Halekulani’s House Without A Key Revamps with New Pūpū and Cocktails
Waikīkī’s iconic open-air venue has new dishes and a cocktail bar where a new head mixologist is shaking things up.
Many locals, including myself, hold special memories of Halekulani. Whether for an annual holiday brunch, live piano music and the famous coconut cake, or cocktails and hula overlooking the beach, the upscale resort is a place of calm within the Waikīkī bustle. After a property-wide renovation during the pandemic, it recently reopened the al fresco House Without a Key and its new poolside bar, Earl’s.
We were invited to a hosted media event to sample the new cocktails and pūpū from the updated menus.
Earl’s is a cocktail-focused bar with a shady seating area that doubles as the pool bar. It’s named after the author Earl Derr Biggers, who wrote the 1925 murder mystery “House Without a Key” featuring fictitious detective Charlie Chan. The renovations and new libations are meant to evoke the golden age of Hawai‘i travel, before Instagrammable drinks and backdrops defined a new norm.
Spearheading the project is head mixologist Tuda Grehan. Originally from Hawai‘i, Grehan moved to New York to pursue a career in art before falling in love with cocktails. She and the bar team have produced a well-rounded menu of classic and new cocktails and equally noteworthy mocktails. The drinks I try are memorable, with details like the usual purple orchid swapped out for vibrant marigolds, ice cubes branded to order, and even drinkable glitter.
Here is a rundown of my favorites:
- Kawehewehe: The Waikīkī Classic. Bright blue as a result of curacao and blue Kuleana Nanea aged rum. Smoky notes lead with support from a house-made kiawe-smoked pineapple cordial. Egg whites lend a depth to the texture and further mimic the blue waters of Kawehewehe beach to the left of Halekulani’s shoreline.
- The Gable: The Childhood Memory. Starting off with a formidable mango puree ice cube (think stick-less popsicle), this non-alcoholic is serving you small-kid-time from the get go. A refreshing combination of cucumber juice, pineapple, lemon, hints of mango and aloe juice makes me scream, “It tastes like melon Sanrio gum!”—because it seriously does.
- Earl’s Daiquiri: The O.G. While I’m not a mai tai kinda gal, I’m surely a daiquiri lover—has to be the real deal, though. A delicate balance of El Dorado Guyana demerara rum and lime and yuzu sour is lifted to sublime heights by a salted demerara syrup. I’m a firm believer that most cocktails should be salted (just like food) and I love this simple yet tasty combination.
- The Kimball: The New Classic. While my flavored vodka days are thankfully behind me, hearing that the vodka used here is house-infused has me curious. Plus strawberry Campari, pineapple and effervescence? This drink seemed to be sneaking peeks at my sweat-soaked diary this summer. Dressed up like it’s going to a high-end baby lua‘u, all the components dance in tandem and are just really yummy. Campari grounds the concoction and is poised to bloom in the presence of tart berry and floral vanilla.
There are cocktails I didn’t get to try, so it’s safe to say I have reason to return. Grehan has truly created something special in Waikīkī.
Now for the food. A redone showcase kitchen lets you peek in as chef Jarrin Otake and his team prepare different menus for House Without a Key and Earl’s throughout the day. Favorites include Crab-Shrimp Cake Lollipops ($20) from the bar menu, moist and flavorful with a tangy remoulade sauce that pops with heat; the Nakaochi ‘Ahi Roll ($23) on the lunch menu that combines ‘ahi meat scraped off the bone with takuan, ikura and unagi sauce, ‘ono and great for sharing; and the Pipikaula Salad Bundles ($22), thin slices of black pepper-crusted marinated flank wrapped around local baby greens and served with a papaya dipping sauce, a lovely combination between freshness and deep beefiness that’s on both the pool menu and the sunset cocktail menu.
As I’m leaving, the early evening breeze picks up the tunes of nightly live music while a former Miss Hawai‘i takes the stage for her first hula performance of the night. The outdoor seating and bar area have filled up. I’m already planning my next excuse for a pau hana under the old kiawe tree, still dancing in the wind after all these years.