Is O‘ahu Ready for the $18 Cocktail?

Two chic, new Downtown bars offer two very different visions of the perfect drink.


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Left: Inside the tchin tchin! bar, Right: PISCO PUNCH​: This classic drink is one of eight cocktails on the menu. 
Photo: Aaron Yoshino and Steve Czerniak 


If an urban-swank rooftop bar with swag for days and a wine list a mile long is more your speed, The Tchin Tchin! Bar, in the old thirtyninehotel space, might be the bar for you.


This cool and ambient spot is the third great space from Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz, after Lucky Belly and Livestock Tavern.


With a serious vision for urban growth and gentrification, Grable and Cruz are systematically making Chinatown a better place by simply building destinations that we can’t live without. They’re opening doors to places that make us want to rush in and hang out, and then go back again tomorrow.


In fact, we’re perfectly fine with forfeiting a happy hour bargain somewhere else in favor of sinking into an oversized booth with a glass of our new favorite wine: a super-bright Greek white, Skouros Moschofilero 2013, for which we will return time and time again.


The Tchin Tchin! Bar serves quality libations in this renovated space.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


The wine menu ranges from 2-ounce pours of sparkling, white, red and rosé wines starting at $2 to about 20 full bottles that cost $100 or more including a bottle that goes for $300. (That’s for the 2011 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon.) The bar also serves quality cider and beer, ranging in price from $4 for a 12-ounce Birra Moretti to $15 for a 22-ounce glass of Big Island Brewhaus’ Red Sea of Cacao.


And though it’s primarily a wine and tapas bar, Tchin Tchin’s cocktail menu is short, but crafty. That is, like every other detail in the joint, the cocktails are mixed with serious intention—these are not your ordinary well drinks, and if that’s what you’re after, a more ordinary bar may be more your speed.


Like Bar LA, but with much less emphasis on the bartender-customer relationship (and hence, a lower price point), the cocktails here are a precise blend of some pretty fancy things, none of them cheap. The In The Mood, for example, is an impeccable balance of Raynal cognac, lime juice, egg white foam and pineapple-kiawe bitters. That’s top-shelf stuff—and it’s worth every dollar of its $10 price tag. The bartenders’ take on classic cocktails, like the Pisco Punch or the Vesper, also shows off their finesse behind the bar. We dare you to find another bar in town that can make an Americano this perfect. Because anything less would be doing Tchin Tchin’s addictive menu of small plate tapas a disservice.  


Granted, our inclination for the kind of meals that include wine, cheese, cured meats and crusty bread may be informing our feelings, but even if we didn’t boast a strong love of charcuterie, it’s undeniable that Tchin Tchin has all the right stuff. With a solid menu of “small” and “smaller” plates for sharing, and a long list of wines on a direct-draw draft system that eliminates bottle spoilage, The Tchin Tchin! Bar is quickly becoming our go-to pau hana spot. Because our idea of a happy hour (or three) is a stinky grilled cheese sandwich, a schmear of fois gras pâté and oxtail rillettes on grilled bread, or a plate of escargot and mushrooms in a red wine demi glace. Home can wait.


Dissecting the Best Mai Tai 

Here’s what $18 buys you.


2015 World’s Best Mai Tai winner.
Photo: Steve Czerniak


TOP-NOTCH LIQUOR: Raisin-infused El Dorado 8-year-old rum, spiced orgeat and a bit of absinthe.

NOT TOO SWEET: Add ‘ōhi‘a blossom honey.

PUT THE LIME AND THE COCONUT: A splash of coconut water syrup and lime.

THE TIKI TOUCH: Kiawe smoke tops it off.




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Honolulu Magazine June 2019
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