Waikiki Beach Walk, Locals Bars, Aloha Towers & Restaurant Bars
As every good tourist knows, Waikiki is the centerpiece of activity on Honolulu. It has all the tacky tourist shops, overpriced stores and enough high-rise hotels (all seemingly called the “Outrigger”) to provide lodging for the millions who come here seeking sunshine and tiki torches.
It’s also quite easy to find a cocktail here. But it’s hardly the only place in town that provides fun, lively environment. We, of course, have them all. This section focuses on the pubs and bars. For dance spots and upscale clubs, click on the Clubs link at the bottom of this page. Here’s a breakdown of the different drinking areas of Honolulu
• Waikiki Beach/Beach Walk– Tourists and tropical drinks
• Aloha Towers – A mini-hotbed of bars
• Locals’ Pubs – Places few tourists ever see
• Restaurant/bars – Eat, rink and be merry
There’s fun spots throughout Waikiki; keep reading for the flip cup place.
Also make note that on the first Friday of each month, Honolulu hosts a downtown block party that is the toast of the town. Learn more about First Friday here.
Waikiki Beach And The Waikiki Beach Walk Bars
This is the centerpiece of Honolulu’s bar activity.
It’s an interesting combination, offering the friendliness and comfort of a casual dive bar in a clean, modern environment.
On the one side, it’s the stereotypical Hawaiian lounge with palm fronds over the bar, rum drinks served with umbrellas. staff outfitted in Aloha attire, an ocean-air patio (lanai) right on Waikiki Beach with a view of Diamond Head and tiki torches burning at night and
This gives it all the makings of a geeky tourist trap but pleasantly it isn’t. Duke’s doesn’t gouge customers with insane prices, either.
The “passion-style” rum drinks hover around a very reasonable $6.50-8. These prices, plus an assortment of tasty pupus, can keep one happily at Duke’s for hours.
Duke’s attracts its share of locals as well as tourists. It’s best in the late afternoons as people come in casually off the beach. Sundays, it’s a prime party destination. There’s a band in the afternoon and the outdoor patio is packed. As is the case in Hawaii, it’s not an insane scene – nobody is standing on tables twirling their tops, for example – but it’s definitely energetic.
The Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which serves the best Mai Tais on the island and, in fact, quite probably the entire South Pacific. It’s been remodeled and veterans to the place must ask for the “Old School” Mai Tai. Or, as it’s listed on the menu, the “scratchier.” There’s also a full menu with other drinks in the $10 range.
Both Duke’s and the Mai Tai Bar are within easy reach of the beach’s booze cruises. For $30, you get a catamaran with all the rum, beer, mai tais and whatever else might be on board one can consume in 90 minutes.
The yellow boat in front of Duke’s and the catamaran that launches from the Shorebird are the best ones. Sunset cruises are the most popular.
After the sunset booze cruise and the obligatory walk-through at Duke’s, Honolulu’s nights shine under the maluna.
How about a bar at the beach with 101 rums!? It’s called RumFire just down the beach at the Sheraton. It has fire pits outside in a casual lounge area and outstanding drinks – made with your choice of some 100 rums from around the world. Charlie is our guy. RumFire also has PubClub.com’s #1 Happy Hour in Waikiki Beach.
A few blocks toward Diamond Head and across the street sits LuLu’s Waikiki Surf Club and the Tiki Bar, second-story hangouts with elevated, open-air views of the beach.
LuLu’s is like a Mexican Spring Break bar– Hawaiian style. And that is to say it’s always ready to happen. It has few locals but many young foreign tourists who seem to seek it out as if it were a hostel with cocktails.
It must be because they can lean against the railing against the huge open-air windows and soak up the sea breeze along with drinks and conversation. Or maybe its that oversized flip-flop on the wall. There is a $5 cover on weekends. The food is fine, as well, so it’s great for dinner and post-dinner drinks. Or breakfast, for which is it known around the island.
The Tiki Bar doesn’t look like a tiki bar because it’s essentially a concrete balcony with a bar (spot it from the street by the huge stainless-still tiki torches along the railing). But it does have that Hawaiian-style hang-loose atmosphere.
Jimmy Buffett has opened up Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber in the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber. It’s a restaurant by day and live music venue by night. Frankly, it’s better for lunch and dinner and does not attract much of a crowd at night. One reason is the too-high prices for the average party drinker; there’s much cheaper places to party in Waikiki. Too bad, because it’s a nice bar.
The Waikiki Beach Walk on Lewers has several spots, including Senior Frogs. Yes, it’s a bit odd to have a joint famous in many Mexican party towns in the heart of Waikiki, but there you have it. Senior Frogs is a pretty large place with a big dance floor, and it’s more of a casual club than a tequila-slamming cantina. At least by Mexican standards. Level 4 is a nightclub on the fourth level.
Further up on Lewer’s is The Yard House, which anyone from the mainland will recognize as a nice sports bar with good food and plenty of draught selections. This gets a few locals, but the main crowd are the tourists from the mainland who see a familiar name and go in there for sports, drinks and food in a familiar and comfortable setting.
Directly across from the Yard House is one of PubClub’s favorite nice but kicked back hangouts. Giovanni Pastrami. Yes, it sounds like a restaurant but at night it’s cool hangout for some locals. It’s far from slammed, so it’s neat to go in, have a few drinks and bond with the bartender and people seated around the bar. Sometimes, these encounters can prove to be more fun than being in a wild nightclub. The food is really good and on fall Sundays the tables are full with people watching NFL games.
Next to Giovanni, some people just flip out at at Coconut Willy’s. That’s because they have taken up the middle “island” table to play flip cup. About a dozen regulars line up the beers and go through them at a frenzied pace.
