Hawaii's Best Bars: Outdoor Edition
What could be finer than fresh air and a view with your pau hana drinks? These 12 bars stand out from the rest, and remind us—lucky we live Hawaii.
The Row at M
Located in the center of Waterfront Plaza, the Row Bar has lived and died many times. But it’s no zombie. Under its most recent ownership, by M Nightclub, the bar is actually livelier than ever, without losing that old Row Bar character. It still allows smoking. It still shows sports, occasionally switching to Comedy Central. There’s wi-fi service now, and a full kitchen, thanks to its official association with the nearby popular club. And you might see some faces you recognize, from sitting members of Congress, to Hawaii Five-O actors, to newspaper journalists unwinding after barely making their deadline. Monday – Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. 500 Ala Moana Blvd., therowbar.com.
Chinatown has many outdoor areas at which to imbibe, but thirtyninehotel’s outdoor area, with its wooden benches and umbrellas, give it a great secreted-away feel that’s exclusive as well as welcoming. It captures Chinatown’s hip, artful essence more than any other venue in the neighborhood, with a dance floor, performance area, and walls that often double as an art gallery. The outdoor area is enclosed with four walls, a small but cozy urban rooftop. Its pau hana specials (Wednesday to Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.) include many signature cocktails for only $5, a steal for any creation by master mixologist Christian Self. Hanging at thirtyninehotel has always felt as comfortable as a house party, an atmosphere so intimate you almost feel you can just crash anywhere. Wednesday – Friday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. 39 N. Hotel St., thirtyninehotel.com.
Ola at Turtle Bay Resort
Up at the North Shore and looking for a drink? Turtle Bay Resort is one of the few options. But even for townies, it’s worth the drive for Ola Restaurant, the only place on the island where you can be served a drink at a table and feel the sand between your toes. Ola carries 58 wines by the bottle, 42 by the glass, along with the standard set of cocktails, all at normal resort prices up to $11. We recommend catching a quicker buzz with a glass of Chimay beer ($12). There’s nothing like an ice-cold, strong beer with which to enjoy the North Shore trade winds. Sit by the ropes, let the kids play in the sand and enjoy one of the few places on Oahu where you’re actually away from it all. Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, olaislife.com.
Kona Brewing Co.'s Koko Marina Pub
Hawaii doesn’t enjoy the seasons, but seasonal brews help mark the passage of time. Have enough and they could turn hours into minutes. The Kona Brewing Co.’s second restaurant is Hawaii Kai’s best choice for beers, complete with seasonal beers and other brews not available anywhere else. Right by the Koko Marina, you can look out over the water and entertain thoughts of buying a boat. Then order yourself a local standard, Longboard Island Lager. It gives this writer a headache the next morning, but sometimes the crisp taste is worth it. It’s a fine reward after going for a hike at nearby Koko Head. Get a sampler to start (your choice of four for $9). Monday – Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 7192 Kalanianaole Highway, konabrewingco.com.
There’s limited seating out on the patio at the new Kakaako location, and the view isn’t great (close your eyes, and the passing Kapiolani Boulevard traffic might sound like ocean waves). But we can’t resist its generous happy hour, which runs every day from 4 to 6 p.m., then later from 9 p.m. until last call. Paying $3 for Kirin Ichiban is a deal, especially paired with natto seafood poke ($5) and deluxe spicy tuna roll ($5). It’s walking distance from the Blaisdell Center, too, a perfect spot to refill after a show. Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner, 4 p.m. to midnight, 1009 Kapiolani Blvd.,
Sunrise/Sunset Pool Bars at The Modern Honolulu
The Modern Honolulu makes our list, if only because it’s a popular host to that most hedonistic harbinger of summer, the pool party. The water views are better up in the rooms than down at the pool, but who’s looking at the ocean when you’re surrounded by washboard abs and barely there bikinis? Even without those, you still have plenty of liquor, ladies, lounging and live music almost every day. Its frozen coconut mojito, a mix of coconut rum, syrup and lime juice, will sink you. Good thing they have those lounge beds around. Sunrise, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; Sunset, 12 to 6 p.m. daily, depending on occupancy and events, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd. themodernhonolulu.com.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Aloha Tower Marketplace is looking more and more like a ghost town these days, so locals could be forgiven for overlooking it as a hangout spot. But with a sunset backdrop over Honolulu Harbor, the Gordon Biersch tucked in the corner of the mall remains our favorite scenic pau hana refuge for Bishop Street professionals. Wednesday nights have jazz from 6:30 p.m., just in time for sunset. With just the right number of city lights peppering the night, it’s perfect for anyone who enjoys a view of harbor traffic, away from street traffic, while enjoying a cold one and garlic fries. Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. 1 Aloha Tower Drive Suite 1123. gordonbiersch.com.
