Craft breweries, upscale cocktail lounges and dive bars abound in Houston, but there's one thing you might not have even realized we're missing: A tiki bar.
Husband-and-wife team Russell and Elizabeth Thoede are attempting to right this wrong with Lei Low, a tiki bar slated to open on North Main Street in the Heights in fall 2013.
Because that seems like way too long to wait for a proper Mai Tai, the Thoedes are hosting their second pop-up (the first was June 26) upstairs at Grand Prize Bar on July 24 at 8:30 p.m.
Not only is it high time for more daiquiris, but this past Sunday was the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, a known lover of anything tiki. To celebrate Hem and delicious fruity cocktails, the theme for the bar takeover will be Bar Constantino, Constantino being the name of the most well-known bartender at El Floridita bar in Havana.
"Hemingway is a big figure in the cocktail world," Russell explains. "We wanted to celebrate him in a way. Some of the bars he frequented in Cuba during Prohibition are some that Trader Vic (the supposed inventor of the Mai Tai) referenced in his concept. We're re-creating some of his old Cuban drinks."
Once Lei Low is operating in its own location in the fall, the Cuban theme will become a weekly event. In fact, Russell says there will be a theme for every day of the week, just to keep things interesting. Monday will feature different Mai Tai recipes from various bars throughout history. Tuesday will have a Caribbean reggae theme, which is controversial because it's bad luck to play reggae at a tiki bar in Hawaii. The Thoedes want to prove they have no fear. Wednesday will likely have a vintage beach theme, while Thursday will be zombie night.
Russell says he intends to use seasonal ingredients in his cocktails as much as possible, but for the time being, there won't be a restaurant at the bar. He's hoping to bring in food trucks to feed hungry drinkers until he's able to establish a kitchen.
Eventually, there will also be frozen daiquiris and a locker where people can keep their own tiki mugs. That's right, bring your favorite tiki mug and the bartenders will keep it locked up for you until you're ready for a special zombie punch in your very own glass.
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Though most tiki drinks use rum, which Russell describes as "a permanent vacation," he acknowledges that there are tropical drinks that make use of other types of liquor.
"We are actually going to do a Ramos Gin Fizz in a whipped-cream canister," Russell says excitedly. "It was famous in New Orleans during Prohibition. When you get one as a bartender, you usually curse and scream, 'cause under bartender code, you have to shake it for eight minutes, and your arm gets all cramped. We're letting the whipped-cream canister do all the work."
It's clear that Russell and Elizabeth are super excited about their new venture, but when it comes to Russell's personal preferences about tiki drinks, he gets a little tongue-tied.
"Oh gosh, it's so hard when people ask me my favorites," he says. "I really enjoy so much. If I had to pick a favorite, I might say a Mai Tai. But it's so hard for me to pick. I like them all."