It’s fun to watch for anyone, but with either a live band or DJ and slammed dance floor on weekends, there’s more reasons to flip out about this place. It does have poor ventilation, so expect to get sweaty, especially if you’re dancing.
This place is a real find, a pub/club/live music venue with no velvet ropes, no cover and no problems.
Some Irish lads and lasses may be tempted to down a couple of pints at Kelley O’Neills (a couple of doors down Lewers) and certainly the live band is a draw. But for the most part, PubClub finds the crowd, well, mostly uninviting. Let’s just say it’s not good for mingling.
Away from Waikiki in the Ala Moana Shopping Center is the Mai Tai Bar. Well, not THE Mai Tai bar as at the Royal Hawaiian, but an open-air version that’s a pretty happy Happy Hour spot for locals. Occassionally, there’s a battle of the bands and it’s packed.
Below it is Pearl, a lounge-style bar that’s a real gem on Tuesdays when it has Ladies Night. This is a little more dress-up of a place, which means slacks and shoes for dudes.
Locals’ Bars & Pubs
Dollar beers!? In the heart of Honolulu?
Well, almost! In the nautical-feeling Harbor Pub, located at the edge of the marina where Gilligan, the Skipper, Maryann (ahh, Maryann) and the other castaways set out to sail on their infamous “three-hour cruise,” draft beers are $1.25 from 4-7 weekdays.
An old, wooden bar with more character than the SS Minnow, it’s a just-off-the-boat kind of place, which is precisely what people do after a day of sailing or cruising around the local waters.
After the annual summer regatta in August this place is packed! In addition to the beer, which is still cheap even when it’s not a buck twenty-five, it is known to serve the best pizza in town on – get this – linen tablecloth tables. Mixed drinks are cheap and strong pours.
The Harbor Pub is directly below the Chart House at Ala Wai Marina, which features Honolulu’s best food bargain. The bar area of the Chart House has an incredible Happy Hour from 5-7 featuring huge appetizers for $5-6, pints of local lager for $3 and a sunset view over the harbor. A perfect Friday routine is to have a couple of drinks at The Harbor Pub then go upstairs for dinner and sunset at the Chart House.
There are no Sunday bikini contests anymore – and it’s hardly the rocking scene of those days – but the huge open windows looking out to Waikiki Beach (closer to the Hilton than the Royal Hawaiian) still make The Shorebird Beach Bar a local’s favorite spot for drinks with a view.
The menu includes cook-your-own steaks but we prefer to sit at the bar and soak in the breeze after sunset. When hunger hits, the pork sandwich is the call and be sure and get it with the potato salad, good enough to impress even a Southerner.
It’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, but the Fisherman’s Wharf (on Nimitz Blvd., on the Ewa side of Aloha Towers) is a longtime locals’ spot. It’s home to local actors, big-time celebrities when they are in town and “average” people just out for a few drinks in a very Hawaiian setting.
Murphy’s, located in the cracks of downtown (a block from Aloha Tower) is a good place for Happy Hour and THE place to be on St. Patrick’s Day. The Hawaiians do it right for the Irish, a full block party – three blocks to be exact– two Irish pubs (Murphy’s & O’Tooles and several drink stands along the street), lots of Irish beer and local bands. After the party closes, it’s over the Aloha Tower to Gordon Biersch or Don Ho’s. One would think it’s a misplaced Ireland by the amount of people that turn out for this event!
So much for Magoo’s with it’s cheap beer, but it’s replacement is still popular among UH students. That’s because The Varsity (NOT to be confused with the legendary Varsity by Georgia Tech in Atlanta) is close to the University of Hawaii dormitories. The $5 pitchers are now $14, though some pints are as low as $2.50 and there are 30 choices. Mixed drinks can be as low as $1 on some nights. Some say it’s too “clean” for it’s own good. But location location, location.
There’s a movement among some Honolulu restaurants to transform themselves into happening bars after the kitchen slows down. Few, if any, tourists ever visit these places, so these are good spots to see locals in action.
Hang loose at the aforementioned Giovanni Pastrami, with its comfortable bar attitude that makes easy to wander into but hard to leave. Certainly for sports it’s a good place to be, with its large plasma TVs. It has a daily Happy Hour from 3-7 that includes free pizza on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It also serves a killer breakfast all day and night. Tell Bill, the GM, or the waitress Amber, that PubClub sent you.
Thursdays at Sansei in the Marriott, the meal attraction is the sushi (which is half-price every night after 10), but more people come for the cool crowd and deejay.
In East Honolulu, Uncle Bo’s serves great pupus for $5-8 and quickly built a reputation as one of this city’s finest low-key restaurants. But it’s also a neighborhood bar, kind of a dive that’s hardly a dive with its cool decor. In fact, you expect it to be a dive, but are treated to something that’s more like a relaxed lounge.
Located “ewa” of Waikiki (toward the Ewa Plantation, or the opposite direction of Diamond Head) is a shopping/entertainment area known as the Aloha Tower. It’s easy to spot because of its large clock tower. It sits right on a marina and is a favorite hangout of locals who want a waterside cluster of bars without having to fight the traffic and parking of Waikiki.
One of the first stops is Gordon Biersch. For preparty drinks, dinner or both, it has a large outdoor patio, microbrewed beer and tasty food. Weekends can be especially crowded, which can make getting a table after about 8 a challenge. Gordon Biersch is also known locally for its terrific theme parties: Mardi Gras, Cinco De Mayo, etc.
After warming up at GBs, many people walk the few steps over to Don Ho’s. Yes, Tiny Bubbles Himself. Yet this is not the geeky tourist attraction that was the pun of Johnny Carson jokes, but instead a clean, quaint bar that is a favorite hangout for locals. A main attraction is the great local bands. It has a nice sunset over the marina and, yes, Don Ho on the video screens.