There are three tiki bars in the Detroit metropolitan area. This winter I toured them all.
Wouldn’t that be a great post, to just tell you that and leave it at that? Well in no particular order, here are the three.
15421 Mack Ave, Detroit, MI 48224
Located in a near commercial intersection in a neighborhood, Lost River provides refuge and escape for hard working people in the area and attracts people from all over the metro area. Opened in June of 2018 it maintains an 8.1 rating on Critiki and well deserved from my visit.
A plain black exterior conceals a small oasis with huge floral wall, thatch and penny covered bar. The bar pushes more on the tropical end of tiki than kitsch with a prominent lack of tikis and bamboo. The lighting is dark but cozy, lit by small lights, custom made of wood and rope. The calming sounds of classic jetset lounge and exoitica music warm the place further and provide a fair bit of privacy in your conversations forcing intimacy by leaning in close to hear or frustration at having to shout to be heard.
The drinks are top notch; fruity boozy and strong. The menu features plenty of classics as well as some new bartender creations and of course they have their own mug for sale. In keeping with the tropical vs tiki vibe, the mug is covered with vines. The food menu is equally delicious and in the end, though I prefer tiki and kitsch, this is a warm, romantics, friendly neighborhood refuge I would love to have in my neighborhood.
4654 Vernor Highway Detroit, MI
Closer to downtown and located on a busy main road is Mutiny Bar. The locals tell me that though a tiki bar, this more fits with culture of neighboring Dearborn. Loud 80’s metal music immediately kills any calm, relaxing tropical vibe the place has created with it’s thatch, bamboo and kitsch. A few flower shirts mix in with the dozens of trucker hats and you get the feeling that any bar here would be just as packed with the same crowd.
The bar is beautiful. Plenty of details to keep you looking around and finding new things to point out and admire. The drinks are top notch and served in great tiki mugs. Despite all of that, the music, though hilarious at first, gets increasingly annoying unless you’re there to party. It had more of a pre-game vibe than a relaxing lounge vibe.
Chins Chop Suey
28205 Plymouth Rd. Livonia, MI
Far outside of Detroit in Livonia lies Chins Chop Suey, the last remnants of Chin’s Tiki. Chin’s Chop Suey is a class Chinese food restaurant from the 60s with a tiki decor. This place warmed my heart a little, but also made me a little sad. Walking into it is walking into the past. In addition to the classic decor are a few photos and memorabilia from Chin’s Tiki, and articles of the once much more popular shops.
The food is classic Chinese food from the era the place opened. Unimpressive by today’s gourmet food standards but featuring all the staples and a heavy dose of nostalgia of days gone by. You can’t help but drift away in thoughts of how busy, popular and special this place must have been back in it’s hay day.
Drinks are available and suffer from same by-gone era quality as the food. Cheap rum with cheap mixers leave a chemical taste and dissatisfaction on your tongue. They do have mugs available but are also largely impressive and at this point, I’m not even sure which mug on my shelf is “theirs”. I remember it being a classic tiki mug of a tiki which was fun and unique when it was first produced, but feel plain and boring compared to modern designs. You could find it for sale on many websites featuring cheap, standard tiki paraphernalia imports. Either I broke mine or it is so generic it has completely disappeared into the forest of similar mugs on my shelf.
The decor, though dated, is absolutely amazing. Thatch overhangs, bamboo dividers between classic, green vinyl booths and a huge volcanic rock water fall take you back. Puffer fish, wicker chairs and and plenty of giant tiki idols give the place a classic vibe. Though no relaxing oasis due mainly to it being a restaurant and not a bar, this is a place I would recommend you check out. Tiki aficionados will appreciate this special time capsule.
Chins despite everything I mentioned, maintains an overall score of 7.1 on Critiki. The scores reflect the poor drink quality but the tilt reflects the love and nostalgia this place has. Oh, and I found out which mug is from there thanks to it being in some of the pictures online.
If you live in Detroit or are heading to the area, check out these bars and leave your impressions in the comments.