Go Tropical at Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room
The city’s second tiki bar was inspired by one in Las Vegas.
Some folks go to Vegas and lose money gambling. Lee Guk came back with an idea for a new bar. “I had never been to a Tiki bar,” Guk says, but Las Vegas has a long list of them. Guk tried Frankie’s Tiki Bar, “and I loved it.” And so, in November 2012, he opened Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room at 196 S. 2nd St. “The Foundation Tiki Bar is the only other tiki bar here” says Guk. He notes that Lucky Joe’s and Foundation, though not affiliated, get along well.
Guk and his silent business partner, B.J. Kirchoff, bought the building where Lucky Joe’s is located, and changed it completely. It had been home to a bar called Ball Game for 43 years. “We painted the outside, then we remodeled the entire inside” says Guk. Given that Kirchoff’s middle name is Joe and he was always “far more lucky than I am,” says Guk, “we decided to call it Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room.”
Alex, a reviewer from yelp.com, said: “If you want a fun atmosphere and a delicious fruity drink with an umbrella, you have to come here.” Said Erica, another yelp reviewer: “When you walk in, you could easily be in a friend’s basement…in a good way.”
The South Pacific style of tiki bars, as noted in our story on the Foundation Tiki Bar, goes back to the 1930s in California but became really became big in this country after World War II and has ebbed and flowed in popularity since then. Lucky Joe’s offers classic tiki drinks from the 40’s and 50’s, but not without their own touch. “We have our own spin on classic tiki drinks,” notes Guk. Currently they have 21 drinks on their menu. By the end of April, Guk expects to have 42 drinks! You can order a giant Scorpion bowl, a specialty cocktail that is perfect for two. You can even get a souvenir cup. They have a vast variety of souvenir mugs from which to choose.
Rum, naturally, is big here, with more than 30 kinds in stock including Roaring Dan made by Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Distillery. They also have a drink called Zombie Joe, which is pure rum—if you’re up for it, and of course they have the classic Mai Tai, which is 5 dollars on “Mai Tai Monday.”
The mastermind behind the classic drinks is another Joe, bartender Joey Houghtaling. “He has the perfect balance between classic with a modern spin,” notes Guk, “he is a cocktail genius.” Yelp reviewers sing praise of the bar’s “delightful” Singapore sling, noting that “the combination of the rum and pineapple will change the flavor from acrid and boozy to butter toffee.”
Guk, a former employee of Silk, grew up in Mukwonago, and previously owned the Ten Bells bar, now closed. He has big plans for Lucky Joe’s and hopes to establish it as one of the city’s top cocktail bars. He also wants to open more cocktail bars in other cities, noting “we’ve been recognized on a national level, which is really cool.”
Lucky Joe’s is on Facebook (with 5,541 likes and 4.5 stars), Twitter, (@LuckyJoesTiki), and they have a website (luckyjoestiki.com). And they are located in what is the city’s newest hot neighborhood, the Fifth Ward. “The more the merrier,” Guk says of the growing nightlife scene. “It’s good for the area to keep growing, and the more bars that open up, the more people that come who might want to check us out.” And why not, it’s the ward’s only tiki bar.