Using Google Maps bicycle directions to access Chicagoland tiki venues

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One of my favorite kinds of bicycling is to just choose a destination, like a library, a restaurant or a beach and then find a pleasant, interesting way to ride there. This summer I’ve been enjoying going out around sunset and doing what I call “dreaming” my way around: I cruise slow and improvise a route on shady side streets while taking in the scenery and letting my mind wander.

Or, if it’s a trip that I often take, sometimes I’ll mix things up by playing a game where every time I come to a red light I have to change directions. Say I’m riding from the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State, northwest to my home in Logan Square. I might start by pedaling west on Van Buren, then come to a red at Dearborn and turn north, then come to a red at Kinzie and head west, etc.

Some of my favorite suburban destinations are tiki bars and old Chinese restaurants with Polynesian-themed décor. I trace my fascination with “Polynesian Pop” culture to my childhood, when my family used to visit my dad’s cousin Leo’s tiki-themed hotel, the Hawaiian Isle, in North Miami Beach. It’s harder to improvise routes for these kind of suburban safaris, so a little forethought is required.

[flickr]photo:4891526901[/flickr]Chef Shangri-La – photo by Jericl Cat

The Chicago Bike Map (which mostly covers the city proper) and the Chicagoland Bicycle Map (covering the six-county metro region) are great tools for choosing decent streets for cycling. But the longer I’ve lived in Chicago the more interested I am in avoiding car traffic and finding fresh routes.

Ride the City is a good way to get new recommendations for routes within the city and it offers three different types of itineraries: safer, safe and direct. For some reason the direct routes are often the most interesting, with lots of zigzagging on back streets. The directions are usually reliable.

Google Maps’ bike directions cover the suburbs as well, but since the service is still in “beta” mode there are still a few bugs. The main problem is that the directions often send you down alleys. So while Google directions are very handy for finding side-street routes to suburban tiki bars, I always make sure to review the recommended route closely beforehand. If it wants to take me through an alley, I “pull” the route to a suitable side street. And since Google indicates which direction traffic flows on one-way streets, it also allows me to adjust the route from a tolerable secondary street like, say, Damen to a mellow, beautiful tertiary street like Walcott or Leavitt.

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When I’m planning a suburban ride with Google, I print out overview maps of the route and then zoom in on my computer to view the street names and ink them in on the printouts. I take my touring bike on these trips so I can easily read the maps in my handlebar bag map case while riding.

Last Sunday I rode from Logan Square to the Wiki Waki Luau, a 35th anniversary party for Chef Shangri-La, a tiki-Chinese restaurant at 7930 W. 26th in North Riverside, a few miles southwest of Oak Park. Following my Google route I took Palmer Avenue west out of Logan Square and stair-stepped southwest for twelve miles, the majority of it on quiet, leafy side streets. Especially in Oak Park and River Forest, I rolled by beautiful homes and fascinating architecture, including several Frank Lloyd Wright designs. I also passed by the post-apocalyptic-looking concrete home known as “The Logan’s Run House” at 1046 Fair Oaks Avenue in Oak Park.

[flickr]photo:3041379541[/flickr]Photo by Paul Goyette

The luau was a terrific multi-generational community event with lots of families hanging out in the parking lot. I caught great live performances by the surf and rock-a-billy trio Hill Billy Idle and the Royal Polynesian Revue, performing traditional Hawaiian, Tahitian and Maori songs, dances and drumming. I really dug the retro fashions of all the tiki-philes present, and it was really fun seeing the many kids present get onstage to join in the dances.

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Eventually my friend Howard, an old crony from Critical Mass, showed up and we went inside to the amazing restaurant and bar, decorated with carved idols, tropical flowers, seashells, thatched roofs, Buddha statues and a large fountain and goldfish pond. We sat down for the traditional tiki appetizer, a Pu Pu platter of deep-fried and barbecued tidbits surrounding a small hibachi grill, and sumptuous Chinese-American entrees. Eventually I caught the CTA Pink and Blue lines back to the Northwest Side. It was definitely a night to remember.

[flickr]photo:4891527813[/flickr]Photo by Jericl Cat

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

5 thoughts on “Using Google Maps bicycle directions to access Chicagoland tiki venues”

  1. There’s another Tiki Themed Bar called Jungle Joe’s in Berwyn’s historic Depot District. It is easily accessible by the BNSF METRA & sits across the street from the Berwyn stop on Windsor Ave. Between Grove & Oak Park Ave. Happy trails,
    Javier.

    1. Hmm… Sounds like another destination for Google Maps bike directions!

      A few other good suburban tiki joints I’ve bicycled to:
      Hala Kahiki bar in River Grove
      Tong’s Tiki Hut Chinese restaurant in Villa Park
      Malihini Terrace Chinese restaurant in Willowbrook
      The Tiki Terrace Polynesian restaurant in Des Plaines
      (has a live Polynesian floor show!)
      The Breakers Chinese restaurant in Crystal Lake

      Okole maluna!

      John Greenfield

  2. What a great way to get to a Tiki destination. I knew of the main Tiki places, but I hadn’t heard of Malihini or The Breakers. I’ll have to check those out!

  3. What a great way to get to a Tiki destination. I knew of the main Tiki places, but I hadn’t heard of Malihini or The Breakers. I’ll have to check those out!

    1. Yeah, they both merit a road trip. Crystal Lake is 50 miles from the Loop but Metra stops there. I once led a bike ride where we took Metra to Aurora with our cycles, biked forty miles north on the paved Fox River Trail (with a tailwind!) to the Breakers,
      had dinner and took Metra home. Never had to turn around and deal with the headwind.

      Other good tiki venues in the city:
      – Trader Vic’s by the Viagra Triangle: Not as cool as the old one in the basement of the Palmer House Hotel, but still very fun. They’ve been closed the last couple times a stopped by, apparently because of a liquor license issue.
      – New China Tea near Midway Airport: Chinese restaurant with a bit of tiki decor and great tropical drinks and food.
      – Club Paradise (or it Paradise Club), around 7200 W. Belmont, a Polish bar with some fun tiki vestiges. They gave me the third degree the first couple times I dropped by, thinking I was with the Liquor Control Board but eventually they became very friendly. The Polish/tiki combo is surreal.

      BTW, I probably would have heard of most of these places were it not for chicagoan James Teitelbaum’s excellent book “Tiki Road Trip.”

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