Photo: Peter Ranvestel
Three Dots and a Dash is pretty much the antithesis of every bar that’s opened in River North in recent memory.
The thing is that it’s not just a bar with some Polynesian decorations hung on the wall. The commitment to the Tiki environment is insane. First you follow Tiki torches and a strip of blue neon light down an alley between Hubbard and Illinois. There’s a tiny sign hanging above the doorway. Doorman lets you in and you go down dark stairs, with the walls decorated in skulls bathed in blue light. There’s bamboo poles separating a front lounge which is lit just by candles. Fake moss and leaves cover the ceiling. Walls of the main room are covered in bamboo, bar has a thatched roof, Tiki totem carvings everywhere, paper lanterns. And it’s DARK.
By the time you get down there, it already feels like you’re truly someplace different. I think the creepy back-alley entrance might actually add to the allure. Unlike just walking in a front door to a themed bar, it’s like the long entrance magically transports you to another world. It very much reminded me of a theme ride at Great America or Disney World. And the complete lack of windows adds to the effect. Even the service bar, which no customers see, is decorated in full island effect.
The waitresses all wear ankle-length floral dresses with flowers in their hair, and the bartenders are in Hawaiian shirts. Drinks are served in a variety of different themed mugs, with bright neon straws and swizzle sticks and hibiscus flower and pineapple leaf garnishes. Group drinks, served in giant conch-shells or glass skulls, were surprisingly popular.
I got to pick the brain of Paul McGee, the owner, for just a minute because it was insanely busy and he was helping run drinks. He said’s he’s just always loved Tiki bars because he loves that style of drink. He’s always wanted to open one of his own and is surprised no one’s ever done one right in Chicago. The goal for Three Dots was to open a fun place that still focused on craft cocktails, but with less pretense. The drinks are expertly made, but they’re not too serious. Beer and wine offerings are limited, but the consensus on Saturday seemed to be that fruity cocktails like the Tropical Itch and the Rum River Mystic were plenty enjoyable.
Music was not-too-loud Quentin Tarantino-ish surf rock/oldies and reggae, until around midnight, when a DJ came in and started playing more house stuff. Attire was across the board, which I thought was one of the coolest aspects. This past weekend, you had plenty of the typical River North bar dress, plus the older crowd in theme-appropriate clothing, and the post-Lolla crowd in sweaty tank-tops and cargo shorts. But no one looked out of place. Just a fun bar.
I think it will do well, mostly because it commits to the theme without ever letting it become a gimmick. You’d want to go back because the drinks are great (seriously I don’t drink fruity drinks but these were fantastic) and the service was excellent. The decor and stuff is just a fun bonus. The staff remarked that they can’t wait ’til winter, because they think it’s going to become quite the oasis. It’s true—a Zombie Punch under a thatched roof should warm your crew up no matter how much snow is falling outside.