The Quest for the Holy Grain - Best Beer Bars
Hawaii

 

 

 

Mai Tar Bar
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI

Sometimes the Quest serves you best by pointing away from some place. That is the service rendered here and now. We wanted to meet with some old friends, but they would not come to the places we liked—the Rose and the Hideaway. They chose The Mai Tai Bar. It is a lanai (patio) bar. It may indeed be the best Pau Hana spot in Honolulu, I do not even know what that means. This is a warning to all Questors - - forgo the Mai Tai. Generally we provide recommendations, this time we want to protect you from yourself.
The Mai Tai is an open-architecture bar/restaurant at the top of the mall. It is hip;it is so hip, so Pau Hana one might say. An oversized block of round Polynesian granite serve as an ID checker and doorman. The furniture is hip. The bamboo menus are hip. The waitress wore a high, tight skirt and she was not military. Her top was tighter still. Several patrons, if accused of wearing a skirt did not have enough evidence on them for a conviction in a court of law. It was a leggy bar.
Now to the object of our affection the beer. The menu said, Beer $3, Pitcher $9, Large beer $23.
Period. That was it. The beer list, right there. I had to ask what beer it was. Kona Longboard lager. Want something hoppier? Darker? Lighter? Go to the Irish Rose! This may have been the worst bar I have ever seen. One beer for sale. Still Arden, Bill, Bob, Dave and their ladies made it a nice stop. Kona Longboard is not a bad beer, but who has one beer for sale?
Thoughts at the Mai Tai. Is that skirt legal? (God, I hope so.) How many pairs of Japanese women's jeans would it take to make a pair of jeans for me? The over/under is four.
But, let's be fair. If you would like to relive your Jr. prom after-party and see a bunch of young people having trouble holding their liquor, the Mai Tai is the place for you!

 

 

Yard House
226 Lewers St., Honolulu HI  96815
Phone: 808-923-9273

The Yard House is an upscale chain beer bar restaurant that made me feel ashamed to attend, except for the 103 taps, each of which was in fine working order.

This is beermecca in Hono.  An open front bar with a pristine clean glassed corridor where each keg and its hosing is on display greets the Questor.  There are vibrating “wait for a table” indicators for those who arrive after six. There are seats at the bar until 6:45.  There is a nice oblong bar ringed by taps in the center and maybe 30 seats in circumference. Most seats are in booths and tables, none are open and many wait at the bar. There are twenty bottles available as well.

The beers are listed by style and the choices are good.  I began with Franziskaner Dunkel Heffe strolled through a Rogues Gallery and Deschutte's a Hawaiian or two then back to Germany and, well, you get the idea --nice beers.  The food is very good for a beer joint.

As we sit at the bar there is a constant rotation of people next to us. Mostly Japanese.  It causes one to wonder.  Is there a woman in that country who weighs over 125 pounds?  Is there a Japanese word for cleavage?  If the over under on how many women's jeans would it take to make one pair to fit me is four the bet would be too close to call.  It is heady stuff.

I have waited for the woman in Hono who would make my knees buckle, she has not appeared.  But at the Yard House I was body slammed by cleavage twice.  Good beers, cleavage and perfect weather (no one has to shovel sunshine)  are a powerful hat trick. A nice place to drink, I will not go back.

The music is for 50+ boomers. It is great. In three places I have heard the best music I have heard in years. Traffic, CSN, Stones, you name it, so fine!

They sell beer by the half yard here, but nothing over 6% ABV.  A good place for good beers totally devoid of any danger at all. An athletic bar tender who tries way too hard to be my new best friend. It takes a while to unhinge here.  A Questor can score new beers here but he can't get no…no, no, no.


 

Hideaway
1913 Dudoit Ln.
Honolulu , HI 96815

We all want to know who are the doctors the doctors go to. Hideaway is the bar off duty bartenders and hookers go to. Every tourist town has at least one of these places. It is a dive bar for the professionals that is tolerant of a touron with money to spend.

“Sunday morning, go see the Reverend”, I was told. “When?” I asked, “around midnight?” That is Sunday morning, right? Wrong. Seven AM or so the Reverend comes on duty. And so I did. It was 730 AM as I turned the corner into a dingy alley (just around the corner from the Irish Rose Saloon). The small parking lot was full, the juke box was blaring and bodies moved behind the windows. In I walked to a full-blown everybody's already drunk party. Working girls with their taxi flag dark playing darts. Working guys seat-belted to their bar stools. The odd biker over there. Bottles held vertical, the better to drain you with my dear.

