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Home Bar and Grill

The crew from Slammers reunites and remakes this Kalakaua Avenue bar.


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Everyone loves the Home team: (from left) Brandon Hamada, John Estrella, Jarod Matsubayashi, Neil Nakasone and Chris Tai.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Spending every day in a bar isn’t the prescribed path for most recovering alcoholics, but, for Chris Tai, one of the owners of Home Bar and Grill, it works. The atmosphere is comforting, even though he no longer joins in the drinking. “I like the business. This is what I’m good at; this is what I like,” he says of returning to the bar scene after sobering up.

There’s more than one homecoming in this story. For almost everyone in the core team running Home Bar and Grill, it’s their second stint together at the location formerly known as Slammers, on Kalakaua Avenue near the Convention Center. Tai, who was once the Slammers general manager, says, “This was our home away from home.”

Some of his “housemates” were Neil Nakasone, Brandon Hamada and Jon Estrella, who would come to Slammers after work, from the kitchens of Alan Wong’s. “They were always here, so I told them to just quit … and work here,” Tai says. They did, leaving their chef de cuisine and sous chef posts in Wong’s high-end restaurants to run the kitchen in what amounted to a dive bar.

Along the way, Tai left Slammers to sober up, the kitchen team moved on to Kanpai (an unrelated event) and the bar became Martini Zoo. A confluence of recent events reunited everyone and their beloved space, with a new name and a few improvements. Gone are the garish, upholstered seats (though a few exist in nostalgic corners) and the dividers between tables. In their place are low booths, which make it easy to walk into the bar and see immediately who’s there. While the Home kitchen is small, Nakasone likes its easy access to the dining area. He often slips out to say hello to regulars or enjoy time with friends. Yet the food is always on point, whether it’s tater tot nachos or more refined dishes that show off the pedigree of the chefs, such as “negi toro,” cubes of ahi in a green onion coulis.

“Back when this was Slammers, nobody called each other,” Tai says. “We just met here. We would start here, or we’d stay here all night.” Some things never change. Open 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 1683 Kalakaua Ave., 942-2237.

 

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Honolulu Magazine March 2017
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