In honor of National Dive Bar Day (yes, there is such a thing!) sponsored by Seagrams 7, who proudly support the National Trust for Historic Preservation, valiantly helping to preserve dive bars, we take a pub crawl in Waikiki, on the not quite so beaten paths.
Frivolity; it’s a good word. Perhaps not practiced enough on a daily basis. As you may have read in these pages, I’m a big fan of character bars. What frivolous fun to plop oneself in a funky watering hole that has a story. Some look like an old movie set, some have the requisite peanut shells crunching under your feet, some have a rather distinct aroma of stale beer and spilt whiskey, but the common bond is the characters they attract.
Mahalo (thank you) Waikiki for retaining a handful of these gems. Allow me to take you to a few of my favorites.
Arnold’s: Keep a sharp lookout for the entrance which looks like an alley, but saunter in and settle at a bar stool and within minutes you are a local. As unpretentious as they come, tucked away from the tourist throngs, Arnold’s could be a neighborhood pub in any American town, but the tiki paraphernalia reminds us that we’re just a short walk to a stunning tropical sunset on the Pacific, if we choose to tear ourselves away from the fun ambiance here.
Lava Tube: I happened upon this gem on Kuhio Avenue. I was delighted to see the garish neon sign that lured me to the door. I entered solo and felt instantly welcome. I started chatting with a couple who are stationed here and Lava Tube has become their local place of choice to blow off steam! My new friends said the Mai Tais were the best here, however I stuck with a Kona Brewing lager and enjoyed surveying my new surroundings, complete with tiki carvings. So happy I got sucked into the “tube”‘
Cuckoo Coconuts: Occupying an outdoor space shaded by what appears to be giant, colorful cocktail umbrellas, Coconuts instantly feels fun enough to want to spend an entire afternoon and evening, listening to live music and dancing with strangers. Some patrons look like they may have never left. The bartender looks astonishingly identical to my friend Kirk, which makes me feel even more at home. My friend and I laugh, dance and celebrate the fact we don’t have a car, walking to earn beer calories. Cuckoo Coconuts serves Piña Coladas in pineapples and rum drinks in, well, of course coconuts! This family friendly atmosphere in a completely outdoor environment, with no walls, doors or ceiling has refreshing low food and beverage prices. A huge variety of Aloha wear makes shopping fun while taking a break from yummy cocktails.
Harbor Pub: Down but not dirty. I was greeted at the door by staff and bar patrons with “Come in and hang out!” When traveling solo, I find that dive bars are extremely welcoming. As soon as I choose a barstool, I can have the most interesting conversations. Harbor pub is nestled under the fancy pants Chart House, and looks a bit cast away, yet step aboard and it’s a vessel of enchanting artifacts. As a sailor, I’m content to have a view of all manner of craft just a monkey’s fist toss from the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Most tourists wouldn’t dare enter this seedy waterfront joint, and that’s exactly why I fear not!
La Mariana Sailing Club: Step way back in time, imagine what Hawaii was like before becoming the 50th state. La Mariana began its colorful journey in 1957 and has the feel of a museum dedicated to Hawaiiana. Annette La Mariana Nahinu, the founder, collected memorabilia from many of the famous tiki bars that have since been sadly replaced by unimaginative, modernistic mundaneness. Approaching La Mariana’s entrance makes me smile and appreciate one woman’s vision and steadfast perseverance in keeping old traditions alive. A tsunami, threats of eviction and ever encroaching industrialization have not deterred this resilient establishment from serving up Mai Tais and joy. Smell the salty air and gaze at the sailboats gracing the docks at La Mariana Sailing Club’s marina and enjoy true aloha spirit and charm.
Wherever you roam in the world, you are sure to find a fun dive bar, where even the most hardened of misfits fit in, so gather up your courage, take a deep breath and plunge in to a divey speakeasy, hole in the wall, honky tonk, roadhouse, biker bar, brewpub, watering hole, saloon, tavern, tiki bar or ramshackle waterfront sailor’s pub, and leave seriousness at the door and allow frivolity to reign. Cheers!