Three Dots and a Dash

Bars , Cocktail bars River North
Recommended
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(5 user reviews)
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 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The four-rum Zombie punch is available at Three Dots and a Dash in River North.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

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Paul McGee is the bartender behind Three Dots and a Dash, which opened July 31 in River North.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea is a tiki drink at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Treasure Chest No. 1 is a tiki punch available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash has an extensive selection of rums, which are used in tiki drinks.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Pago Pago is a tiki drink available at Three Dots and a Dash.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Jungle Bird is a tiki drink available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Christmas in July is a punch available at Three Dots and a Dash.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Halekulani is a tiki drink now available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

Aloha, Mexico is a tiki cocktail available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Saturn is a tiki cocktail available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Mai Tai is a tiki cocktail available at Three Dots and a Dash.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Planter's Punch is a tiki punch available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

Bunny's Banana Daiquiri is a tiki drink available at Three Dots and a Dash.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

Painkiller No. 3 is a tiki drink available at Three Dots and a Dash.

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Three Dots and a Dash opened July 31 in River North, underneath Bub City.

 (Photograph: Anjali Pinto)
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Photograph: Anjali Pinto

The Zombie is a tiki punch available at Three Dots and a Dash.

Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh

There are, it seems, two Three Dots and a Dash. There’s the crowded, noisy Three Dots, where a DJ plays Justin Timberlake and you’re lucky to get a seat—and even if you do, someone will be elbowing you in the back as they urge their friend to “Chug! Chug! Chug!” their marigold-accented tiki drink. Then there’s the serene tiki bar, where you can sit at the raffia-decorated bar and listen to island-themed music while you eat coconut shrimp.

I just can’t seem to find the second Three Dots.

I’ve been to the bar on several occasions, weekdays and weekends, at 5:15pm, right after Three Dots opens, and at 11:15pm for a nightcap after dinner. No matter when I go, the bar is raucous and the music is loud. Friends swear they’ve been to Three Dots when it’s quiet and you don’t have to yell at your companions to be heard. I haven’t found that magic time yet.

But it’s River North, right? And Three Dots is the hot new bar, and a Melman project at that, so of course people are going to line up in the alley, where a blue light marks the door and a bouncer with an earpiece checks IDs, right?

Right. So I’m going to move on and tell you why you should pack your earplugs and just go anyway.

First of all, you won’t realize how much you were missing perfectly made tiki drinks in your life until you have one here. Since Trader Vic’s closed in 2011, there hasn’t been a dedicated tiki bar in the city, and we’ve needed one. These aren’t frozen daiquiris dispensed from a machine—at Three Dots, bartender Paul McGee’s menu is divided into classic and modern tiki drinks. There are eight in each category and they’re all $13. The drinks are beautifully garnished, with orchids, marigolds and pansies peeking out of skull, coconut and tiki head glasses. And they’re potent—there are tiny skulls printed on the menu next to some of the particularly boozy options, which is helpful to note, as none of the drinks taste especially boozy, thanks to all the fruits, herbs and spices used.

All but three of the cocktails include rum, and since they’re all more or less variations on the rum-fruit-citrus combination, most of them taste pretty much the same. So while you should definitely try the rum drinks, like the passionfruit-tinged Painkiller No. 3, a modern concoction rounded out with cream, or the classic Pago Pago, an almost vegetal drink with green chartreuse, pineapple and crème de cacao, you should also try the non-rum drinks for something different. I’m partial to the Saturn, a classic tiki drink made with gin, passionfruit, lemon, falernum and almond, which provide spice and nutty notes. Aloha, Mexico is a tequila-based drink, with tamarind, genever, pineapple and Hellfire bitters, which scorch the back of your throat.

Plus there are punches—four of them, and they need to be shared. The punches range from the Treasure Chest No. 1, a totally absurd $385 punch doused with a bottle of Dom Perignon, which was paraded through the bar on our first visit, with dry ice pouring out of it. There’s also the much more manageable Zombie Punch, which contains four rums, is set on fire and served in a crystal skull.

