Best Bars 2007
Almost everyone over the age of 21 has a spirited opinion on the best bar in Honolulu. Because "best" is a somewhat magical recipe: Mix one shot of location, and one part drink specials, shake in a sports game or an appealing decor, and garnish with friends, dates and cute bartenders.
Photo by Olivier Koning
The scene at The Lounge at Nobu, our pick for best cocktails.
Best Karaoke Bar
The classy Sansei restaurant turns into a karaoke lounge late every Friday and Saturday night, but don’t expect the anonymity of other establishments, where you can sing from the confines of your booth. Sansei has a stage in its main dining room, an emcee and a spotlight. The night we visited, our energetic host offered two free appetizers to the first duet of the night. A couple of dudes took the prize for belting out "Santeria." Don’t worry, though, this isn’t the Apollo. Sansei’s customers—mostly locals in their 30s and 40s—will clap for anyone. One woman who somehow managed to mangle "Brown Eyed Girl" still got some love. The restaurant’s late-night sushi menu is also 50 percent off. Waikiki Beach Marriott, 2552 Kalakaua Ave., 931-6286. Karaoke from 10 p.m. to closing, between 1 and 2 a.m.
THE LOUNGE AT NOBU
Are you in a dive bar?
A swanky place built for seduction. Speedy, smooth service complements the signature cocktails. Try a Suika Martini, a glass of perfection containing fresh watermelon, vodka, honey and lemon; or, the Bellini Martini, with Cavalli vodka, crème de Peche and white peach purée. And look for a new "Nobu Hour," where exclusive Nobu sake flights will be served for $20 between 5 and 7 p.m. 2233 Helumoa Rd., (inside the Waikiki Parc Hotel), 237-6999. Daily, 5 p.m. to midnight.
Photo by Olivier Koning
In addition to a cool past, Murphy’s boasts 16 beers on tap.
Best Bar with a Past
MURPHY’S BAR & GRILL
You don’t go to Murphy’s Bar & Grill to try some weird mangosteen-tini. You go because the bartenders take good care of you. And you go because of the camaraderie. For example, one Friday night, we came into a subdued group of men focused intently on the UH football game. But when the Warriors rallied for victory in the fourth quarter, the crowd became electric. One guy got so worked up, he catapulted off his barstool. One of the first bars in town, the circa-1860s Royal Saloon, was near Murphy’s current location (the building it’s now in dates to 1890); owner Don Murphy celebrated his 20th year of stewardship last month. He notes that Murphy’s has one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parties in the United States, drawing 10,000 to 15,000 people. There may be one more in the crowd, perhaps of a more ghostly nature. He says, "We have doors opening and closing by themselves all the time." 2 Merchant St., 531-0422. Daily, from 11:30 a.m. until 2 a.m.
Photo by Olivier Koning
I’ll have what he’s having … The scene at Señor Frog’s.
Best Bar to Get Wild In
When we walked into Señor Frog’s, situated on the third level of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, the song "Super Freak" was blasting through the speakers, 60 revelers were proudly sporting ridiculous-looking balloon hats, a group was gurgling down Jell-O shots-and it was only 9 p.m. The restaurant, made famous by its Mexican and Caribbean outposts, opened in July and filled a late-night void for serious Waikiki partiers with its 4 a.m. liquor license, three bars, sizable dance floor and signature "anything goes" attitude. Later in the evening, the emcee prompted a conga line led by a whistle-blowing employee. The reward for participants: free frog-colored shots poured directly into each partygoer’s mouth. We presume spring breakers are welcome. Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center 2201 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 313. 440-0150. 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Photo by Michael Keany
The Varsity is a good place for UH students to make memories.
