Three Dots and a Lot of Glasses

By Sarah Freeman  |  August 5, 2013

Consider the length of mixologist Paul McGee’s beard a measurement for how much effort went into Three Dots and a Dash. The beard was merely at professional lumberjack-length when he left The Whistler in early 2012 to oversee the cocktail programs at several Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants. Today, he could leave the world of bartending for the competitive beard circuit.

Don’t do that, McGee.

Much like original tiki bars of the 1930s, Three Dots is meant to be a tropical escape or perhaps a rum-soaked wormhole. The windowless cavern below Bub City is decked out with carved wood totems, faux thatched walls and a white onyx bar below a grass canopy. There's a lot of rum, but that's a given. It is also obvious that the bar’s namesake drink (aged rhum agricole, Guyanese rum, honey, falernum, lime, allspice and angostura bitters) is on the menu. There are classics such as a Mai Tai and surprises like a gin-based Saturn (passion fruit juice, lemon, falernum and almond).

It’s all moot.

Not that we don’t care about the drinks. We are just more fascinated by the nonalcoholic cocktail components. When a punch-filled pirate ship arrives at a table, the initial moment of awe has little to do with what the concoction tastes like and more to do with the smaller citrus peel ship floating in the center. McGee and his team not only fill each mug with military-level precision, but also garnishes them with cornucopias of edible flowers and manipulated fruits.

“Tiki is all about going over the top,” McGee said.

One man known as “The Hardest Working Man in Tiki” makes many of the mugs holding the extravagant cocktails. His name is Holden Westland and he owns Tiki Farm, the largest Polynesian collectable production company. He, along with a ragtag team of artists who go by the names Crazy Al and Tiki Ray, create some of the most sought-after tiki memorabilia on the modern market, including four custom mugs for Three Dots.

Check out what makes the glassware and garnishes so unique at the bar now open in River North.

435 N. Clark St. (entrance through the alley off Hubbard St.); 312-610-4220

  • Logo

    The glitz and glam of The Beverly Hills Hilton inspired the lettering for Three Dots. “We really like the font of that style and that era,” McGee said. Like any tiki bar, it walks a fine line between tacky and glamorous. This logo adorns several of the mugs and one punch bowl. “We didn’t want to brand everything, but we wanted some that had the logo on there and the location,” McGee said.

  • Mugs

    The cast of characters on mugs is as exuberant as the bar itself. Meet Whack Whack. He’s a headhunter and is a little grumpy after a long day of hunting, but that's ok because he has his handy bottle opener to whack whack one of McGee’s bottles of rum. He’s one of the many characters that don several of the mugs, alongside the fishing god Ika Ariki and Ernest Hemingway.

  • Punch Bowls

    From the $50 Christmas in July to the $385 Treasure Chest No. 1, large-format drinks are presented in ceramic shells and ships. There is also a Zombie Punch served in a glass skull. “There’s 40 oz. in a traditional zombie for one person. I wanted to make it so everyone could share that drink without getting so inebriated," McGee said. "I didn’t want that to be the first and last drink of the night.”

  • Garnishes

    “If you think about it like a kitchen, the plate has to be finished before it goes out,” McGee said. 1,500 orchid flowers lose their lives on a busy night at Three Dots. Bouquets of mint finish each Mai Tai, orange peel roses accentuate citrus noted in passion fruit juice, bananas carved into dolphins or squids don daiquiris, and leaves from 100 pineapples garnish cocktails using the fruit's juices.

  • Swizzle Sticks

    Lettuce Entertain You's graphic design team customized the swizzle sticks served in the cocktails. Embossed with Three Dots' logo, the colorful stirrers are shaped like octopuses, mermaids and even Paul McGee’s bearded face. The latter was Rich Melman’s idea. Guests are encouraged to take the swizzle sticks as souvenirs, but please leave the mugs behind (unless purchased).