First Look: Skull & Crown Trading Co. in Honolulu
Chinatown’s new tiki bar offers fun cocktails, Dole Whip and a mean lemongrass chicken skewer.
The décor includes floral wallpaper, bamboo fixtures, grass thatching, buoys, nets and skulls.
Photos: Katrina Valcourt, Katie Kenny and Christy Phillips
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.
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.
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.
Just because it’s not a Halloween bar doesn’t mean it can’t be a little creepy.
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.
The Tropical Sensation ($10), with Grey Goose, Aperol, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice, liliko‘i, mint and Angostura bitters.
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.
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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.
Trader Noa’s Old Fashioned ($13).
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.
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.
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.
We chose to get the lemongrass chicken skewer ($15) in a fresh-baked banh mi with herbs, Kewpie mayo, pickled carrot and daikon, along with the watermelon and tomato salad.
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