Lei Low’s owner, Russell Thoede, thinks of celebrating the bar’s third anniversary as a nice surprise. He remembers bringing his wife Elizabeth into his “tiki world” years ago, and what was once a hobby of collecting everything tiki, is now their reality on North Main: a successful Heights tiki bar.
Theode said he’s been in the restaurant and food industry ever since he can remember. He recalls a time where you could make just about any drink you could think up and serve it as a “martini.”
Times changed, and Theode watched and studied the change.
“In the late 1990’s early 2000’s, there was a shift in the bar world where people started to care a little bit more about classic cocktails, their technique, and things like that,” Theode said. “A bunch of bars in New York started to open and bartenders started to take on a style, if you will. I spent a lot of time in California, and I really like tiki bars and stuff like that, so I always wanted tiki to be my style.”
Theode said he started to study tiki, taking in rum knowledge – a spirit he has true appreciation for.
Eventually, Theode found his bride and a leading lady that had taste to match his tiki love.
“[Elizabeth] likes to go to antique stores, so we kind of started collecting on our own,” he said. “We massed a collection of old tiki mugs, and menus from tiki bars. So it became a hobby for us.”
The hobby eventually turned into a collection of something to see, and the two found inspiration to open their own concept, a bar. The couple previously lived down the street from what is now Lei Low’s 6412 N Main St. location, and frequented the Stop at Joe’s Food Store often, which is the next door property.
“We started looking for spaces,” he said. “We lived a couple blocks away and I was at the corner store here and saw the ‘for rent’ sign, and thought it was kind of the perfect size for what we want to do, and the right price.”
So the Theode’s pulled the trigger, with a little help from Brad Moore – owner of Big Star Bar, Grand Prize Bar, OKRA, Moving Sidewalk and more.
This month, Lei Low celebrates their third anniversary in the Heights, and they had a special drink to celebrate that will soon be on the new menu release: Three Years in Paradise.
For starters, the tiki mug is an ode to “Tiki Bob”, who has become an icon among tiki files, paying tribute to a classic tiki bar in San Francisco called Tiki Bob’s. The mug is made by friend John Mulder of Eekum Bookem.
“So mug makers make different versions of tiki bob,” he said. “We thought it would be cool to do our version. This mug is Lei Low Bob.”
The drink itself is a take on a planter’s punch, with Haitian rum with exclusive Lei Low bottling, peach liquor, cinnamon syrup, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and sweet vermouth. Very tiki.
When it comes to looking ahead, Theode said he’s constantly looking for ways to evolve and grow. Behind the bar, Lei Low has amassed 250 bottles of rum and Theode said he’s working on a plan to share some of his rum knowledge.