It’s clear with a name like “Coconutz” the owner’s of the Gold Coast’s newest bar don’t take themselves too seriously. Taking influences from traditional Tiki Bars, which has made a major comeback in recent years– and the Caribbean, Coconutz promises fun and the chance for Chicagoans who can’t escape the winter to embrace some warm tropical vibes.
Yet even with the goofy name that conjures up images of women in bikinis and bros in board shorts at a Jamaican all-inclusive, Coconutz isn’t overly kitschy or nostalgic for classic Tiki culture. Instead it’s a cozy tropical bar with complex bar bites, refreshing drinks, and some sleek décor.
Casual Yet Classy Atmosphere
Entering into Coconutz, you’re immediately in this tropical, sandy-looking bar area that makes you feel like you’re on the beach. It’s the most Tiki-faithful part of the restaurant and was a hub of activity during the night we were there. Moving to the center, it’s a bit tamer and cozier. Here you’ll find most of the seating, walls that give you the impression of palm trees, and a long, thin TV screen showing a roaring fire. Best of all, were these cloud-like fluffy lights that shifted colors throughout the night and had most patrons transfixed.
Finally, the back section retreats from the fiery reds of the center for cool ocean blues, a club-style lounge area, a TV showing gentle waves, a DJ booth, and a rustic wine/beer bar. While not a massive bar, their three unique spaces definitely cater to a variety of nighttime moods.
Drinks: From Tropical Classics to Frozen Malört
Coconutz does serve food, but they’re a bar first and foremost. They’ve got beer, wine, frozen drinks, and a big selection of cocktails ranging from new creations to tropical classics. The latter includes drinks from the original Tiki Bar Don the Beachcomber and even a version of a drink British Navy sailors enjoyed in the 1740s.
Just because of the incredible name, my buddy and I started with the “Punch in the Nutz” a white-rum based drink with a heavy grapefruit taste. If you’re not into the bitter grapefruit taste, try instead the classic “Pain Killer,” another rum drink with stronger orange and sweet pineapple flavors. The boozier Highland Queen Scotch-based “Loch, Stock & Barreled” will satisfy those with a sweet tooth, but don’t necessarily want a fruity drink, with its heavy butter scotch flavor.
Toward the end of the night, I switched over to frozen drinks. The “Bushwacker” with its mix of almond milk, chocolate liqueur, Kahlua, and rum was chill version of a Rumchata. Perhaps the most unique beverage of the night was the last I tried, and one I needed a few drinks to work up to: the “Chitown Snowflake.”
Chicago’s iconic, and super bitter, Jeppson’s Malört, a favorite of my fellow Chicago Traveler Ross Perkins, was mixed with Irish whiskey and Macadamia liqueur. The most noticeable flavor other than the Malört was banana that didn’t quite mask the bitterness, but certainly helped make it more palatable. This drink is totally a novelty yet I can see people daring each other to try it.
Coconutz doesn’t serve full dinners, but they do offer appetizers they call “Cabana Bites.” Far from just a basic slider or nachos, there are a lot of interesting influences here from Asian to Jamaican Jerk and quite a bit in between. I tried quite a few at a pre-opening media event—the pictures are of sample sizes and not the actual portions—and these were some of the highlights:
Danger Pie: The Danger Pie was a dessert bite featuring a crunchy pastry and a torched banana that melted in your mouth. It was in some ways like a cross between crème brulée and bananas foster (without the ice cream). I was a big fan and grabbed it every time the sample tray came around.
Jerk Fish: The Jerk-rubbed Lampuka fish I tried was easily the best of Coconutz’s Cabana bites. The exterior was slightly crispy and full of rich, spicy goodness that gave away to flaky, moist fish. The seasoning is the strongest taste here, so even people who aren’t big fish fans should enjoy this.
Lemongrass Pork Meatball: Meatballs are a classic snack staple and this was a worry addition. Coconutz’s meatball was incredibly tender and practically melted in my mouth as I enjoyed the slightly sweet, slightly spicy Asian-influenced glaze.
Tuna Poke: A poke is a raw tuna dish of Hawaiian origin where the fish is cubed and generally marinated in soy sauce. It’s been gaining in popularity lately and makes perfect sense at Coconutz. Their tuna poke was paired with sweet mango and served on a crisp wonton chip giving you a mix of sweet, salty, soft, and crisp.
Bottom Line on Coconutz
The Gold Coast isn’t particularly known for funky bars and while not a traditional Tiki Bar, Coconutz offers a trip through time and different cultures in its collection of food and drinks. It’s a bar with a name that’s as unpretentious as you can get, but offers more style than you’d expect and promises a lot of fun.
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