7068 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL

No photo, since we were warned that pulling out a camera might not be such a good idea in a place like this.

Sign-based drinking? We came here to drink... not to eat (no food in Paradise it seems… at least none that we would want to ingest). However, we chose Paradise Club for the same reason we choose to eat in the Sign-Based Eating joints featured in this blog… for its magnificent non-ambience! Actually, Paradise Club was the last stop on a mini-tour of north-end Chicago tiki bars led by none other than James Teitelbaum – author of the essential book Tiki Road Trip. Paradise Club was suggested as a fine way to bring the evening to a close.

The sign: Actually, there are two simple signs, one that says Paradise Club, and another that reads Club Paradise. So which is it? Who knows… who cares. The large painted mural of a hula dancer on the side of the building is more eye-catching than either of the two signs.

Carded! Upon making our way through the door, we were stopped… by a surly, bleached-blond, Eastern European-accented hostess no less, who asked to see some ID. A Canadian driver’s license meant absolutely nothing to her. Thankfully, a Canadian passport seemed to pass the test, but not before being ripped out of my hand and taken behind the bar for closer inspection.

This business of getting carded in the U.S. is getting funnier and funnier to me… especially as I continue my slow waddle into middle age. I realize these people are legally obliged to check each and every person who walks into their drinking establishment but it seems a bit ridiculous to ask for proof of age from a salt-and-pepper-haired (what’s left of it!) 42 year old.

The best line I heard recently – regarding getting carded in mid-life – came from my friend Stan, who is in his early 50s, and who was asked for ID (along with the rest of us) upon entering an Irish pub in New York: “Well, I can show you my AARP card…”

But back to Paradise Club…

Through the pearly gates: Once we’d all been granted access to Paradise, we paused for a second to get used to the dead silence… no music in Paradise, no TV in the background, not much talking (except for a few quiet exchanges – in Polish – between the four or five guys sitting at the bar)… in other words, no nothing. After just enough time to let the black light/bare bones/last vestiges of tiki ambience sink in, the surly hostess re-emerged from behind the bar and escorted us to one of the two tables in what could be called “the back room.”

Take a chance… on a not-so-exotic cocktail: James had informed us that he’d never seen the same waitress twice at Paradise Club… but that each successive one was young, gorgeous, and Polish. Was this a halfway stop in some sort of white slavery ring? A training ground for “new girls” brought over from the old country?

Once we were seated at our table in the back room, it didn’t take long before a waitress – young, gorgeous, and with a heavy Polish accent – showed up with the one and only copy of the exotic drink menu… an ancient scrapbook filled with photos of cocktails, each of which was somewhat more bizarrely-named than those found in other tiki bars. Since the back room was so dark, we were also handed a small flashlight with which to read the menu in the pitch black. I will admit that I played it safe and ordered a Polish beer but a couple of others took a chance and selected some mysterious concoctions from the well-worn menu. My better half – perhaps out of fear – decided to order the suggested Banana Spider, which both the waitress and the surly hostess claimed “ees good for da girls.”

As the drinks were being made, the four drunks at the bar – having heard we were Canadian – began serenading us with a rousing rendition of O Canada. One of the guys then dropped by our table to reassure us that he “meant no disrespect.”

Thought about: Don’t know if Charles Bukowski was interested in tiki at all, but he would have felt right at home in here.


Anonymous said...

A fair appraisal of Paraidse Club Paradise.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

And yeah, this was Buk's Tiki joynt, for sure!

-James T.

T.C. O'Rourke said...

I visited for the first time Saturday.

Marjana (?) the owner was friendly and informative and served us two rounds nearing 3 AM.

While it was somewhat slightly divey and a weird Polish/Polynesian mix, you left out the most important fact about this place:

The drinks were strong, made with real fruit and no bar foam.