unassuming Lost Lake is currently my all time favorite combo of killer rums and superbly crafted tiki cocktails.

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