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First Look: Skull & Crown Trading Co. in Downtown Honolulu’s Chinatown

Chinatown’s new tiki bar offers fun cocktails, Dole Whip and a mean lemongrass chicken skewer.


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Update Jan. 3, 2020: Skull & Crown doesn’t currently offer a food menu.

 

old fashioned

Trader Noa’s Old Fashioned, unveiled from beneath a dome of kiawe smoke.
Photo: Leah Friel

 

Most of the activity on First Friday usually takes place on Hotel Street between Nu‘uanu Avenue and Smith Street, where police officers halt traffic for pop-up tents, performers and revelers outside of Chinatown’s most popular bars. But this month, one block ‘Ewa, partygoers packed a new tiki bar for a lively grand opening celebration.

 

In the spot formerly occupied by Grondin French-Latin Kitchen, Noa Laporga and Angelina Khan run Skull & Crown Trading Co., the latest in the duo’s history of mysterious, haunting and enchanting ventures. You most likely know them from Haunted Plantation, which takes over Hawai‘i Plantation Village every Halloween; they also ran the Unlocked escape room at Ward Warehouse three years ago and Ala Moana’s Ghost Bar this past October, as well as a special effects company, Black Box FX.

 

Skull and Crown siren

The siren sculpture—representing the Hawaiian legend of the mo‘o, or lizard god—was created by Black Box FX and reposes above the bar.
Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

Given their years of work perfecting the ultimate creepy pop-up experience, it makes sense for them to finally operate a year-round venue. But though you may come across a head in a jar or two, Skull & Crown is more fun than terrifying—with a menu that’ll draw you back even if you’re not a fan of tiki bar culture.

 

Skull and Crown heads in jars

Just because it’s not a Halloween bar doesn’t mean it can’t be a little creepy.
Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

Since we went on opening night, the place was full, with live music from exotica band Intoxika (which will perform on First Friday in July, too). We passed by all the floral wallpaper, buoys, nets, tiki sculptures and pineapple lamps, through a beaded bamboo curtain, and sat outside in the courtyard at a picnic table near a fire pit.

 

The menu lists almost 20 drinks, most using pineapple, liliko‘i or some other citrus in keeping with the theme. Expect rum-forward drinks like the ‘Awa‘awa Mai Tai ($15) and Falls of Clyde ($14), both featuring Kō Hana Rum, and local spins on other old-fashioned drinks, such as the Paniolo Old Fashioned ($10), with li hing mui, and the Old Kahakuloa Reviver ($13), with Kō Hana Rum, Big Island Bees honey, liliko‘i and li hing mui.

 

Skull and Crown interior

THE DÉCOR INCLUDES FLORAL WALLPAPER, BAMBOO FIXTURES, GRASS THATCHING, BUOYS, NETS AND SKULLS.
Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

The menu is more robust than I expected and Laporga says he plans to add more cocktails as new décor pieces arrive, perpetuating the “trading company” vibe and proving Skull & Crown offers more than a kitschy photo op. Custom tiki mugs and mismatched glasses add to the fun. You can also get cans of Honolulu Beerworks beers for $5.

 


SEE ALSO: Afterthoughts: Death Becomes Me


skull drink

The Skull & Crown
Photo: Leah Friel

 

We tried the signature drink, The Skull & Crown, which comes flaming in a ceramic skull and serves two ($25). Its blend of Plantation OFTD Overproof, Bacardi 8-Year, El Dorado 8-Year, Velvet falernum, grenadine, lime juice, grapefruit juice and cinnamon was strong but well balanced. You’ll definitely feel it if you try to drink the whole thing yourself—which is why I went back the following week to try Trader Noa’s Old Fashioned ($13). Kiawe smoke (from wood Laporga harvests himself) fills a glass dome around the cocktail until it’s presented to you with a flourish. Brown sugar adds a nice deep flavor to mellow out bittersweet Cynar, orange bitters and High West Double Rye.

 

I wasn’t expecting much from the food (not exactly what tiki bars are known for) but was intrigued by the menu. You can choose from a variety of skewers ($15–$17)—lamb kofta, lemongrass chicken, minced beef, char siu pork, fresh-catch fish or mushroom—that come in your choice of a Buddha Bowl, banh mi, tortillas or pita, and with a side of green salad, barley and basil salad, watermelon and tomato salad, or slow-cooked beans. The lemongrass chicken was so moist and full of flavor, we picked it out of the banh mi and just ate it straight. I later learned that the kitchen is helmed by Robert McGee, most known for The Whole Ox restaurant that closed in 2014 and other meat-centric ventures. No wonder.

 

Skull and Crown skewers

The lamb kofta skewer ($17), which we got wrapped in toasted pita with tzatziki, tomato, hummus, cucumbers and lettuce, accompanied by the barley and basil salad.
Photo: Katie Kenny

 

The duck bao appetizer (three for $11) was also a nice surprise, the bao fried instead of steamed, with juicy chunks of meat inside. You can also get the fried bao with suckling pig (three for $12). Hummus ($9) and Chesapeake Bay oysters (six for $16 or 12 for $30) round out the savory food, with official Dole Whip soft serve ($5) for dessert.

 

Skull and Crown sandwich

Lemongrass chicken banh mi with watermelon and tomato salad.
Photo: Leah Friel

 

For now, Skull & Crown is only open for dinner and drinks, but Laporga says they plan to add coffee in about a week, followed by lunch soon after. Follow HONOLULU on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

 

Open Sunday through Thursday 6 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight, 62 N. Hotel St., (808) 372-9618, skullandcrowntrading.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY KATRINA VALCOURT

 

 

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