The Kowloon, Greater Boston Area
By Jeff Ballard
So, a big discovery here. And it really had little to do with the restaurant and more to do with the fact that to really appreciate something you need both content and perspective. I tried to look at Kowloon in the context I was sitting in - looking at what it was relative to other tiki places. But with perspective I was better able to understand what the Kowloon *is* based on what *was* - its history. For example, what I saw as a weird, out of place section at one side of the restaurant was actually the original location that opened back in the early 1950’s. And the rest of the place was built onto that. Kind of cool to have the history and helped me understand why that area was different. Also, through talking to some of the locals at the bar, I came to find out that this is a place that many, many locals have been coming to for decades, celebrating the various events of their lives or just hanging out after a night of drinking and partying at the local bars. So, it is more than just a tiki themed Chinese restaurant north of Boston. It is a historic location, respected and loved by many in the area, and a last link to the big theme restaurants that dotted this particular stretch of highway many years ago. So, with that new perspective, let’s take a look at the Kowloon …
Drinks were just 'OK'. Loved the presentation and the fact that they came in mugs. But was somewhat disappointed when the actual drinks came. My first drink was the Pineapple Passion. I *LOVE* pineapple but this one was just ok. The Mai Tai is their number one drink and is pre-made for the bartenders. So, when you order it, it comes quick! Kind of a let down on it being remade, but it was a decent Mai Tai. And then to finish off the evening, I had their Zombie. All in all, the drinks are a little heavy on the sweet and syrupy, and less focused on tiki traditions. Now that could be a factor of local taste, or the restaurant’s particular style. I didn't get the sense that they were as focused on the “craft" side of tiki cocktails as they were on just serving 'tiki drinks’. I could bump this up, but honestly, going to a 4 didn’t seem right. So maybe a 3.5 if you really want to fine tune it.
Loved the decor! It is a Chinese restaurant but it was chock full of tiki stuff. Masks on the walls. Carved poles at the bar. Murals on the walls. Palm trees at a fountain. It was cool. But the kicker was the life-size boat you get get a table ‘on’ in the middle of the dining room! That was sweet! The place was a bit funky with several different ‘areas’. In addition to the three areas in the dining room, there was a tiki bar area, a separate Hong Kong lounge, a sushi bar and an upstairs room dedicated to comedy shows. and let’s not forget the gift shop at the corn of the place. Like I said, funky. But in this case, they put the fun in funky!
The music was very soft (and a couple of the tables next to me were very loud!) but the tunes I did catch certainly fit the decor. It was 60’s kind of music. Not necessarily tiki but it reflected the Golden Era of tiki and as such, added to the ambiance.
It is primarily a Chinese restaurant, but much like the structure itself, they expanded to add sushi, Thai and some other Asian dishes to the menu. Make no mistake about it, though, they are first and foremost a Chinese restaurant. Loved the hot & sour soup. Hunan Chicken was so-so. They have a tremendous variety so that is great. Coming from So Cal, though, I tend to be picky on my Asian food. As a point of reference, I checked out Zagat's review while I was eating. They said about the Kowloon’s menu, 'basic yet satisfying" Yep. Would agree. That is why I say middle of the road as a 3.
They have their own branded and generic tiki mugs for sale. I also picked up one of their custom-made bowls that had the iconic front door on it, made by Tiki Farm. That was too unique and cool to pass up! I loved the napkins and menus. And they have t-shirts! Loved the tiki bar shirt so had to buy one!! I am kicking myself, though, for not getting the shirt that said "Got Pupus?” That one was pretty funny. Swag-wise, they hit all the key points! Probably because it is such a local favorite for so many years and easy to sell the merchandise to local customers. And for the tiki-while, there is definitely stuff to get!
Overall it is definitely more of a family Chinese restaurant than a tiki bar. That said, if you venture over to the tiki bar itself in the dining room you can get a much more tiki-like vibe. Had a great time talking to a couple locals who gave me the proper perspective on the place and its long history. And the bartenders, when you engage them in conversation are fun to talk to!
Overall Score 3.8
This is about right on the score. It is an average 'tiki' bar - geared more to tiki tourists than true tiki-philes. But when you look at its location (Boston area), as well as its history, and some of the cool extras (mugs, decor, t-shirts, etc.) you can see that they earn some extra credit. So, if you are in the greater Boston area and want to get your tiki on, stop on in! If you want to pick up some cool tiki mugs or a tiki bar t-shirt, stop on in! Grab a couple cocktails, get some food, and then drink in its history! You will be happy you did.
Check out more images from the Kowloon on the Tiki Tail Facebook page
Check out the Kowloon in person at: 948 Broadway, Saugus, MA 01906
Or online at: www.kowloonrestaurant.com