A big thanks to Carole and Andy Mikonis for inviting us into their home and serving us cocktails that transported us from the pre-Spring Chicago doldrums to tropical vistas. We enjoyed every minute of our time sipping Mai Tais and snapping pictures. It was a good reminder for us: forget the egos, first and foremost, making cocktails and gathering round the bar should be fun.
You have a great story behind the naming of your bar. Can you share it with us?
When we adopted our cat, Carole came up with a list of Hawaiian names and we agreed on Hoku, which means star, and is also Don Ho’s daughter’s name. The first time we brought her home, she ran and hid under the bar, which was recently installed and needed a name. It’s also an homage to a neighborhood tavern we liked called Vince’s Hideaway that had closed down.
Why a tiki-bar?
We think “tiki lounge” better describes Hoku’s Hideaway. Since we acquired a large space, we wanted a life-size bar to support our drinking hobby and for entertaining. We looked at some salvaged tavern bars and back bars, but they were too big and quite expensive. The decision to go tiki came later. Early in our relationship we became enamored with and began frequenting Hala Kahiki in River Grove, which is regarded as one of the finest vintage tiki lounges in the country. This led to our annual trips to Hawaii, so as our tiki fetish grew it became a natural choice. Also, tiki is all about escape, so what better way to spend a Chicago winter than in a simulated tropical atmosphere? In fact, Chicago was quite the tiki mecca at the height of the popularity of the tiki and Polynesian Pop movement in the 50’s and 60’s probably for that reason. People associate tiki with California and Hawaii where it started, but those places are already tropical, so it has a different meaning in a place like Chicago, where you can be dreaming of exotic destinations. So, in that way we thought a tiki theme was very appropriate.
How did you score all this awesome stuff? Are they stow-aways from your Hawaiian travels or relics from now defunct tiki bars?
We try to bring a tiki back every time we go to Hawaii. Our largest tiki we rescued from some frat boy types in Wrigleyville who had it on craigslist. It was done by a well-known carver in Florida. There’s a carver who goes by Lake Tiki in Milwaukee who we commissioned to do the wall hangings behind the bar, plus we’ve picked up a few other pieces from him. The most notable relics from an actual tiki restaurant are the shell lamps and Witco carving, which came from the Aku Tiki Room in Kewaunee, Illinois after it closed. The mugs were mostly found at thrift stores, with some purchased at operating bars and restaurants around the country. The Heywood-Wakefield lounge set was given to us by friends who owned it for many years and were redecorating. We had new cushions made for it.
Any tips for us on creating our own version of Hoku's Hideaway?
First of all, you can’t have a tiki bar without TIKIS! The term “tiki bar” tends to be bandied about for any place with a surf shack/beach bar motif. A tiki is a statue, idol, totem, what have you, of a South Seas god. As Carole says, Hoku's Hideaway is also a state of mind, it's all about escape, baby, escape. You can't just own a tiki bar you have to LIVE it! It’s not just a crazy collection, it’s our living room. We use it every day.
We’re trying to capture that 1950’s-60’s Polynesian Pop aesthetic. For inspiration, I recommend the Tiki Central forums at tikiroom.com. People post all kinds of old photos of the mind-blowing interiors some of these places had, as well as new places, home bars, and other related topics. If you want to get serious, look for a copy of The Book of Tiki, which is out of print, and Tiki Modern, both by Sven Kirsten.
As cocktail aficionados, what tiki bar history should we know?
Tropical drinks have sort of a bad reputation, but the early recipes lend themselves well to the current cocktail fad. They were originally intended to be carefully assembled concoctions with exotic nectars, handcrafted syrups, and secret ingredients. Their labor-intensive nature caused their eventual devolution. Jeff Berry’s Sippin’ Safari is a great chronicle of the methods of the early days, and of the surprisingly small number of people who got the craze going. Berry has an indispensable series of tropical cocktail books that include interesting histories of the drink recipes he has tracked down.
Can you give us a favorite recipe?
There are a myriad of Mai Tais out there, but authentically speaking there are two principal variations, the Trader Vic’s style, and the Hawaiian style. Simply put, the main difference is the former uses only lime juice and the latter also includes pineapple, lemon, and orange juice. We’ve been playing around with Mai Tai recipes for a while and this is our current fave, which is our variation on the Trader Vic’s style:
Juice of one lime
1.5 oz El Dorado 5-Year Demerara Rum
1.5 oz Matusalem Platino Rum (or Appleton White)
.5 oz Senior Curacao of Curacao
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup
Shake and pour over crushed ice in Mai Tai glass
Float of Myers’s Dark Rum
Garnish with mint sprig (wedge of fresh pineapple optional.)