This Local Starbucks Now Offers Beer and Wine to Give You a Different Kind of Buzz
Starbucks in the Ala Moana Hotel serves pūpū, beer and wine as part of Hawaiʻi’s first Starbucks Evenings program.
Known for Frappuccinos and seasonal lattes, the Starbucks at the Ala MOana Hotel is now serving beer, wine and small plates.
PHotos: Katrina Valcourt
Starbucks is known for a lot of things: fast service, pumpkin spice lattes, getting your name wrong, Frappuccinos and … beer?
Maybe not in Hawaiʻi, but, on the Mainland, Starbucks Evenings has been around since 2010, offering guests an assortment of seasonal small plates, craft beers and wines later in the day.
We weren’t convinced this wasn’t a joke. In an informal poll around the HONOLULU office, staffers rolled out of their cubicles to comment on the absurdity of it all and cry out that the brand should stick to what it knows best. Who goes to Starbucks for mac ’n’ cheese? There are so many other places that already do it well. And alcohol? Come on. That’s not what we want from Starbucks. We want to pop in for our caffeine fix, have a quick meeting, maybe get some work done. We’re not there to enjoy ourselves. Neither is anyone else—there are three Starbucks locations within a two-block radius of our office, all occupied by a neverending stream of slightly grumpy downtown workers just trying to make it through the rest of the day.
We like Starbucks. It gets the job done if we want something fast. But, if we want to take our time, get something a little more exotic, nuanced and with a heart design in milk, we linger elsewhere, like at The Curb or Brue Bar. And that’s how we like our alcohol, too: good quality, recommended by experts, maybe somewhere a little swanky, where we don’t feel rushed. (And, if we want something cheap, fast and rowdy, plenty of bars fill that niche, too.)
We’re a tough group to impress, apparently.
It seems Starbucks Evenings aims to fill the middle ground, for when you’re feeling neither rambunctious nor particularly snobbish, but you just want to grab a decent drink and some food at a familiar spot, if that’s not too much to ask. And one could argue that coffee and wine are similar, in terms of complexity, the influence of terroir, etc., so it was a logical next step. We get it. Sort of. Not really. So we ventured to the Ala Moana Hotel Starbucks, the first Hawaiʻi location to roll out the program.
First of all, this Starbucks is not like the three other locations at the mall. Few people are wandering through the hotel at any given time, since it’s not exactly a destination for locals, unless they’re heading to Rumours or The Signature. (Plus, who wants to pay to park at the hotel? Not us. Don’t let Ala Moana Center find out that we walked over.) And it’s spacious—it seats up to 88 at a variety of tables, comfy chairs and bar seating. There were more laptops and meetings than coffee cups around 2:30, and the sun spilled in softly through frosted windows after hours of rain. Pretty chill atmosphere.
The pūpū menu is small: spinach artichoke dip, a couple of flatbreads, meatballs, bacon-wrapped dates and chicken skewers in the display case alongside some sandwiches. (There was no truffle mac ’n’ cheese the day we went, to our incredible dismay.) The wine list has a nice mix of whites and reds, including one each of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon ($8 to $14). Beers range from Heineken Lite to Fat Tire Amber Ale to Kona Longboard (all $7).
The spinach artichoke dip was smoky, warm and creamy.
The menu also features flatbread with toppings including chicken sausage and mushrooms.
We ordered the chicken sausage and mushroom flatbread, spinach artichoke dip, which comes with pita chips, and a glass of the cab, a rich, complex number called The Show ($10). The barista fumbled a bit with the order, unfamiliar with the different types of wine. And we fumbled a bit with our plates, since there are no trays.
The dip was smoky, warm and creamy with just the right number of chips, a surprisingly rare feat to accomplish. And the portion size is perfect, unless you plan on sharing. The flatbread, with melty cheese, spicy sausage, mushrooms, oven-roasted tomatoes, peppers and green onions, has a little kick to it, and we had no complaints.
Everything was good. Amazing? No. Worth $24? Probably not. But good. And we like that the (Starbucks-branded) stemless wine glass cradles a small dish of toasted pepitas with every order, and has “enjoy a moment or three” inscribed. But we still felt weird having a glass of wine next to a man in a suit sipping coffee and working on his laptop. We can’t imagine anyone trying to write their masterpiece while a group of friends chats over Heinekens nearby.
The experience is a far cry from having a master sommelier or cicerone explain to you the different characteristics of various brands and varieties. It’s not bad, but, if Starbucks wants to introduce alcohol to its menu in a way that makes sense to its customers and brings in new ones, we suggest Irish coffee. Now that’s something we’d go out of our way for.
410 Atkinson Drive, 2 to 9:30 p.m. daily, 955-4811
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