It is grungy with tacky red lights ringing the back of a bar most frat houses would be ashamed of. I saw no taps but that is because I could not really see the bar, there may have been one, but I guarantee you've had it before. PBR's rule here. This a bar. It ain't about beer. It is all about the lifestyle. Drunk at 7:30 Sunday morning and the Reverend is tending to your spiritual needs if it comes in 12 ounces or a shot glass. That is the lifestyle.

This is the only bar I have ever reviewed where I didn't have several beers. I confess, I didn't have any. I could not merge into the lane with these folks doing 70 with no safety margin. I walked around, took in the show, climbed past the stack of cardboard boxes propping the door open and left. A green bottle would be a way exotic beer here.

So I went back one night. It is a bar that is on the low edge of my kind of place. Women and guts with elaborately tattooed sleeves, lacey tops, and desperate lives. This is not where you go for beer; in an act of grand defiance I had a Heineken. It is where you go because the next stop is the graveyard. Or your hotel room. It is decadent, it is dirty, it is for hard core drinkers. Questors need to check their principles at the door. A Heinie was $3.50 in Waikiki...that absolves a multitude of sins. Can I hear an amen?


 

Irish Rose Saloon
478 Ena Road
Honolulu (Waikiki), HI   96815
(808) 947-3414

You walk up some hard steps divided by a hand rail into two lanes each big enough for one person. Midway is a landing, built in the days when architects knew no one should fall all the way down these stairs. The last time I entered a walk-up bar it was in an 8-letter city beginning with H on an island in the Pacific. It was not a pleasant experience. I was deja vu nervous. Not to worry, the Irish Rose Saloon has restored the karmac balance to the Pacific Isle 8-letter H cities universe.
No one goes to Honolulu to drink beer. It is not a beer city. But the Irish Rose has 12 taps with some local beers brewed by Pabst, a couple of the usual suspect macro brewers and Bass, Sierra Nevada, Guinness and like beers. It had Longborad and Primo on tap. A friendly tender said Maui Brewing Company was the best local beer. On the side of their can, if you are ever fortunate enough to hold one in your hand in Hawaii, will tell you why. The other side of the can will tell you if it is Bikini Blonde Lager (4.5), CoCoNut PorTeR (5.7), or Big Swell IPA (6.2).
It has been my experience that mediocre beer can taste damn good in a pleasant or exotic setting. I'd like to try the porter and IPA again at home to see if they were as good as I thought they were. I suspect not.
The IRS has a giant projection TV screen over a bandstand stage at the back end of a dance floor. The music gets going around 10 or so. There is a square bar with maybe a dozen seats and tables a chairs scattered.
The clientele has a small core of eclectic locals—men, women, black, white, Mexican, SoPac. It is mostly a vacation bar, which means people are out for a good time. There is a lot of separating and lifting in the dresses worn by the female clientele. It is not a place for a hermit to drink but it just may be the best beer bar in Honolulu. You have to adjust your expectations to the beer environment and Honolulu ain't about the beer.
One of the regulars was a from-the-back dynamite looking tall blonde. From the front she (?) is a trannie and a local. I left wondering who would have won an arm wrestling contest. She (?) used the ladies room.

 

Cheeseburger Island Style
3750 Wailea Alanui Drive
Wailea, Hawaii

Okay, now you know their raison d' etre. Cheeseburger on Alo Moana is a bar, not a great one, maybe not even a good one, but it is a bar and it does have three Kona drafts, a Widmer Hefe, and a passel of the usual suspects. There is a limited variety of bottles that pick up the Heinekens and such like, so the beer list is unspectacular but it is many times more extensive than the Mai Tai and the food is better than the Irish Rose (where you can choose between the Cheeto and Dorito platters) and the Hideway where you can end up eating your teeth if you are not prudent.

It is open and airy and the outdoor tables on a Waikiki night are quite pleasant. The wait staff works in grass skirts. Before you get excited, guys, wait there too because everyone is wearing shorts under them so the effect is more cheesy than effective. I kept pointing to the sign (left) and asking to be seated in this woman's section. She apparently was not working any of the nights I went there.
Nice burgers. The food is burgers (good) and onion rings chic and any burger can be upgraded to Kobe beef. There are a few more choices fried this or that, all serviceable. They do a nice breakfast too if you happen to drink that long. The décor is Hawaiian bar standard. Surf boards, wood, hints of Hawaiian clichés. It will do in a pinch but it won't do much.