Best Bars 2007
Almost everyone over the age of 21 has a spirited opinion on the best bar in Honolulu. Because "best" is a somewhat magical recipe: Mix one shot of location, and one part drink specials, shake in a sports game or an appealing decor, and garnish with friends, dates and cute bartenders.
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Photo by Olivier KoningThe scene at The Lounge at Nobu, our pick for best cocktails.
Best Karaoke Bar
The classy Sansei restaurant turns into a karaoke lounge late every Friday and Saturday night, but don't expect the anonymity of other establishments, where you can sing from the confines of your booth. Sansei has a stage in its main dining room, an emcee and a spotlight. The night we visited, our energetic host offered two free appetizers to the first duet of the night. A couple of dudes took the prize for belting out "Santeria." Don't worry, though, this isn't the Apollo. Sansei's customers—mostly locals in their 30s and 40s—will clap for anyone. One woman who somehow managed to mangle "Brown Eyed Girl" still got some love. The restaurant's late-night sushi menu is also 50 percent off. Waikiki Beach Marriott, 2552 Kalakaua Ave., 931-6286. Karaoke from 10 p.m. to closing, between 1 and 2 a.m.
THE LOUNGE AT NOBU
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A swanky place built for seduction. Speedy, smooth service complements the signature cocktails. Try a Suika Martini, a glass of perfection containing fresh watermelon, vodka, honey and lemon; or, the Bellini Martini, with Cavalli vodka, crème de Peche and white peach purée. And look for a new "Nobu Hour," where exclusive Nobu sake flights will be served for $20 between 5 and 7 p.m. 2233 Helumoa Rd., (inside the Waikiki Parc Hotel), 237-6999. Daily, 5 p.m. to midnight.
Photo by Olivier KoningIn addition to a cool past, Murphy's boasts 16 beers on tap.
Best Bar with a Past
MURPHY'S BAR & GRILL
You don't go to Murphy's Bar & Grill to try some weird mangosteen-tini. You go because the bartenders take good care of you. And you go because of the camaraderie. For example, one Friday night, we came into a subdued group of men focused intently on the UH football game. But when the Warriors rallied for victory in the fourth quarter, the crowd became electric. One guy got so worked up, he catapulted off his barstool. One of the first bars in town, the circa-1860s Royal Saloon, was near Murphy's current location (the building it's now in dates to 1890); owner Don Murphy celebrated his 20th year of stewardship last month. He notes that Murphy's has one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parties in the United States, drawing 10,000 to 15,000 people. There may be one more in the crowd, perhaps of a more ghostly nature. He says, "We have doors opening and closing by themselves all the time." 2 Merchant St., 531-0422. Daily, from 11:30 a.m. until 2 a.m.
Photo by Olivier KoningI'll have what he's having ... The scene at Señor Frog's.
Best Bar to Get Wild In
When we walked into Señor Frog's, situated on the third level of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, the song "Super Freak" was blasting through the speakers, 60 revelers were proudly sporting ridiculous-looking balloon hats, a group was gurgling down Jell-O shots-and it was only 9 p.m. The restaurant, made famous by its Mexican and Caribbean outposts, opened in July and filled a late-night void for serious Waikiki partiers with its 4 a.m. liquor license, three bars, sizable dance floor and signature "anything goes" attitude. Later in the evening, the emcee prompted a conga line led by a whistle-blowing employee. The reward for participants: free frog-colored shots poured directly into each partygoer's mouth. We presume spring breakers are welcome. Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center 2201 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 313. 440-0150. 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Photo by Michael KeanyThe Varsity is a good place for UH students to make memories.
Best College Bar
It has to be said: We miss Magoos. But as much as we want to hate its replacement, The Varsity, the appeal of a cheap beer garden with 70-plus varieties on tap is pretty indestructible. Sure, the pitchers are now as much as $14, and the renovation has left the joint feeling too damn clean. But the friendly college crowd is the same, the place is still within stumbling distance of the UH dorms and the jukebox still sounds great echoing out over University Avenue. 1015 University Ave., 447-9244, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.