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Pirates chugged it, George Washington requested a barrel of it for his inaugural party in 1789, and it’s the key ingredient responsible for today’s mojito mania. That’s right, we’re raving about rum. The spirit has become Honolulu’s newest celebrity, thanks to RumFire’s opening earlier this year at the Sheraton Waikiki. But why focus a bar around one liquor? “We were going to spend $5 million to create a new bar and we wanted it to be something different that the Islands didn’t have currently, and make it something that no one else could copy,” says Kelly Sanders, Sheraton Waikiki’s general manager.
The renovated interior design of RumFire, seen here, only added to the buzz when the bar opened in January.
Photo courtesy of RumFire
Visions of mai tais, piña coladas and daiquiris, which already had a strong presence in Hawaii, started dancing in his head, along with the fact that rum is made around the world, and Sanders knew he had found his niche.
Crack open the bar’s rum menu and you’ll note that each of the 101 bottles listed, from Anguilla to Barbados and Venezuela, include a short description of its taste and history. There’s also a collection of vintage rums touted as the best in the nation. “We have three bottles of a pre-embargo Cuban rum that were made and exported to the United States prior to 1967 and just sat in someone’s vault,” says Sanders.
Sometime over the past five years, drinkers across the globe changed. Ask Peter Shaindlin, chief operating officer of Halekulani Corp., in what way, and he’ll tell you that they wanted to take a step back. “There’s a desire on behalf of a lot of people, particularly Gen X and Gen Y, to take more of a retro approach to social culture,” he says. Walk into Lewers Lounge and you can witness this cocktail renaissance for yourself. Twentysomethings dress sharply while listening to live jazz and sipping on a $12 cocktail. “Why aren’t they going to a hip-hop club? They’re looking for a new movement or the next big thing, and realize that the retro option is timeless, a throwback to elegance, style and prosperity,” says Shaindlin.
How is Honolulu catering to this upscale shift? “Honolulu is on the cusp of becoming a very international city,” Shaindlin explains. He predicts, “In the next decade, you are going to see a move away from chains and beer houses and toward creative, individual one-offs, such as those you’ll find in cities like New York, Berlin, London and Los Angeles.”
Author Sheila Sarhangi is a contributing editor at HONOLULU Magazine.