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Houston tiki bar losing its mugs to customers

Craig Hlavaty, Houston Chronicle
Updated 5:41 pm, Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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  • This mug was stolen from Lei Low about a month into the bar's existence. (Courtesy Lei Low Bar)
    This mug was stolen from Lei Low about a month into the bar's existence. (Courtesy Lei Low Bar)

 

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Lei Low Bar is one of the newest bars in Houston's Greater Heights and has been getting high marks from critics and drinkers alike for their island-flavored, tiki-inspired offerings, but some patrons are taking some of the bar's ambiance home with them.

Bar owner Russell Thoede says that since Lei Low Bar in the 6400 block of North Main opened three months back, a good amount of their vintage tiki mugs have gone missing.

In the tiki bar community this is not unheard of.

"It's actually kind of a common thing at tiki bars, and lot of people make jokes about it," says Thoede. "There is even a guy in Ohio who says that at his bar they have a note on their drink menu asking patrons not to steal their mugs if they want to the bar's drinks to stay affordable."

The tiki mugs aren't the only thing that has gone missing from Lei Low, he says. Large, 48-ounce bowls that the bar sells special $18 drinks out of have even disappeared. Recently, a female patron tried to make it out of the parking lot with one of them under her shirt but was stopped by bar staff.

"She said rather sheepishly 'You mean I'm not allowed to take this?' and gave it back," says Thoede. "Her friends had bailed on her right away and she was left all alone with a bowl under her shirt."

A man from San Marcos had carved a few primitive figures for Lei Low, including a 40-pound, four feet six inch tiki man that sat outside on the front patio. According to Thoede a customer picked up the idol and threw it over a nearby fence to retrieve later. This was the last straw for Thoede, who soon took to the bar's Twitter account to ask patrons to stop the insanity, so to speak.

"When you go drinking you sometimes lose your reasonable sense of judgement, but it's hard on a small business to replace these things," he says. Plenty of other non-tiki bars see their glasses leave with inebriated or forgetful customers, but for a specialized bar like Lei Low it's not as simple as losing a high ball glass that runs under a buck.

Some of this is stuff that he's have collected over the years of being interested in tiki culture, which he admits has a strange allure for patrons.

"It looks cool, and the whole tiki thing is an escape from reality. I mean, a hand-carved piece of wood is a beautiful thing," says Thoede. "People feel like they are on vacation in their own city."

Thoede is exploring the bar's options, from possibly selling a few choice mugs to asking for a deposit. He wants to keep selling drinks in these fanciful mugs so he needs to come up with a system. 

"We had two ceramic conch shells for drinks, one of which went missing, but we found out who stole it since it happened on a slow night and we tracked them down on Facebook," Thoede says.

Everyone knows that anything tiki comes with a superstition, an aura if you will. 

"There is definitely something in you that draws you to it, almost like idol worship," Thoede says.