Cocktail Spotlight: The Lost Lake

Drink Features cocktails
Cocktail Spotlight: The Lost Lake

Cocktail Queries is a Paste series that examines and answers basic, common questions that drinkers may have about mixed drinks, cocktails and spirits. Check out every entry in the series to date.

The tiki cocktail arcana is rich in classic historical drinks, to the point that you might look at the average list of tropical cocktails and come to the assumption that every feasible combination of rums, juices, syrups and liqueurs had been synthesized at this point by the human imagination. Creating a “new classic” in the field, therefore, is no easy thing to do. Presumably, the tiki cocktail canon seemed entirely full when pioneering barman Paul McGee (of enduring Chicago tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash) opened his second Chicago tiki destination Lost Lake in 2015, but he would quickly prove anyone who believed that wrong. The bar’s signature creation, its namesake drink, is a true, modern tiki cocktail masterpiece–a perfectly poised combination of both classical and nouveau elements. Where something like the Zombie, whose brain-melting power we wrote about recently, leans on an infamous reputation for strength, the Lost Lake cocktail zeroes in on beguiling harmony.

But with that said, this cocktail is also something of an endangered species … or perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to it as some kind of underground folk hero. That’s due to the fact that its namesake bar is no longer in operation: Despite being lauded with major awards, Lost Lake Chicago didn’t manage to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, closing in early 2022 after a seven year run. Its Instagram account persists as a tribute to the colorful drinks and outsized flavors it helped to bring to the Chicago bar scene in Logan Square. Nevertheless, its closure was a major blow to the Chicago cocktail community, particularly for rum geeks, because despite its size the city is fairly bereft of rum and tiki-centric establishments. There is the major fixture of Three Dots and a Dash, and the likes of Hala Kahiki in the suburbs, but other than that the pickings are pretty slim. Lost Lake offered an experience that not many have managed to replicate.

Thankfully, I’m by no means the only person who was enamored of the bar’s house cocktail, and recipes for the Lost Lake are easily found online. The tiki community has seemingly taken it upon themselves to keep the memory of this particular drink alive and in the canon/rotation of modern tiki classics–I recently had a chance to have one on special at a Richmond, VA tiki bar, which seems like a good sign for the drink’s lasting vitality. And all in all, it’s not really a very difficult drink to make at home, either–there are a fair number of ingredients, but they’re arguably easier to source than the components of the Zombie. Other than the passion fruit element (which is a must), the rest of the ingredients can be gathered in a trip to pretty much any package store. Here’s the recipe:

— 2 oz aged Jamaican rum
— .75 oz passion fruit syrup or puree
— .75 oz lime juice
— .5 oz pineapple juice
— .25 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
— .25 oz Campari

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker tin with crushed ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into glass of your choice, filled with crushed ice. Garnish with lime or edible flower–or don’t bother.

Note: Lost Lake typically served this drink in their own name-branded highball glass, accentuating the bright, golden coloration contributed by the passion fruit puree they were using. At home, we typically make this drink in a double old fashioned glass, filled with crushed ice, which it fills pretty nicely.

So, how does the Lost Lake actually taste? Well, it’s hard to exactly put a finger on it because this cocktail has quite a lot going on. It is, like so many of our favorite tiki cocktails, certainly a rum-forward drink. Like the mai tai, it celebrates the funky complexity of Jamaican rum, tempered a bit by its aging. Obviously, your choice of rum is going to impact how strongly it comes across–using Appleton will be more subtly “rummy” than going full on Smith & Cross. But the Lost Lake is also a far more fruity drink than the likes of the mai tai, with the lime and passion fruit providing tartness and the passion fruit standing in as its signature sweet-tart component. The pineapple is actually sort of easy to overlook–it mostly adds complexity and texture. The maraschino contributes a subtle floral undertone, while the Campari reins things in from getting too sweet, but doesn’t express itself as strongly as it does in something like the Jungle Bird.

The cumulative effect of all these “it’s like ____, but not as _____ as ______” comparisons is that the Lost Lake feels very central to the tiki cocktail experience–if you were plotting a chart with all of the classic cocktails together on an axis, it would be near the middle. It’s like the platonic ideal of what someone thinks of when they say “tiki cocktail” in general. It’s a little sweet, but not cloying. It’s tart, but not overly sour. It’s rummy, but not too strong. It’s pretty close to perfection.

That credit should definitely be shown to creator Paul McGee, because the Lost Lake cocktail is one where each of the individual elements does have the possibility of overwhelming the others when you conceive the drink. Too much Campari in there, and the bitterness would take over. Too much Luxardo maraschino liqueur could easily throw it out of whack. Too much passion fruit and lime, and the tartness would undercut everything else. The genius of this cocktail is in its ratios and exact measurements, which come together in a way that doesn’t highlight anything too strongly. In particular, the Campari is such a delicate thread through this drink, being just enough to keep its sweet/tart elements from being too expressive or one-note. The Lost Lake definitely got me thinking about the subtle use of bitter elements in cocktails. It’s difficult to recommend any substitutions here in general, because the cohesion of the drink is very much based on maintaining the balance.

Now, with that said, actually finding one of these cocktails in the wild may be difficult. A well-equipped tiki bar may be familiar with it, and would likely have all of the elements on hand to mix one up. But the best way to experience the Lost lake for yourself is probably going to be to simply make it at home for yourself. If you’ve never made a classic tiki cocktail in the confines of your home, well … this is a pretty excellent place to start. Join us in keeping this modern classic cocktail alive.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin