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The Tropics, Lincoln, IL (restaurant)

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Name:The Tropics
Street:1007 Lincoln Pkwy (Rt. 66)

Existing restaurant building with vintage neon sign. Business closed. Building architecture unremarkable. Interior appears to have been remodeled c. 1980's or later - no evidence of tiki or tropical decor apparent. Modern era sign on buidling above door also using Tropics name and font. Lincoln, Illnois is halfway between Bloominton and Springfield.

Anybody know anything about this place? We stopped here yesterday. Really amazing sign. From what we could see through the grimy windows, it was remodeled in "family restaurant chic" some time ago. Wondering if this could have been a rare tiki oasis in the middle of Illinois.


Chub posted on Mon, Oct 1, 2007 9:50 AM

From the look of that cool sign, I bet that's not the original building.

what you have here is a classic route 66 icon....i went to college at illinois state university which is just up the road in bloomington/normal...my best bud used to live in lincoln where the tropics is and we went there to eat a few times (this was back in 1988/89)..it was just a buffet place, fulla old folks back then...they did have a few plastic palm trees like the classic 1960's ones you see in old tiki establishments and a few murals and one of those giant wallpaper posters featuring a sunset and ocean scene....it was pretty run down back then but no tiki.....i stopped in again on the route 66 anniversary tour to st louis back in 1997...the place was still running and still looked as ratty as it did in my college days.....the sign is awesome and i've seen it lite up at night..in fact i'm sure i have photos of it.

hey bamboolodge....you were with us on that route 66 tour....did you guys get a chance to duck into this place??

beautiful neon + beautiful car !


On 2007-10-01 08:59, Tonga Trader wrote:
....a rare tiki oasis in the middle of Illinois.

Great find.

Not to bee TOO nitpicky, but Tiki Oasises in the middle of Illinois are actually rather common - Tiki in the sticks is a grand tradition in the land of Lincoln!

Hala Kahiki, Aku Tiki Room, The Breakers... all still open, and all exactly close to the heart of NOTHING!

On 2007-10-01 11:22, tikibars wrote:

On 2007-10-01 08:59, Tonga Trader wrote:
....a rare tiki oasis in the middle of Illinois.

Great find.

Not to bee TOO nitpicky, but Tiki Oasises in the middle of Illinois are actually rather common - Tiki in the sticks is a grand tradition in the land of Lincoln!

Hala Kahiki, Aku Tiki Room, The Breakers... all still open, and all exactly close to the heart of NOTHING!

Okay, but those places are all in Northern Illinois. What I meant by middle was literally the center of the state, and/or Central Illinois in general. We were headed down to Springfield and in researching the trip I couldn't find anything on TC or Critiki south of the Aku Tiki Room.:o And we don't have TRT2 yet.


i'm suprised that the tropics held on for as long as it did....lincoln illiniois is not exactly the hub of entertainment!! (or maybe that IS the reason it held on so long... I suspect that any other tiki establishments out in the sticks would have been the first to go when tiki went into it's decline...i really don't know of any others between here and st. louis....if there were (and i'm sure there were in the late 40's 50's) they are long gone now...

"You may think it's boogers...but it's snot !!!"

[ Edited by: Tipsy McStagger 2007-10-01 14:58 ]

On 2007-10-01 10:14, Tipsy McStagger wrote:
hey bamboolodge....you were with us on that route 66 tour....did you guys get a chance to duck into this place??

Dave it was actually the 1999 IL66 motor tour.
We went there for breakfast, it was your typical breakfast/lunch kinda place. There was a fire sometime previous, so the restaurant had been completely re-habbed, but the lounge was still original. The manager did show us the lounge, it was really cool,(lotsa thatch and bamboo, a few masks on the wall) but it was not in use, and they had no intention on doing anything with it at the time. The next year when we did the tour and it was closed, and has been ever since.
According to IL66 historians John and Lenore Weiss, the Tropics was built in late 40's early 50's and was quite the place in it's hayday, up thru the early 70's, when the world went the way of the interstate highway system.

A matchbook from the Tropics with a bad photo of the lounge but any photo is better than no photo.

I have this postcard showing some interior scenes of the Tropics Restaurant in Lincoln.

Here is a close up of the bar with some nice bamboo work and a great wall mural.