Best College Bar
It has to be said: We miss Magoos. But as much as we want to hate its replacement, The Varsity, the appeal of a cheap beer garden with 70-plus varieties on tap is pretty indestructible. Sure, the pitchers are now as much as $14, and the renovation has left the joint feeling too damn clean. But the friendly college crowd is the same, the place is still within stumbling distance of the UH dorms and the jukebox still sounds great echoing out over University Avenue. 1015 University Ave., 447-9244, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Best Bar Patrons
There aren’t many bars in Honolulu where the owner takes your order and then brings you a bowl of crunchy boiled peanuts, on the house. Or where a guy in a T-shirt and trucker cap hawks plastic bags of aku sticks and other aquatic appetizers from table to table. Where the bus driver sitting at the Megatouch machine does a pretty good job singing Moe Keale’s "Aloha Is …" after a couple of Bud Lights, which only come in bottles and, if you like, with a bucket of ice—all before 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Shinsho Tei may be full of regulars, but they’re more than happy to share their hangout with new patrons. After we paid our tab and got up to leave, one customer called out, "Thank you for coming!" 1613 Nu’uanu Ave., next to Hungry Lion, 528-1007. 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Best Bar for a First Date
PANE & VINO
While playing tourist in Waikiki we spied a dimly-lit, rustic sign that read, simply, Pane & Vino. Intrigued, we climbed the stairs to a cozy enoteca with dark wood and an exposed beam ceiling. Our bartender offered tastes of the fruity and dry Montepulciano Abruzzo and the well-balanced Valpolicella Secco Bertani. The wines, all from Italy, were surprisingly affordable (bottled beers are also available, including the rarely spotted Italian lager, Peroni). For an hour or so we played tourist in Italy instead. 408 Lewers St., 923-8466. 5:30 p.m. to "until we are happy."
Best Gay Bar
Photo by Daeja Fernandez
HULA’S BAR & LEI STAND
The drinks are cold, the guys are hot and the view of Diamond Head can’t be beat. By day, you can people-watch while relaxing on Hula’s 70-foot lanai and enjoying a daily happy hour from 3 to 9 p.m. By night, check out the dancing, local bands and a monthly battle of the deejays. It’s held the last Friday of each month, says general manager Dell Brooks. Other events include Wednesday volleyball tournaments. 134 Kapahulu Ave., 2nd Floor, 923-0669. 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Best Bar for Sports
If you wake up on Sunday morning with an appetite for football, The Shack in Hawaii Kai is the place for you. Its Sunday NFL Breakfast begins bright and early at 7 a.m., with 10 games playing at a time, plus bloody marys, screwdrivers and a full breakfast menu. A prime waterfront location, two pool tables, three dartboards and a plethora of arcade games make it more than easy to kill time until happy hour, 4 to 6 p.m. 377 Keahole St., 396-1919. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., open 7 a.m. on NFL Sundays.
Best West Side Bar
The T-Spot Hideway gives leeward residents plenty of reasons to skip the trip to town—drink specials, tasty pupu, karaoke and live local music on Fridays and Saturdays. T-Spot did away with its cigar lounge earlier this year, but still sells dozens of varieties, including Cohiba, Arturo Fuente and Ashton. Kapolei Marketplace, 590 Farrington Highway, 674-8081. 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Best Bar for the Cool Kids
Everyone wants an Uncle Bo. At his place, you get a seat at the cool-to-the-touch marble bar, a place to hang your bag and sometimes a sample of a new dish to go with your thick, milkshake-like Guinness. Classy. Uncle Bo’s is a hip-kid hangout, like a super-swanky treehouse, but for adults. The music: soft enough to have a conversation over; the décor; stylish enough that you’ll want to stay. Part-owner Ho Suk Lee recommends the signature house drink, a lemongrass martini made with a homebrewed lemongrass tea. Cheers, to your new favorite uncle. 559 Kapahulu Ave., 735-8310. 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Photo by Daeja Fernandez
Best Bar Food
SLAMMERS BAR & GRILL
When we strolled into unassuming sports bar Slammers Bar & Grill on a Saturday afternoon, all we wanted was a few beers, some pupu and a comfy booth to catch the UH game. But after our first few dishes arrived, it hit us: The onolicious food was just as satisfying as watching the Warriors whack their latest victim. We recommend the pepper-crusted ahi, the furikake garlic chicken, the kimchee steak and the lup cheong fried rice, which gives Side Street Inn’s venerable version a run for its money. And please, we beg you, do not miss Slammers’ spicy smoked pork. Slammers also has a pizza bar where cooks whip up made-to-order combos like Portuguese sausage and onion confit or, our favorite, the Sicilian, with salami, pepperoni, prosciutto and roasted peppers. 1683 Kalakaua Ave., 946-4209. 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Photo by Olivier Koning
La Mariana Sailing Club may be a local favorite, but Mainlanders are on to it, too—Esquire picked it for its story, "Best Bars in America."
