Carrie Rengers

Already missing the hot summer sun? New tiki bar is an escape from the cold and rain

Already missing the hot sun of summer? There is an escape from the cold and rain.

The new Lava & Tonic tiki bar, which Alex Thomas and friends Paul and Jennifer Drace announced a year ago, finally is opening.

“What we’re trying to create here is a escape from . . . your normal daily routine,” Paul Drace says. “You feel like you’re someplace totally different from where you really are. Hopefully you feel like you’re somewhere tropical.”

There are booths with thatch roofs, wooden tikis built into the bar, bamboo basket light fixtures and a skull-decorated fountain. Portraits of singers Don Ho and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole look over the bar.

What there isn’t, though, is a sign out front.

There are blackened windows that don’t let passersby see in, but there’s a little tiki face beckoning from the door of the business, which is at 1716 E. Douglas next to the Donut Whole.

“We put our faith in the fact that something like this can exist,” Thomas says.

It’s faith he didn’t initially have.

The Draces enjoyed a tiki bar while in Hawaii and suggested the idea to Thomas.

“I thought Wichita could use one,” Paul Drace says.

Thomas wasn’t interested until he experienced Chicago’s Three Dots and A Dash tiki bar.

“It took three years for him to come around to the idea,” Drace says.

“It’s been kind of a crazy journey,” Thomas says.

They planned a spot on Commerce Street and had architectural drawings done before the site fell through.

There seemed to be obstacles at each step.

“I mean, trying to convince a bank that you want to put a tiki bar in the middle of Kansas is kind of a stretch,” Thomas says.

Thomas, who is a partner in Kirby’s Beer Store and the Cotillion and owns Lucky’s Everyday says he has a good relationship with Southwest National Bank and eventually got financing.

He says the wait was good in that he and the Draces had time to source materials and create an atmosphere unlike anything else in the city.

“It’s a very intimate, fun vibe,” Thomas says.

Most drinks will be served in tiki mugs with colorful straws, fresh fruit and herbs and edible orchids.

The bar has about 60 varieties of rum and eventually will offer rum flights.

There will be classic-style tiki drinks that were popular from the 1930s to 1970s, such as Mai Tais, Zombies and Painkillers.

There will be some specialty ones exclusive to Lava & Tonic as well, such as Carry Nation’s Flying Hatchet, which is a rum-based drink with lime juice and tiki syrup.

Thomas says any kind of drink is available, not just tiki style, but that’s the emphasis.

Eventually Lava & Tonic may have custom swizzle sticks, much like Three Dots does.

Thomas says it’s all about creating a mood.

“We’re going to continue to expand that.”

There will be a limited food menu, in part through LMNO Pizza, which is creating several specialty Lava & Tonic pizzas. Think spam and eggs and pulled pork and goat cheese.

There also will be a tiki snack tray with locally made beef jerky, tuna jerky from Hawaii, dried mangoes and pineapples, roasted macadamia nuts and banana chips among other things.

The bar will have a grand opening Oct. 12 and then be open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Eventually, it will be open on Sunday as well.

There will be open seating at the bar and a small area with tables, but booths and some other seating are by reservation, though customers can sit there if no one has reserved the seats.

Thomas says he won’t hire bands for the bar. It will play only the kind of music you’d expect to hear on an island.

Thomas and the Draces invited some friends for a practice run Thursday night, and Thomas says he was pleased to look around and see everyone getting to talk and visit and be somewhat transported.

“This space is kind of intended to take you away to another place,” he says.

“I think Wichita will respond.”

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