Given how strong the drinks are, it’s not wise to go to Three Dots on an empty stomach. If you do, there’s a food menu comprised of “island fare,” and it has improved substantially over the month the bar has been open. The clear winner is the Thai fried chicken, sweet-spicy nuggets showered with scallions and cilantro, while the crab Rangoon, little pockets stuffed with blue crab and cream cheese, are a big step up from take out versions.

At first glance, Three Dots and a Dash appears to be all flash—the smoking punches, servers bedecked in long Hawaiian dresses and the clubby soundtrack can distract from the fact that the drinks here are really, really good. And there’s more good news for serious rum nerds—earlier this week, Three Dots released a new list of 16 classic rum cocktails that range from $11-$13 and include a simple daiquiri (simple compared to the banana daiquiri on the tiki menu that’s garnished with a dolphin carved out of the fruit), a caipirinha and a cuba libre. There’s also a 10-page rum book that lists the more than 165 rums available, as well as other cane spirits.

The tiki glasses are available for sale, but if you don’t want to shell out $15 for a glass, pocket the swizzle sticks, which are shaped like mermaids, octopi or McGee’s bespectacled tiki head. The swizzle sticks are an example of just how much thought and detail has gone into developing Three Dots. But when this much effort has been put into creating the perfect tiki bar, Jay-Z, as much as I love him, just kills the tropical feel. I’m holding out hope that on a future visit I’ll find the mythical, quiet tiki bar and explore the new rum menu at length. But until then, I’ll just pack my earplugs whenever I’m craving a Mai Tai.

Venue name: Three Dots and a Dash
Contact:
Address: 435 N Clark St
Chicago
60654
Opening hours: Dinner
Transport: El stop: Red to Grand; Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart. Bus info: 22, 29, 36, 37, 62, 65, 156.
Price: Average cocktail: $13
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Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Madeline N
Tastemaker

I'm embarrassed to say that it took me a year to get over to Three Dots. This is definitely not a bar you go to to hang out with friends, but more of an experience. The atmosphere is very dark and has a club type vibe, but it is without question one of the best decorated bars I have ever been to. It took a while to get drinks (which is probably a good think because man were they strong), but once we did they were delicious! 

Alyssa
tastemaker

The cocktails here are delicious! Before I say anything else, though, I must warn you: IT IS HARD AS HELL TO GET INTO THIS PLACE. It is ALWAYS full. The first time I tried to go there was a line, and the second time I got there five minutes (literally five minutes) after it opened, almost all the bar stools were already taken, and there were eight groups ahead of us when we asked about a table for two. Holy crap. That being said, I understand why it's still that crazy, even after being open for several years now. The drinks are GOOD. And strong. Three Dots is definitely somewhere you should go at least once, and I for one plan on going again. 

Joel M

This bar should come with a warning sign: "Coming for a nightcap? Don't bother. You're here for 2, maybe 3 more. You're in it for the long haul." Which is my memory of this quite mammoth subterranean tiki joint. The drinks are Andre-the-giant strong and knock-you-out delicious. 

Erin Delahanty
moderatorStaff Writer

Three Dots was the first bar to remind us that tiki is cool. In a cold winter's night a drink at Three Dots and a Dash can make you feel like you're thousands of miles from Chicago. The drinks are strong, indulgent and beautiful to boot! Order snacks (the fried chicken is amazing) when you arrive because once you are halfway through your cocktail you'll already be feeling the effects.

Laura R
moderator

This River North bar is a party to say the least. Enjoy a tiki drink from a colorful mug and marvel over your dolphin banana (just Instagram it already. It's OK, we all have!). The bar is just a touch off the beaten path, tucked in an alley, but that doesn't mean it won't be crowded. If you're like me, you'll probably promise to everyone there that you can only stay for "one drink," and one drink is all you'll need, because these bad boys are potent. But good luck keeping that promise. The bar is just too much fun.