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The Best Bars in Honolulu 2009: Liquid Assets


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Bartender Wayne Larrow soothes our frayed nerves at J.J. Dolan's, one of Honolulu's best bars.

Photo: Mark Arbeit

J.J. Dolan’s

J.J. Dolan’s opened like a pop-up book—a fully formed institution that sprang up seemingly overnight. But owners Jay Niebuhr and Danny Dolan have plenty of experience with bars in Honolulu, coming from Murphy’s and O’Toole’s, respectively. Their experience, combined with a friendly staff and “the best pizza in Ireland” meant the bar had “an instant group of regulars,” says Dolan, who says the recipe for success is simple: “We can guarantee a cold beer, great pizza and a good room with nice people.” Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. 1147 Bethel St., 537-4992. jdolans.com.

Photo: Olivier Koning


Kanpai Bar & Grill

Sports bars are a dime a dozen, but few manage to nail all the elements as well as Kanpai does—casual indoor/outdoor seating, a plethora of TV screens, dartboards and food that’s several cuts above typical fried fare. On a recent visit, we watched the Yankees demolish the Angels 10-1 while enjoying a negi toro with sliced ahi sashimi, green onion coulis, wasabi oil, tobiko and Nalo Farm micro greens. Even prosaic Island faves get the deluxe treatment: Football diehards catching an early morning Sunday morning game can take on one of the best loco mocos we’ve tasted. Daily, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; open at 6 a.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. Sundays during football season. 404 Ward Ave., 593-9202.

Kanpai has a sports-driven vibe.

Photo: Rae Huo


Kemoo Farms Pub

Kemoo Farms Pub looks the way a bar should look—dark, with a long, wood bar punctuated with well-worn stools occupied by grizzly regulars—and smells how a bar should smell (cigarettes, sweat and beer). The crowd is a mix of Schofield Barracks residents and bikers bellying up to the bar during a pit stop. There’s a good draft-beer selection, including Drop Top Ale and Widmer Hefeweizen, and the food—a bar-friendly mix of burgers, sandwiches (we liked the reuben) and steaks—isn’t too shabby, either. There are daily bar specials, as well as weekly live music. Also be sure to check out the downstairs lānai overlooking the lake. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen opens at 10 a.m.). 1718 Wilikina Drive, Wahiawā, 621-1835, kemoopub.com.


Tucked in the back of Puck’s Alley sits this delectable izakaya. Here you’ll find the harmonious relationship between good bottles of sake or Kirin Ichiban on draft along with bite-size pupu grilled on skewers right in front of you. The kebabs range in price from $1.80 for a chicken thigh to $5.80 for tongue, so it’s easy to walk out with a $50 bill. But nothing compliments a cold one better than bacon-wrapped tomatoes or fried oysters. Itadakimas! Located at 2626 S. King Street, Suite 1, 941-7255, Sunday through Thurs. 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Kona Brewing Co.'s appetizer menu includes the Ahi Aloha Tower.

Photo: Sheila Sarhangi



Kona Brewing Co.

Drinking a Mainland beer? Shame on you. At Kona Brewing Co. in Hawaii Kai, you can find a dozen beers—each handcrafted at its brewery on the Big Island—on tap. The lineup includes familiar mainstays, like its Longboard Lager, as well as seasonal brews, such as the Kona Coffee Imperial Stout, which is available now and made with 100-percent Kona coffee. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (bar until 9:30 p.m.); Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar until 10:30 p.m.). 7192 Kalanianaole Highway, 394-5662. konabrewingco.com.




All that Jazz

» Honolulu’s jazz scene is small, but fans have two great nightspots they can turn to the dragon upstairs and Jazz Minds Arts & Café.

The Dragon Upstairs has been bringing jazz to Chinatown for three years, but its location—above Hank’s Café, in an intimate second-story bar in a historic building—makes it feel as though it’s always been there. Music lovers will appreciate the chance to sit close to the band. Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., 1038 Nuuanu Ave., 526-1411.

Jazz Minds presents live jazz six nights a week. This club offers a bigger stage, hence bigger musical acts. Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., 1661 Kapiolani Blvd., 945-0800.

Both clubs represent the rehabilitation of their neighborhoods, both have singular hands-on owners (Hank Taufaasau of The Dragon Upstairs, Young Hae Yi of Jazz Minds), both have an ever-changing line-up of artists, both feature pupu until the wee hours—so check their schedules and see which one matches your mood tonight.

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