I like the Tiki. I like it very much.
The rum, the decor, the rum, the music,the rum, the wardrobe, the rum...
Today I decided to arrive in person at our own slice of Aloha here in Lincoln, NE.
John J's Chow Hall is. . . interesting. This facility resides in ground floor north of the Graduate Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn, on 9th and P streets downtown. I would hesitate to call John J's a Tiki Bar. If anything it is a confused officer's bar. The John of the namesake is General John J Pershing, Nebraska's hero General of Armies from World War 1 (note: He was not born in NE, just did stuff here, like go to college. We're really proud of this import). It should be noted that WWI was fought in Europe, and that JJ served only briefly in the South Pacific, in the Philippines, and at low rank from 1901-04. So, right here, we have an odd juxtaposition in the name, theme, and history.
But let's get down to what this place is built up to be. The decor is straight out of the Walmart/Target/Shopko Summer Collection. All deep, almost minty greens, with fronds and leaves overprinted upon each other. The whole of the dining room and bar is well lit, with a few strategically placed palms in pots, a couple wicker-wood chairs (with modern outdoor chair cushions), and one whole wall is composed of glass-paned garage doors that can open up on reasonably warm (but not too warm) days and nights. It strikes me as being what you might imagine an equatorial colonial canteen, if it were built today and stripped of all charm. In a word, vaguely implying something more, but otherwise sterile.
The drinks: Reasonably priced, interesting once. I had two while I was there, the Specialist Mason, and the General Robson. I preferred the Robson of the two.
The Mason comes in an Alien Head:
The Robson comes in a Pig-earred Pineapple?!?
Both could benefit from a more simple syrup, or more fruit juices, or both and a lot more booze. I felt both were rather watered down, and in watching the preparation it was obvious that far too little ice was used while mixing. After shaking, the Robson poured out completely liquid, having melted all of its shaker ice. More ice in the shaker would have resulted in a colder drink that stayed cold and didn't melt as much of its ice. The somewhat cold drink is then poured into a room-temperature mug, which slightly rewarms the liquid. The vessel is then topped up with more crushed ice, which just made it worse and allowed even more melting/watering down. Chill the Mug! Use bigger agitator cubes! USE MORE BOOZE! Seriously, each of these was at most 2 shots. I would be startled to learn that either had more than 3 oz of liquor in them.
There are NO standards of Tiki on the menu. Everything is an "original" creation named after some famous military personality. Those with experience will be able to tease out what each is based upon, but I was sad to see no Mai Tai, no Zombie, no classics. Otherwise, they have a full bar. The Tiki drinks seem to be an amusement for the guests, but they cater to the harder traveling drinker with a variety of harder liquors and a rack of taps.
The menu (see above) has food on the back. It is literally a mix-n-match affair. They list several proteins, like beef, chicken, shrimp, etc. and a list of sides. You order by number of meats, and number of sides. There are no signature dishes, no imagination, and not even a hint of theme. It is more disappointing when you expect more to begin with.
Music: Vague, background, I am guessing when I say it appears to be WWII (Not WWI, hello theme...) "military" pop songs. Bugle Boy, your people are calling. Not that it will matter, as there are several big screens mounted about the walls. This is obviously hotel-bar first and Tiki-bar second, and that music is going to get muted as soon as there is a game on.
Ultimately, what we're dealing with here is someone who wants to do something inspired. Someone wants to make a Tiki bar. Someone wants to do something original. Someone wanted to bring a bit of Polynesia to the Great Plains. But, it is blatantly obvious that the hotel had certain "requirements" for their hotel bar. I think Tiki was allowed because it would mesh with the Mid-century theme of the hotel. But, the entire hotel was refurbished in the last 6 months, I get the idea that the budget for this particular bar was extremely limited. This bar opened 2 weeks ago and when I randomly walked in tonight I was informed it was the Hotel's (and bar's) grand opening. I will point out that nobody knows about the grand opening. There was no publicity, no ads, not even a social media presence. Nobody here knows about it, and I doubt many will soon.
There is a certain critical threshold needed to put a bar over the top for fun, theme, and memorability. I know some can do more with less, but in this case I think they could have used a lot more to begin with. I really wonder what this place could have been if it had triple the decorating budget and mixologists who aren't afraid to make a drink that will fill the glass...
I will go back again in 6 months (if it's still open, and if they haven't read this review) to see if things improve. But until then I'll be taking my money up to Omaha where I feel special and can live in another world for a few hours at a time.
Rating: Capt Morgan Pirate Mascot trying to look cool at Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale.