Cover Story


Cover image for Oct 5, 2011

Do you like things bitter?” ourbartender asks. My friend crosses her legs tighter, removes a wild strand of something uncouth like dog hair from the sleeve of my sweater, and hisses, “Yes.”

We first overheard the news on Facebook. Overnight, little local hipsters everywhere were changing their statuses from “In a Relationship with The Waikiki Edition” to “It’s Complicated with The Modern Honolulu.”

Two months, one new management team and a Hollywood dissolve later, we decide it’s time to check back in.

While we settle in at The Modern’s The Bar at Sunrise Pool, we reference our post-separation checklist–the emotional stability of the barstools (sane), how much Ben & Jerry’s weight the staff has gained (zero), what jams they’re listening to these days (no Celine Dion)–to figure out just how hard the place has been hit.

On the pool deck surface, not much apparently: Everything still looks très fantastic.

Clipped bougainvillea weaves itself around quaint wire tables under glass lantern lighting. The minimalist cocktail menu uses words like “deconstructed” and “apéritif” without batting a lash. Linger too long in the restrooms, and worry you’ll be charged for rent, the sinks alone are that inviting.

So when our drinks arrive, as expected, they don’t disappoint. The crisp and bitter Aperol Spritz lives up to its Italian namesake and the Frozen Coconut Mojito is refreshingly to die for. But if the libations are still swimming like they use to, why do we have this sudden sinking urge to throw the crew a life vest?

“There’s nobody here…”

Translate my friend’s whisper from bar speak, “nobody” means there’s like five people here. Where are the guests? Where is the usual young professional weekend set? Where’s Grace Park? Let’s check The Lobby Bar.

The bookcase swings open. We peek in. “Nobody’s here.” (Seven people are here.) A few servers across the way smile directly at us while we secretly wonder if we should stay and keep feeling sorry for this Jennifer Aniston of a situation. Just as we retract, a server, as if smelling our hesitation, beelines towards us and says, “We have a DJ.” We have a DJ? Okay, The Modern is starting to feel super clingy right now. God, get off me!

We slide into a corner at Nobu Waikiki. No matter how crowded it gets, The Lounge always manages to feel severely intimate. The drinks even more so. Where most cocktails feel mixed, the ones at Nobu feel crafted. Sip on one of their signatures like the macadamia nut rim-crusted Smoking Gun margarita or the Mango Mint Martini and start saying “um, hi!” to everyone. The drinks are that strong.

Because Nobu is an expensive well-known international B-R-A-N-D it attracts a contrast of characters. Entrepreneurial Brofessionals have their pau hana meeting next to a über German high fashion photographer, his arm wrapped around the sixth runner-up of America’s Next Top Model, chatting with the Real Housewives of Honolulu (lol), who brought their trustafarian Punahou-grad kids (LOL), mingling with Chinatown hipsters who don’t, but secretly do, want to be there because they’re sooooo Fear & Loathing in Waikiki, next to–wait, where the hell is Grace Park?! Whoa, I think I’m drunk.

We pay for our tab, drift toward The Trump Bar. It’s a 38-story beast; its sheer height putting us in a doped up daze. Is someone who hasn’t produced a rom-com starring Chris Evans even welcome here? We wonder. In Waikiki, everything new is a “game-changer” and I don’t know if I want to play anymore. We’re local. We’re moody. We keep walking.

Towards the top of Lewers, nearing our car, I feel unchanged. Things begin to feel very…away from me. I can’t really make sense of what it all means. When you feel blinded by the sight of every ABC. When a group of tourists bump into you and you’re the one apologizing, profusely. When you hear Lil Wayne is across the street, this place called Zanzabar or something? When you break eye contact with an attractive stranger outside the Royal Hawaiian because no one just passing through is worth pursuing. When you fumble for your keys and ask your friend if they’re ready to leave, you’re met with silence, can’t bring yourself to unlock the driver’s seat. When you hear the distant music rising from the rafters of Bacchus, up in the cigarette smoke of its patrons exhaling over a patio balcony, vanishing. When you finally look up, like you’re seeking an answer or whatever, you can’t see a single star, cloud, thing…

Waikiki: it’s everywhere.

The Bar at Sunrise Pool, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., [], 943-5800
The Modern Honolulu, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., [], 943-5800
The Lobby Bar, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., [], 943-5800
Nobu Waikiki, 2233 Helumoa Rd., [], 237-6999
The Trump Bar, 223 Saratoga Rd., [], 683-7777
Zanzabar, 2255 Kuhio Ave., [], 924-3939
Bacchus Waikiki, 408 Lewers St., 926-4167