Chicago is home to a fair number of tiki-themed restaurants, and now there's one up and running right on Lake Michigan. Yes—on the lake, gently bobbing between DuSable and Monroe Harbors. Tiki Snack Shack bills itself as Chicago's first floating restaurant, with a small kitchen on a custom-built pontoon boat that’s designed to resemble a bamboo hut, and a separate vessel for diners. It’s serving up a range of finger food, from sweet chili–glazed wings to Cubano sliders on sweet Hawaiian rolls.
Owner Natalie Stolarz describes the dishes as a “mix of Latin, Southeast Asian, and other cuisines that mesh a lot of really fun and light tropical flavors.” The small menu also features fried coconut shrimp, grilled pineapple served with vanilla ice cream, and tajín-spiced watermelon or mango.
Tiki Snack Shack is Stolarz’s first-ever restaurant project, launched as an offshoot of her father-in-law’s boat rental service, Chicago TikiBoat. While she helped manage his business, she's always wanted to run her own eatery. “But I didn't want to do a traditional restaurant," Stolarz says. "There are so many, so we figured we would do something original."
She purchased a barge that can seat 30 to serve as a patio and bar but is still waiting for the Coast Guard’s approval to dock it next to the kitchen. The current dining boat, which has space for 20, is a temporary solution, and it’s not a poor alternative: Tiki Snack Shack has a liquor license and is serving beer, so patrons can kick back with a cold drink while they enjoy lakeside views.
Stolarz intends to launch a full tiki bar in about two weeks, which will serve tropical cocktails such as Mai Tais, piña coladas, frozen watermelon daiquiris, and mango margaritas. Once the barge arrives, she envisions setting up a hammock to encourage maximum relaxation.
Tiki Snack Shack, of course, is a seasonal destination, but Stolarz is hopeful that she can keep it open for at least three more months. Since summer arrived late this year, her ideal closing date is October 31. But considering how temperamental Chicago weather is, it’s probably best to check out the barge sooner rather than later.