Here is a close up another dining room with bamboo work and more murals.

Here is the back of the card.

I have also included this great menu from The Tropics that is on Mimi Payne's website.

Another version of the Matchbook

Here is a photo of the great Route 66 sign for The Tropics shot at night.

Finally a little history I found on the web on how The Tropics came to be in Lincoln.

The Tropics Dining Room and Cocktail Lounge opened its doors in 1950 at the hand of Vince Schwenoha. While it might seem odd that a restaurant in Lincoln, Illinois be named after a location that is so different, it was actually named this way because of a tour of duty in the military that took Mr. Schwenoha to Hawaii. In the 1950’s, the Tropics became famous for the Tropicburger, a combination of one bun and two hamburger patties that Mr. Schwenoha had brought back from California. In the years since then, the Tropics has traded hands many times, remained open for business for quite some time.

Thanks D.C., nice work. What a beaute. The name and sign, like Sugie's Tropics, did seem early, Pre-Tiki to me.

..nice collection of stuff from the place.....those dining room murals were still up on the walls in 1999 when i was last there.....though i don't remember those crazy columns...those may have been taken down and were just plain columns at the time....


I find UncleTrav's matchbook interesting as it shows quite a difference in the look of the bar as compared to the later DustyCajun's postcard.
The bar has a curved bamboo roof and also the bar looks different. It looks as though the painting/mural in the background is the same though. The stools were changed as well. You dont see too many pictures of the inside of these places where there were changes made so it's cool to see.

Glad to see a reno in a cool place like this kept the same atmosphere but I guess just a little updating was needed even for back then.
Cool post and pic's everyone!!

[ Edited by: TabooDan 2008-09-30 07:37 ]

I tried unsuccessfully to win this menu from The Tropics on ebay a little while back(KC again). The menu logo uses the cool road sign which makes a lot of sense.

I took some pics of The Tropics in 2006 and used them in a blog post about Lincoln this year: http://www.thelope.com/2008/02/lincoln-illinois.html

While doing so, I found a photo online of the exterior circa 1950 and got permission to include it in the post.

The website from which I took the photo has more info on The Tropics in context with its city: http://www.geocities.com/findinglincolnillinois/rte66overview.html


I remember we would stop at the tropics in Lincoln IL on our trips from St Louis to Chicago in the 70's and early 80's. It was never really "tropical" inside. Just burgers and stuff. They closed for remodeling and never reopened that I can remember.

McDonalds and other places like that really hurt them.

Number of Operations Iraq Freedom and Enduring Freedom casualties  
as confirmed by U.S. Central Command: 4963

Here is anothe postcard I picked up from the Tropics showing an interior shot of Lou's Smorgasbord. You can see some nice bamboo trim work and some fish floats.

Nothing to sexy, just adding it for the historical record.


a variation on the other matchbook posted earlier.


Found a great placemat for the Tropics a couple of weeks ago. One of the drinks in the rendering has a rebel flag as a garnish. These have got to be one of the hardest paper items to find for a Polynesian restaurant.


Great find. Very hard to come by those place mats indeed.

I wonder where they got the idea to incorporate the New Caledonian door post carving on the place-mat? Really out of context for everything else they did at the Tropics.


I believe that is borrowed from a Trader Vic's menu. Vic used lotsa New Caledonian door posts in his early places. I proposed it for a T.V.'s mug, once.

Great place mat, indeed the rarest of all paper ephemera to find, as they were made to get soiled and tossed instantly.

I got this matchbook that has a nice rendering of the Tropics sign.

A quick google maps search shows that the sign is still there (amazingly). Hope it ends up in a museum some day.


Here's a great article on The Tropics forwarded to me by the author Jessica Lema. Thanks Jessica!

Remembering The Tropics: Lincoln, Illinois' Route 66 roadside oasis


This sign was removed and put into storage by the city of Lincoln, IL in spring, 2015


Looks like they need help to get the sign restored.


Good news, The Tropics sign was saved and is scheduled for relighting in June.

Also found and old photo of the interior dinning room and mural.

Link to the sign article.



As Dusty mentioned, the sign was re-installed in June 2018 per this page on Roadside America.

I also did a Google Street View search to find it sitting proudly next to the McDonalds which took the place of the bulldozed original restaurant. TheTropics Lincoln

Pages: 1 27 replies