For years, the only Tiki action in town was found in a double-wide trailer in Humble, despite 70 years of rich Tiki history in the rest of the United States. Hula Mama's put on a full luau-style floor show on the weekends, but the classic rum-based drinks of the South Pacific genre were never good enough to attract either Tikiphiles or your average drinker. Hula Mama's closed in November 2012, and Houston has been without a Tiki bar ever since.
Come this fall, however, Houston will have a full-blown Tiki bar once again—and this time, the drinks will no doubt be divine. Longtime bar owners Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse of Big Star Bar, Grand Prize Bar, and Goro & Gun have teamed up with Russell and Elizabeth Thoede—industry vets and passionate Tikiphiles—to open Lei Low, a bar that Moore describes first and foremost as "a really good neighborhood bar."
"Ryan and I don't like to categorize our bars," says Moore, by way of explanation. "This will be our first themed bar." That said, Moore admits that he couldn't have created Lei Low withou the Thoedes, a husband and wife team who have been collecting Tiki memorabilia and recipes for years when they're not slinging drinks at D&T Drive-Inn and Down House. They're even in the process of making their own coconut rum and absinthe for the bar.
"It'll be a destination spot for those Tiki freaks," says Moore, "and hopefully people will come to appreciate rum and rum culture."
What exactly is rum culture? Moore describes it with a laugh as "barefoot, less uptight, clear water and white sailboats. A Caribbean feel, relaxed, with very late nights."
Lei Low's very first late night will take place starting at 8:30 p.m. this evening (in conjunction with Texas Tiki Week) when the Thoedes will be debuting their drink menu and concept at a cocktail pop-up. The drinks will flow until 2 a.m. on the second floor of Grand Prize Bar (downstairs will be "business as usual," reports Moore). The preview cocktail menu will feature eight or nine of the Thoede's meticulously compiled and recreated classic Tiki drinks, and even some of that homemade coconut rum.
After tonight, the team will get back to work on a build-out in an otherwise nondescript strip center at North Main and 25th, a block from the old Bellissimo location in Sunset Heights. Moore says they're hoping to open within the next four months and blow away peoples' expectations when they do. Lei Low will be much more than "bamboo walls and hula girls in grass skirts," says Moore. "Russell and Elizabeth are steering this boat. I'm just really proud to be a part of it."