Drinks and Pupu in Hawaii

Pupu on the Rocks: You can’t always judge a great drinks and pupu place from the outside.


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Great food at a bar? This thirtyninehotel crowd thinks so. From left to right: Katie O’Shea, Cyrina Hadad, Brian McCreanor (standing), Lloyd Graham, Napali Souza (from back) and Mervina Morgan.

Years ago, when the original Side Street Inn had not yet become a legend, you might have taken a look at the place from the outside, and said, Uh, no, let’s go someplace else.

You would have missed the pork chops and fried rice.

I’ve been thinking about how drinks and pupu are a kind of local art form. Sure, there are bars and bar food all over America. In Anytown, U.S.A., you can probably find all the fried calamari or Buffalo wings you want. But only in Hawaii would you hear, “It’s a great bar. Make sure to have the pork chops.”

Hawaii takes getting together with friends, having a few drinks and eating pupu seriously. We don’t just drink, we want large platters of something local style, delicious and not too expensive.

Places like that—like the original Side Street—are often places you’d hesitate to go if you didn’t know about them.

 

Home Bar & Grill

1683 Kalakaua Ave., (808) 942-2235, Daily 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Valet (and some free) parking, major credit cards.

 


Home Bar tater tot nachos. This is making people happy?

Photo: Rae Huo

Such was the case for me with Home Bar & Grill.

Upon opening early this year, Home Bar & Grill exploded into the Twitterverse and Blogosphere. Instantly famous. I wondered why.

Home’s uninviting, squat, gray exterior screamed Dive Bar. Not much parking in the patchy asphalt lot, either.

Of course, my first glimpse of the original Side Street Inn was hardly heartening. I went inside only because Alan Wong insisted the food was good.

Soon, people started messaging me with pictures of Home’s Nacho Tater Tots. Really? I thought. A place whose signature item is Tater Tots glopped with stadium-style cheese? This is making people happy?

Finally, I gave in and met some younger friends there. Almost didn’t make it: No place to park. More or less by accident, I navigated to the back entrance on Kalauokalani Way, where mercifully there’s valet parking.

Inside, not exactly the bar at Morimoto’s. Larger than it looks on the exterior. Lots of black vinyl booths and beer signs. Lots of young guys in cargo shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps. Also groups of women, mostly coworkers out for pau hana, I’m guessing.

Not a dive, definitely not a dive, too comfortable and friendly. It wasn’t upscale, but it was, well, sort of homey. The young waitresses in Home T-shirts seemed eager to take your order.

I decided to get it over with quickly: Nacho Tater Tots. “Don’t worry,” said my friends. “We already ordered them.”

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