Where Can You Get a Drink in Honolulu? A Closer Look at the New Liquor License Emergency Orders

When the liquor commission closed 10 places over the weekend, some businesses contested. How do we know what can stay open and what must close? It all depends on what licenses they hold.
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Photo: David Croxford


August 13 Update: Aloha Beer Co. and Waikīkī Brewing Co. were both cleared to reopen earlier this week after proving to the liquor commission that they meet the requirements to be classified as a restaurant under the current emergency orders. 



When Honolulu Liquor Commission officers moved in to cite and close 10 businesses over the weekend, the names of two of them caught our eye. Aloha Beer Co. and Waikīkī Brewing Co. were the only two ordered to close for 24 hours before reopening for takeout only. And the city says it will be continuing to look for bars operating during the shutdown. Waikīkī Brewing and others are arguing the citations, saying that they meet the requirements to be considered restaurants, which are allowed to be open for dine-in right now. 


Here is a look at what exactly is ordered closed under the city’s emergency order 2020-23


The three-week shutdown that went into effect on July 31—which may be extended as the order does not technically contain an end date—applies to “establishments that are primarily engaged in the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises regardless of whether food is served, including but not limited to taverns, cocktail lounges, karaoke rooms/areas, and cabarets, and including outdoor areas.”



As many of you know from the news, we were forced to close down Aloha Beer Co. on Saturday night by the Liquor Commission who deem us to be a bar and not a brewery restaurant. Our beer garden will regrettably remain closed until the Mayor’s Emergency Order is lifted and breweries are allowed to reopen. We would like to continue our food and beverage to-go service, but unfortunately it is still unclear if we are legally able to offer food. While we await an answer to this question we will remain closed today, Monday, August 10. We will post an update tomorrow, and at the very least we will be open at 4 pm on Tuesday. To offer beer to-go. See you soon! 🍻 #alohabeer #alohabeerco #craftbeer #craftbeerhawaii #independentbeer #bevocalsupportlocal #kakaako #savehawaiibusiness

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So, how do you differentiate between bars where food is served and restaurants with bars? The liquor commision looks at the liquor license held by each establishment. The shutdown order applies to people and businesses holding any of more than 10 different types of licenses: dispensers, defined as places that sell liquor for people to drink there; clubs; cabarets; hotel bars; caterers, who often handle bars at events and on location; brewpubs, which are businesses that make and sell malt beverages to drink there, for takeout or wholesale transactions; small craft produce pubs; special licenses for fundraising events; condominium hotels; wineries; and even BYOB licenses are not allowed.


According to the liquor commission, a restaurant regularly serves meals from suitable kitchen facilities and, most importantly, at least 30% of the place’s gross revenue must come from food. But the Honolulu Liquor Commission says changing the classification of the license usually takes about three to four months and will cost a fee. Businesses will need documentation to support this as well as a lengthy list of requirements to apply for a restaurant liquor license. 


Here is the list of the bars that were ordered to close on Saturday, Aug. 8:

  • Aqua Lounge

  • Club Blue Star

  • Club Bonita

  • Club Wave

  • Di’s Karaoke

  • Emerald City

  • Hibiscus Club

  • 8 Fat Fat 8



Aloha, Unfortunately, Kaka’ako remains closed today. The Liquor Commission closed us under the mistaken assumption that we are a bar not a restaurant. We are working on getting that closure corrected as we are in fact a restaurant and serve more food than any other category of sales at 48.5% year to date. Further, it seems that if we re-open we are only allowed to sell packaged beer, growlers, and kegs to go, but no food for take-out. We are seeking clarification on this matter from the LC today and are hoping for the best possible outcomes. As any of our customers know, we always operate with the strictest measures of safety, sanitation, adherence to all mandates, CDC recommendations, and DOH guidance. We pride ourselves in operating as one of the safest places you can go to for both dine in and take out service. We are not operating in a grey area or trying to skirt the rules or find loopholes. We are compliant in all aspects of our business and are simply asking for the LC to use their own guidance as to what defines a restaurant and allow us to re-open. We will keep you posted. As before, if you would like to share this post and/or support us with letter writing, please keep it positive. We have faith that our LC and elected officials will see that we are 100% within our rights to be open, that they just need to see and hear the truth and facts of the matter. We don't have any desire to have an adversarial relationship with them. Mahalo, Joe & Team WBCK

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