The unassuming town of River Grove may not be the first place that comes to mind as a date night destination. Once you step off of the Milwaukee West Line train onto the platform, you’re very much made aware of the expansive graveyard to the north of the station and the quiet residential area to the south. Despite the initial appearance, River Grove is the home of two famous destinations worth venturing to for a night on the (placid) town: Hala Kahiki and Gene & Jude’s.
Catching the Saturday Milwaukee West train #2713 from downtown, or #2718 from Big Timber Road, will get you to River Grove close to 4 p.m. A pleasant three-quarter-mile walk across the Des Plaines River bridge then north along North River Road will get you to Hala Kahiki, the place that boasts it was “tiki before it was cool.” The term Hala Kahiki translates loosely to “house of pineapples,” and beyond the abundant use of tiki masks and plumeria to decorate the space, you will find idols of this tropical fruit popping up all over. The pineapple serves as a symbol of hospitality and welcome; certainly, as soon as you’re seated underneath one of the thatched cabana roofs and greeted warmly by a floral-adorned bartender, you feel right at home.
The famous tiki bar became “tiki” by chance. The original bar in Chicago, “The Lucky Start,” had bad walls that the owners frugally covered with bamboo-looking fencing and tiki-themed matting. Patrons began asking if they were going tiki, and the business simply adopted the new persona. The need for a bigger space led them to River Grove where Hala Kahiki has been operating since 1964.
The menu boasts 150 Polynesian potions (including variations on the same drink), so there’s a beverage for every kind of palate. Depending on availability, you also can request to have your drink served in a frozen—you guessed it—pineapple. A steady stream of couples and small groups came and went during my visit, some dressed in Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts, others in date-night threads. The constant ebb and flow of visitors suggested the place is usually bustling on a Saturday night.
Heading back to the station, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the neon glow of Gene & Jude’s just down the street, and you’d be remiss to not grab a bite to eat. The no-nonsense diner, in operation since 1946, serves up America’s #1 hotdog (iconically topped with salty fries for the ultimate combination of flavor and texture). But be prepared to chow on the go since there is no seating. And don’t even think about asking for ketchup.
Once you’re well fed, cross the Des Plaines River once more and head back up Indian Boundary Rd to W Arnold St to get back to the station. If you’re heading back to the city, the last train inbound from River Grove departs at 10:55 p.m. Or, if you’re heading outbound, be sure to catch the last train out departing River Grove at 1:05 a.m.