Detroit’s enthusiasm for cocktails and faux Polynesian kisch is bubbling over into another tiki bar on the east side. The new cocktail bar called Lost River Tiki Bar is slated to arrive this spring inside the former Memories Jazz & Blues Lounge at 15421 Mack Ave.
Matt Mergener and Karen Green are behind the new Morningside neighborhood cocktail lounge, which aims to highlight old-school Detroit tiki culture and classic drinks in a casual setting. Many of the items on the menu pay tribute to the owners’ family history and the history of Detroit. The name is a reference to a waterway flowing through the Mt. Elliott and Elmwood Cemeteries.
Mergener tells Eater he first started developing the idea for the tiki bar six years ago before meeting Green and long before the tiki cocktail trend had gained steam in the city. Along the way, he amassed remnants of some of Detroit’s most iconic tiki bars. Mergener’s collection features everything from vintage Mauna Loa mugs to Chin Tiki banners to matchbooks to silverware and even a United Airlines tiki statue. Many of those items will now find a home as decor at Lost River.
Green and Mergener began the process of purchasing and transferring the liquor license for Memories Lounge from proprietor Henry Williams last year. The bar closed its doors in October. Lost River Tiki will retain some of the character of Memories post-renovation. The partners intend to keep the bar’s wall mirrors as well as the penny-topped bar, which Mergener says was a feature in several of the area’s original tiki bars.
At roughly 1,000-square-feet, the bar has an 80-person capacity with seats for around 40 people. Lost River will have a “nautical theme” throughout with grey wood plank walls, blowfish lanterns, netting, thatch, and glass fishing floats. Mergener and Green also recently enlisted Detroit-based artist Ouizi to paint a mural inside the space. “We worked with her to do a mural behind the bar that’s a tropical floral tiki scene,” Mergener says.
On the menu, customers can expect to see a mixture of seven to eight classic tiki drinks such as mai tais, painkillers, and fogcutters alongside approximately seven “modern takes” on the tiki drink using spirits like mezcal and gin. One Lost River original — the Rose’s Gin and Tonic — will be served in a “bathtub mug” as an homage to Green’s great grandmother who was involved in bootlegging during Prohibition in Detroit. On the classic side, Mergener is looking forward to serving a less common tiki drink called the Strip and Go Naked — a mixture of orange juice, lime, gin, vodka, grenadine, and Stroh’s lager.
There will also be a selection of shareable punch bowls, wines, “summery” beers, and affordable boilermakers. “We want anyone to be able to walk in and get a cheap beer and a shot,” Mergener says.
Lost River Tiki is aiming to open in mid-May but is plotting several previews ahead of the opening. People can check out some of Lost River’s classic tiki cocktails at Gather in Eastern Market on March 22 and again at the restaurant from March 26 through March 31 during Matt Tulpa and MyThy Huynh’s upcoming menu takeover.