Lei Low Tiki Bar: A New Taste of Tropical Paradise

Photos by Brittanie Shey
Houston's finally has a dedicated tiki bar after decades without one. Lei Low, at 6412 N. Main, opened Friday with flaming tiki drinks, aloha shirts and healthy does of Houston's tiki history.

The bar is the brainchild of Russell and Elizabeth Theode, formerly of Downhouse, and Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse, owners of Grand Prize, Big Star Bar and Goro & Gun. The Theodes are avid tikiphiles whose personal collection makes up much of the bar's décor.

The intimate bar is located in a Sunset Heights strip mall, next to a tax office and convenience store. A neon-green sign above the entrance reads RUM. Inside, the bar is divided into several sections: one area is inspired by exotica and jungle rooms, another calls to mind Grandma's Florida room, with white bamboo furniture and tacky paint-by numbers. On the walls hangs vintage artwork by Witco and Tretchikoff, tiki-bar standards.

The tiki movement swept middle America after World War II, when soldiers brought home tales of alluring South Pacific islands. In those years, the need to "escape" mutated into an appreciation for anything deemed exotic -- which is why rum (from the Caribbean) got paired with pupu platters (Americanized Chinese food) and Hawaiian décor and music. If you were living in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1953, your local tiki bar blended all those cultures together to create a magical escape from the doldrums of normal life.

Lei Low pays homage to the history of tiki with a collection of menus, photos and other ephemera from Houston's own Trader Vic's, which was housed in the Shamrock Hilton and closed in the 1980s. The Theodes also found a bunch of green booths on Craigslist to mimic the green booths of the Houston Trader Vic's, a detail only a true urban archeologist could appreciate.

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@BrittanieShey  Instead of the "Balinese Room #2" being an homage to Houston, could it be possible that it's, in fact, an homage to the Balinese Room itself?  I don't know if you ever had the pleasure of visiting the Balinese Room before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ike, but it was as grand a tiki emporium as Trader Vic's ever was, and the recent owners did an excellent job of refurbishing the main showroom to its former glory.


The Balinese Room was in Galveston, so how exactly is a drink called "Balinese Room #2" an homage to Houston?


@BrittanieShey Galveston is Galveston, Houston is Houston, they are two separate entities and 55 miles away is a bit of a stretch to be called "Houston area".  The street I grew up on ended at the Beltway, so I am quite familiar with "outside the Beltway" and the Balinese Room was about 40 miles beyond the Beltway, friend.


@yllennoc  I agree with the other two commenters. I think you're splitting hairs as well. Many people I know in both Houston and Galveston use both locations synonymously when discussing venues in the greater Houston area. This is partly due to Houston being a motor vehicle city...you have to drive to get anywhere and driving long distances is a big part of our culture. A trip to Galveston is as normal as a trip to Katy, to the Woodlands, Cypress, etc etc....nitpickers are such a bore.


@Kylejack Yeah, a 55-mile hair is gonna be pretty hard to split, ain't it?  As for "importance", each of us gets to decide what they find pertinent, don't we?  Look at you, you found it important to try to muster up some snark about something you deem meaningless.  Monkeys are the strangest peoples...

Kylejack topcommenter

@yllennoc This is really an important hair to split. We can't have people thinking that a long dead casino was in the Houston area rather than Galveston. Imagine the catastrophic consequences!

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