Waiolu Ocean View Lounge at Trump International Hotel
One of the best places to view the 7:45 p.m. Hilton Hawaiian Village fireworks is not necessarily at the Hilton itself, but from the Trump International Hotel. And the sixth-floor Waiolu Ocean View Lounge’s “Sunset Fare” happy hour offers a dizzying number of selections at great prices. A highlight is shochu by the glass for only $4, with mixers like lemon or ume for only a dollar more. Load up your wallet if you’re going to be staying past sunset, but it’s an ideal date location. Try the award-winning Ilikea’s mai tai ($14.50). We still love Halekulani’s version best (that Lemon Hart 151 does make the difference), but this one goes well with fireworks. Lunch, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m. Dinner, 6 to 10:30 p.m. 223 Saratoga Road, trumphotelcollection.com/waikiki.
photo: courtesy of Halekulani
House Without a Key at Halekulani
The luxury hotel surrounds the restaurant, a great buffer from the din of Waikiki. There’s traditional Hawaiian music and hula (the band takes requests, and you’ll likely see a former Miss Hawaii or three dancing). And the mai tai is simply the best on the island. It’s a mix of Bacardi Gold, Bacardi Select and Lemon Hart 151, the latter exclusively delivered to the Halekulani. It has sweet beginnings, but that 151 makes for a head-spinning finish. Come for the view; stay because you had way too many mai tais (don’t go more than two if you’re driving). And ask for Rage. Despite his name, he’s a mellow, knowledgeable server and a master of taking photos with two cameras at the same time. Daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. 2199 Kalia Road, halekulani.com.
T’s Bar at 53 by the Sea
OK, this is more restaurant than bar. But the bar earns its place on this list with a majestic, panoramic view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head from the outdoor patio of this Kakaako McMansion restaurant. It’s probably the best full view of Waikiki around. There’s a live pianist tinkering away at an Italian-made Fazioli piano that isn’t too loud, especially outside. And every other Friday, you’ll get the added bonus of local singer Starr Kalahiki from 9 to 11:30 p.m. Her smooth fusion of jazz, Hawaiian and bossa nova netted her a 2012 Na Hoku Hanohano award for Most Promising Artist and Jazz Album of the Year. Although he’s no longer at 53 by the Sea, the Halekulani’s former master mixologist Tim Rita’s imprint is all over, particularly the Shiso Italiano, a bold and rapturous cocktail with Japanese basil and cucumber flavors. Sunday – Wednesday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Thursday – Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., 53 Ahui St., 53bythesea.com.
Il Lupino Trattoria and Wine Bar
Tucked by the coconut grove at the Royal Hawaiian Center, Il Lupino is a charming Waikiki getaway with generous food helpings and reasonable drink prices that make it the best Italian happy hour on the island. Pau hana (only available on the outdoor patio) lasts from 4 to 6:30 p.m., with most cocktails for $7 (cheap for Waikiki). And there’s an expansive selection of wine that can be paired with a customizable number of cured meats ($5 a piece). If you want a meal for one, get the Polpettone al Pomodoro, a huge meatball on tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese for only $7. Breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m. (Monday – Thursday, until noon on weekends). Lunch, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (starts at noon on Saturday and Sunday). Dinner., 5 to 10:30 p.m. (until 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday). 2233 Kalakaua Ave., illupino.com.
Rumfire at the Sheraton Waikiki
Come to RumFire early to relax, stay later if you’re feeling rowdy. Local singer/songwriters like Randy Allen and Johnny Helm turn the popular but pricey Sheraton bar into a lounge, while DJs (Soundcheck is a favorite of ours) make it into Honolulu’s best oceanfront club. You’re sure to spend a pretty penny (even the proletariat’s beer, Bud Light, is $5.50), but you’re paying for the atmosphere and the sunset view. Keep receipts to validate your parking, so you can have more to spend on their coconut-lavender mojitos ($11.50). Weekdays, 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., 2255 Kalakaua Ave., rumfirewaikiki.com.
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