By Nick Kotecki
You walk into Foundation. The first thing you notice is that it is a tiki bar. The second thing you notice is how it is like no tiki bar you’ve seen before. You see the spikey blowfish that hang from the ceiling, how they glow blue and green and red. You think how nice they would look in your kitchen or bedroom, how if only you had the gumption and a pair gloves you would untangle them from their cords and make a run for the door. You think the same when you smell the flickering candles on each table. You see how their light looks romantic on the wood grain of the tiki masks on the wall, on the tables shaped like surfboards, and the thatched roofs near the back. You want to take all of this home with you, everything.
But you can’t. Much of these decorations are custom-made, hand-carved, and from Don Nelson’s personal stash. Don Nelson is one of the co-owners of Foundation. He is here right now. In fact, as you take a seat at the bar, Don Nelson is sauntering his way over to you. He lays down a napkin in front of your folded hands. He leans an elbow on the bar and asks what you want to drink.
You will be smart. You will skip the more than reasonably priced beers and rails, slap $7 on the counter, and order yourself the best Mai Tai in the entire Midwest. No joke. When your drink comes it will be in a fancy glass and much larger than expected. You will sip on the Mai Tai because although it is delicious, it is also an oasis of rum. You will save the pieces of fruit for last so they can soak up the Mai Tai’s heavenly nectar.
So, this is one possible scenario, but here are many others. Still itching to take a piece of the Foundation home with you? Go for the Bora Bora Headhunter Punch ($11) and you’ll get to keep the glass. Try something really retro and order the citrusy Singapore Sling ($7), made from an original 1910 recipe. On a date? The Volcano Bowl ($14) is a rum and fruit juice adventure for two, served with a flame.
Be careful – these cocktails are strong. Two of these might cost you a cab ride. Luckily, you get your bang for your buck. Each drink is roughly equivalent to two or three beers and, at $7-$14 a piece, they’re a steal. That being said, a gin and tonic is likely to have more gin than tonic water and, odds are, a whiskey on rocks will be filled to the brim. But hey, with rails at $3 and shelf drinks starting at $4, it’s a bargain. As for beer, Foundation has the relatively standard fare. Skip the bottles and go for the Bell’s Oberon or Two-Hearted Ale on tap ($4 pints, $12 pitchers). Be sure to beat the crowds by stopping in for the daily happy hour from 5pm – 10pm. Taps and mixed drinks are only $3.
The prices might be low, but there is nothing Survivor kitsch about Foundation. It is not an Ed Hardy tee shirt incarnate. This tiki bar is a Polynesian pop paradise you will find nowhere else in the city. Sip slowly. If there is outdoor seating, take it. If not, catch a game of pool indoors among tiki idols adorning the walls. Most of all: enjoy your stay.
About the Author
Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Nick Kotecki resides there as well. He regularly escapes via the habitual abuse of his friend’s flight benefits and always wears a shirt, tie, and dress shoes when he does so. You can find his fiction in the current issue of World Wide Dirt magazine (email: worldwidedirt AT gmail DOT com for a free issue) or news articles in the Riverwest Currents. You may also find Nick in Milwaukee, racing through traffic on his bike, gleefully cutting off various taxicabs and SUVs.
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