Wish I Designed It: Lost Lake Tiki Bar
As cities go, Chicago and Buffalo are pretty much as un-tropical as they come. Yet, the last time I left the shores of Lake Erie and set sail for the shores of Lake Michigan, I slipped through a portal that led to a tropical island paradise. Before I knew it, I was sipping rum punch out of a hollowed out pineapple, drunk as a sailor and feeling the island vibes.
Lost Lake is a hip little bar near Logan Square with an ambitious commitment to their brand and an exemplary sense of placemaking. Immediately the designer in me was delighted by the simple, fun logo and the adorable line-art patterns and illustrations. But it was the immersive total commitment to the theme in every single aspect of the experience that made such a strong impression on me.
Tiki bars have been growing in popularity in the U.S.-of-A more or less in step with the explosion of the craft cocktail scene over the past decade or so and, admittedly the idea of a bunch of Midwesterners in Hawaiian shirts serving me daiquiris didn’t seem very appealing at first.
For a business, playing into cliché and cultural appropriation is such a dangerous line to walk, which is why I respect the decision this bar came to: go big or go home. With the wrong execution this concept could have easily come across badly, like some trite tourist trap near an airport or worse, but Lost Lake was able to craft a brand from soup to nuts that feels young, smart, in-touch and fun.
Starting with the clever name and smart design, down to the campy exotic interior and banana leaf menus, I think they did it right. I give them a pass on having too many different logo variations and lockups because they’re all pretty great and ultimately this doesn’t water down their sense of brand identity too much. Plus the incredible bar tenders serving up mind-blowing, world-class tiki cocktails certainly helps seal the deal.
It’s worth mentioning that this urban oasis is also connected to a sister establishment—a no frills Chinese takeout restaurant hilariously named Thank You—which sports a brave and bold brand strategy of its own:
As the name suggests, their brand is all a play on the ubiquitous and utilitarian look of Chinese takeout restaurants everywhere; all very tongue-in-cheek and very funny. This is anti-design but at the same time quintessential branding. This series of how-to chopstick illustrations got a good laugh out of me:
These fun Chicago concept-restaurants felt like a breath of fresh air to me, especially as a Buffalonian. It was refreshing to see what a bunch of smart young entrepreneurs were able to come up with in a market that has a big enough population of clued-in young people where they could take risks and not feel pressured to pander to a general, all-inclusive audience in order to succeed.