I owe the roof over my head to one long-vanished Honolulu bar I’ve never seen, except in pictures. It was opened on Liliha Street during the war, and it was one of the first integrated bars, where black and white servicemen were equally welcome. This proved a sound business decision, and the bar earned well. The founders were my grandparents, eager to leave the pineapple plantation and be their own bosses. After the war, they sold their bar and bought the house where I was raised and now live.
“Your grandfather would have loved this place,” my husband said as he surveyed Side Street Inn from our comfy corner of the bar. “He would have enjoyed watching sports with his great-grandson here.” There were three televisions tuned to baseball divisional playoffs, the spacious room filled with families, coworkers, college kids and a dozen twenty-somethings chowing down fried pupu and rice. Everyone relaxed, conversing. Big eaters, casually dressed.
The long bar itself was empty at 9pm, except for another couple, consuming a several-course meal. “Do many people come here just for drinks?” I asked the bartender. She grinned. “Sure! I do, on my days off.”
“Good beer,” my husband said, sipping his draft Rogue Side Street ale and eyeing the Pyramid Hefeweizen. I sipped a generous, perfectly chilled pour of Mobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, dry and grassy with licks of lilikoi. Next time, I’ll try a Chardonnay, maybe a La Crema Monterey. And I’ll definitely come before dinner, with an appetite for the “Rogue Pie” pizza and ale combo, poached white shrimp with wasabi sauce and Kahuku corn chowder. The takeaway: A very friendly local upscale sportsbar with a menu to please kids, Tutu, visiting guests.
We crossed the street and entered the sleeker, darker, louder space at Uncle Bo’s, a hipster-y sports & dating bar with a younger crowd and a fit-looking server team in red hot pants and form-hugging jerseys who were firm about asking for IDs. A chain-link curtain divided the standing-room-only bar from the tables, where we found a space for two. Momentarily tempted by the Martinis (lemongrass, lychee, blackberry lemonade, jelly-belly), we opted for a Stella on tap for him and another Sauvignon Blanc, a Salvard Cheverny, for me. The Stella was stale, alas, but when my husband told the waitress, she graciously took it back and asked what he’d like while the bartender changed the keg. He ordered a draft Widmer Heffenweissen, which came with a slice of lemon, and all was very well.
The takeaway: Service with a genuine smile–but tread carefully on the very slippery concrete floor.
If you don’t belong to the Outrigger or Elks clubs but would appreciate a quiet seaside drink on the palm-shaded shores of Diamond Head, a privileged public vantage awaits you at New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. Sit at the airy, Art Deco bar of the Sunset Lanai Lounge or at one of the tables overlooking the storied Hau Tree Terrace and the color-steeped sea off Sans Souci Beach. It’s an open space with tradewinds blowing through, and after a couple of vodka Blue Hawaiis or a Tropical Breeze, you’ll be primed to hear the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson reciting the poem he wrote for his young friend the Princess Kaiulani, “The island maid, the island rose.”
Along with mixed drinks wines and beers at Kapahulu prices, affordably heavy pupu will encourage you to make an evening on this terrace as we did, watching sails in the lingering crimson sunset and a pale silver of moon brighten just above the ocean in a cloud-torn autumn sky.
The takeaway: Anonymity, peace and quiet, ocean at your toes, no monthly dues.