Yes, Home Bar & Grill Is Open
Same great food and cocktails—only better.
When Home Bar & Grill reopened (same owner, different kitchen staff), a few of the bar’s most popular dishes (shown) were upgraded.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
Back in March, people started posting their last meals at Home Bar & Grill on social media, lamenting the impending closure of one of the last quintessential sports bars in Honolulu.
RIP kalbi fried noodles, wafu steak, tater tot nachos and Big John’s kim chee fried rice.
I decided to message one of the owners, Chris Tai, who I knew from my regular Thursday night post-work therapy sessions (read tequila shots) at Kanpai Bar & Grill on Ward Avenue, which closed in 2013.
“You guys really closing?”
“No,” he quickly replied. “So don’t print anything.”
“How come everyone is talking about it? So confusing! You guys moving?”
So I did. And it still didn’t make sense. The bar was closed, the kitchen staff had left, the servers had gotten other jobs. But Tai was still there.
Here’s what happened: Tai was in the process of selling Home Bar & Grill—its lease on Kalākaua Avenue, all of its recipes, the name—to investors eager to keep the business going. “Why did I want to sell? Because I’m old and I’m sick of hanging around drunk people,” says Tai, 46, laughing.
In the meantime, Home’s kitchen staff left to start another venture and the bar was going to close for awhile until the new owners got it up to speed. So, yes, it closed.
But the deal fell through and Tai was stuck with the business, which he had already shuttered, and the remainder of a two-and-a-half-year lease on the space. He had no staff and no idea what to do.
His only option, he decided, was to re-open and figure it out as he went.
He hired back most of his servers and lured Jensen Hirota, one of the owners of Underdogs Sports Bar & Grill in Kalihi (an Alan Wong’s alum and one of the partners at Kanpai), to run the kitchen and update the menu.
After almost two months, on May 1, Tai reopened Home Bar & Grill. This week Hirota unveiled some new menu items, some of which are updated versions of Home classics.
“Honestly, I think we needed a change,” Tai says, wearing a string of jade beads around his neck for good luck. “After seven years, we needed new food.”
The once cult-favorite tater tot nachos—once called Because Chris “The Situation” Tai Wanted It—have been revamped: Instead of bacon, this version ($14) comes with shredded kālua pig, and the tomato-onion salsa is now made in-house. Don’t worry, the gooey nacho cheese sauce still tops the tots.
The new tater tot nachos have kālua pig instead of bacon. Just one of the upgrades to this dish.
The kim chee braised short ribs, another new dish, features fork-tender beef covered in kim chee and topped with two eggs.
The kalbi short ribs are gone, replaced by kim chee braised short ribs ($26), a giant slab of fork-tender beef covered in kim chee, topped with two eggs and served on a bed of white rice. Or get the garlic version ($26), with the same braised short ribs crusted with garlic and herbs and served with a mushroom brown gravy.
The popular sizzling rib eye topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions is still available ($26). But Hirota added a taegu rib eye steak ($26) glazed with a spicy taegu (seasoned codfish) sauce and served on sautéed sesame choi sum and topped with two eggs.
He also updated the pork chops, adding a lechon-style version ($19) with fried pork tossed with tomatoes, onions and a tasty garlic-vinegar sauce. “If you don’t like spicy, this is not your dish,” Hirota says.
Move over sizzling steak. This one with a spicy taegu sauce is even better.
While the popular deep-fried pork chops are still on the menu, this one features a tasty garlic-vinegar sauce.
Gone is B’s negi toro, traded for negi ʻahi poke flatbread pizza ($22). Yes, pizza. This clever concoction combines fresh bigeye ʻahi, cubed and tossed in a negi-shoyu sauce with onions and ogo, and served on grilled flatbread.
None of the dishes disappoint: The new house-made chicarrons with pepperoni ($10) is so fresh the pork skin crackles at the table, the blackened ʻahi sashimi ($21) is kicked up with Cajun seasonings and drizzled with truffle oil and ponzu, and the pepperoni parmesan truffle fries ($13) are vastly improved, with better quality potatoes, fresh herbs and truffle oil.
“[The vibe] here is different (from Underdogs),” Hirota says. “It’s faster paced and the people come here to eat.”
The negi ʻahi poke is served on flat bread. As a pizza.
The chicarrons are fried to order and still crackle when they’re served.
Even the fries are better, with crispy pepperoni, fresh herbs, parmesan cheese and truffle oil
Most of the cocktails are the same, too, including the WTF Martini (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, fresh strawberries, balsamic vinegar and Sprite), Root Beer Float (whipped vodka liqeuer, Three Olives vanilla vodka and root beer) and Home’s Apple Mart (Apple Pucker, Don Q coconut rum, pineapple juice, Sprite and a drop of grenadine). The only new cocktail is the li hing pineapple margarita ($10), served on the rocks or straight (sorry, no blenders). It features li hing-infused tequila, sour mix and lime and pineapple juices. (My husband was more impressed that Home serves Miller High Life on draft. Turns out that’s Tai’s favorite beer, too.)
Home Bar & Grill is really the same—same craveable bar food, same inventive cocktails, same friendly service, same Tai buying the same friends (me) shots—only better.