Best Bar for Time Travel
LA MARIANA SAILING CLUB
If there were a wormhole off Sand Island Road, it would take you straight back to 1955 and be called La Mariana Sailing Club. If you’ve already been, you know what we mean. The last of the old-school tiki bars, La Mariana is an experience not to be missed, if only for nostalgia’s sake. The wooden, open-air structure is situated right on Keehi Lagoon and you get the distinct feeling the décor hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. Fish nets on the ceiling, a thatched-style bar, blow-fish lanterns, leftover lamps from Trader Vics, and tables and chairs from Don the Beachcomber make for a most unusual night out. The $5 mai tais are popular—and very, very strong. 50 Sand Island Rd. 848-2800. 11 a.m. to whenever people stop drinking.
Photo by iStock
Best Bar for Beer Lovers
TIE: Sam Choy’s Big Aloha Brewery and Kona Brewing Co.
Honolulu’s beer scene just keeps getting better, notes Cheryl Tsutsumi, author of the Hawaii Beer Book. Tsutsumi used a "Beer Board" for her book, and says, "My discriminating Beer Board puts Sam Choy’s Big Aloha Brewery and Kona Brewing Co. at Koko Marina Center in Hawaii Kai in a tie for first place for best local craft beers served on Oahu. They say, ‘Each of their beer styles is very well brewed and the quality of the beers is consistently good.’" Big Aloha Brewery is inside Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab restaurant, 580 N. Nimitz Highway. 545-7979. Daily from 10:30 a.m. to closing; 9:30 Sunday to Thursday, and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Kona Brewing Co., 7192 Kalanianaole Highway, 394-5662. Bar open daily, 11 am. to 11 p.m.
Photo by Monte Costa
Brasserie Du Vin
Best Wine Bar
BRASSERIE DU VIN
There’s a certain stay-a-while vibe that emanates through Brasserie Du Vin. Maybe it’s the candlelit tables, the mismatched chairs, the live mellow music or the French relics adorning the mustard-colored walls. The outdoor patio with exposed brick and umbrella-covered tables seems to call for a decent round of philosophical conversations, too. Whether you’re a novice or veteran vino-sipper, the wine list is easy to sift through, thanks to its "by the grape" or "by the region" search options. This is helpful, since there are more than 260 selections from areas such as Napa Valley, Australia, Italy, Hungary and South Africa. What’s more, from 10:30 p.m. to closing select open bottles of wine are half off. 1115 Bethel St., 545-1115. 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
Best Hidden Bar
It’s easy to miss this more than 20-year-old pau hana favorite in Mapunapuna, an area more known for its warehouses than its watering holes. But if you manage to find the nondescript entrance of Henry Loui’s, hang a right into its classic wood-paneled lounge, where you can watch the game and feast on pulehu ribs, while everyone else slogs through after-work traffic. 2850 Paa St., 833-3728, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Best Bar for a Private Party
THE DRAGON UPSTAIRS
The Dragon Upstairs averages at least one private party a week, says owner Hank Taufaasau, and it’s all about location, location, location. "The second floor location is removed from the hustle and bustle of the street. It feels private, but it’s still downtown." With a beautifully appointed décor, courtesy of Hank’s wife, and two separate levels, the Dragon Upstairs maintains an intimate sense of atmosphere perfect for parties. Bartender Rick Hoffman explains: "It’s a great room. No matter what kind of music is playing, if it’s loud or quiet, it feels comfortable." Let them cater the party for you from a wide selection of liquors and food, or hire an outside caterer. They will create a signature drink for you, or, try the "The Hankover," served in a 3 oz. souvenir jigger. 1038 Nuuanu Ave., 526-1411. 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursdays to Saturdays.