I first noticed the Hala Kahiki about a year ago driving north on River Road through the Chicago suburb of River Grove. I glanced at its colorful exterior and quirky signage and wondered, “What’s the story there?” The wonderful thing about journalism is that it’s a professional excuse to be nosy. I contacted the bar owner, Jim Oppedisano, et voilà! Our newest story for The Distance takes you inside the Hala Kahiki, a tiki bar established nearly 50 years ago by a family that’s never traveled west of California.
One of the many fascinating things about the Hala Kahiki is that its founders, Stanley and Rose Sacharski, weren’t trying to take advantage of the mid-century tiki fad. They just wanted to run a bar, and the tropical theme came about largely by chance. I love the role that serendipity plays in the history of the Hala Kahiki, which like many businesses has benefitted from a combination of happy accidents and pragmatic management.
The bar is well-known among tiki enthusiasts and certain locals; earlier this year, Time Out Chicago listed “a pilgrimage to Hala Kahiki in River Grove” as No. 9 on its list of Chicago Rites of Passage. The Hala Kahiki is one of the last old-fashioned tiki bars in the region, and it’s delightfully nostalgic and free of irony. This is not a place for craft cocktails and winking nods to a bygone era of American kitsch. This is a place where you drink something called a Sweet Leilani on a leopard print stool while the bartender tells you ghost stories. There’s even a gift shop in the back where I almost bought a vintage Hawaiian muumuu at least three sizes too big for me.
We’re always on the hunt for unique businesses like the Hala Kahiki to write about for The Distance, so keep sending your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter at @distancemag. If you’re new to The Distance, please check out our first two stories on Horween Leather Co., Chicago’s last tannery, and Tina’s Closet, a lingerie store in the Chicago suburbs whose owner is determined to get every woman into a well-fitting bra.