When Captain James Cook unloaded barrels of rum on the shores of Waimea Bay in the late 18th century, so began Hawaii’s alcohol history. From okolehao (distilled ti root) to commercial sugarcane spirits and public alehouses, booze paved the way for the islands’ transition into the Western world, and eventually to Blue Hawaiis, Mai Tais, imported brews, handcrafted cocktails, and the 15 places on our list of Honolulu’s most important bars. Drink ‘em all in...
The 15 Most Important Bars in Honolulu
If you’re looking for okolehao, this Chinatown bar serves up potent 18th century-style Honolulu-made moonshine with a modern twist. Made from fermented juice from the ti plant, okolehao was outlawed twice -- once in 1818 by King Kamehameha I and again, 100 years later during Prohibition. This Americana lounge serves up Island Distiller’s 100-proof version with lemongrass, hibiscus, and rose water in its powerful okolehao punch, perfect for kicking up your heels and dancing to whichever bluegrass or folk band is playing that night.
Though this Irish pub has been pouring drinks since 1987, the red brick building has functioned as a hotel and tavern since 1890 and rumor has it that King David Kalakaua, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain were regular patrons when the area was known as “Fid Street,” sailor slang for spirits. Don’t miss the mega St. Patrick’s Day block party, where the streets swell with green-wearing partygoers, and during the rest of the year, stop by for the shepherd’s pie, shuffleboard, or to watch a game, and raise your black and tan or shot of Jameson and cheers to the ghosts that inevitably haunt the walls.
Opened at the turn of the 20th century, this plantation-style hotel, often referred to as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” was the oldest hotel in Honolulu and the first to welcome visitors to the islands (the young Prince of Wales, Amelia Earhart, and Frank Sinatra were early guests). Besides holding the title of Waikiki’s first beachside bar, Moana Surfrider’s 111-year-old banyan tree was also one of the first to be named to Hawaii’s Exceptional Tree List, a program to protect rare and historic trees. Today, the 75ft-tall banyan’s arms provide nice shade, and even non-tourists and non-history buffs can appreciate cooling their skin under the tree’s canopy, while sipping tropical cocktails and overlooking the Pacific.
The dusty 11ft “Hubba Hubba Live Nude Show” neon sign still swings from the two-story building near Honolulu’s longest-running bar, remnants of when Chinatown was the heart of the island’s red-light district. With its woven lauhala walls and grassy umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, this watering hole’s Tiki-inspired look retains its old post-WWII charm when it was a respite for sailors and longshoremen, but these days, the atmosphere is more PG-13, and singles are exchanged for karaoke songs, ice-cold 40s, and cheap beer instead of... well, you know.
Surviving two tsunami scares and location changes, this self-proclaimed museum of Hawaiiana preserved its collection of carved Tikis and koa wood tables from its inception nearly six decades ago. Although Tiki culture originated in Hollywood through Don the Beachcomber’s romanticized interpretation of Polynesia, the rattan chairs, carved wooden masks, and umbrella drinks became synonymous with Hawaii’s post-WWII, pre-statehood aesthetic, which you can best enjoy while overlooking Keehi Lagoon and sipping a Zombie or Mai Tai. Party like it’s 1957.
It was here in the mid-20th century (when the resort was called Kaiser Hawaiian Village), where legendary bartender Harry Yee, invented the Blue Hawaii cocktail, made from Curacao liquor, rum, and pineapple juice, and accessorized with a mini paper parasol. Located in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the breezy beachfront bar may be touristy, but it offers live nightly music and free sunset views. On Tuesdays and Fridays, stick around for the fireworks show and sip one of the tropical cocktail king’s classic concoctions. The tiny cocktail umbrella is only tacky if you let it be.
Before Anthony Bourdain’s cameras stopped by in 2009, and before Chef Colin Nishida’s face was on Rogue’s Side Street Inn Ale, this watering hole was just a local bar with sweet local food. Its four big-screen TVs play national sporting events and University of Hawaii games. Open late, this spot is often frequented by industry chefs, servers, and bartenders who recount their nights over family-style plates of fried rice and sizzling boneless kalbi, washed down with beer and cocktails.
A few miles away from Waikiki, First Friday Art Walk began Chinatown’s resurrection from gritty and seedy to artistic, urban, and... sort of seedy, just at the turn of the 21st century. Formerly a jazz bar and a strip club, this Hotel Street bar was one of the first new contemporary lounges to help reinvent the area, offering over 200 brews from 20 different countries in addition to mixed cocktails and flatbread pizzas. With an outdoor patio, VIP area, bar seating, and lounge, its vibe is almost as diverse as its drink menu. Stop by for the six-hour-long pau hana or stay late for art events, live music, and dancing. And if you’re lucky, find out why this cocktail lounge is often called a sweet place to meet singles.
With 24 beers on draft and 200-plus bottles, this alehouse is all about quantity and quality. The first gastropub in Honolulu to focus on importing small, independent, and traditional brews, this alehouse offers drafts and bottles with names like Evil Twin Even More Jesus and Clown Shoes Extremely Angry Beast. The daily draft offerings are handwritten on a giant blackboard, and once a keg is emptied, out comes the chalk, because it’s time to tap a new brand’s keg. The book-length beer menu may be intimidating, but the full staff of Cicerone-certified bartenders and servers will help you find one (or two, or three) that your taste buds will appreciate.
The first pub in Honolulu to have a Kold-Draft machine, your cocktails stay cool with a giant square cube instead of a melting into a watered-down reinterpretation. Bar manager Dave Newman keeps things interesting by adding cocktails on tap, carbonating Mai Tais, or preparing cocktails sous-vide (sealing and slow-cooking the mixture with barrel chips). Besides its original cocktail menu, this pub offers 21 beers on tap, craft bottles, and suggests food and beer pairings such as Scotch eggs with a saison. The pub’s dim lighting, dark wooden furniture, and progressive menu almost give the illusion of being transported out of the islands.
Once a ghost town on weekends, Kakaako was a place where you drove through to get to your intended location. But in the last few years, the small oceanfront is evolving into a walkable, eco-friendly social center of urban island culture, filled with giant wall murals, weekend block parties, and free Wi-Fi for all nine city blocks. So of course the first upscale cocktail bar to bridge the gap between Ala Moana and downtown is a trendy industrial space, featuring farm-to-bar drinks made with fresh ingredients and homemade syrups. Co-owner and mixologist Christian Self shakes up crafted cocktails with names like Ciderhouse Rules and Italian Geisha. Sure, it's a hipster bar, but relax in one of the repurposed booths, chat with friends under the glow of dangling, exposed light bulbs, and sip a Moscow Mule in a copper cup, and just try not to like it.
As one of the few non-sushi cocktail and sake bars in Honolulu, this izakaya serves Japanese-influenced small plates to accompany its offerings of Japanese rice wine. Former owners of Genius Lounge in Waikiki took much of their original menu to their new venture, including the sake and shochu selections. The drink menu offers generous pours of the house sake, sake cocktails, sake-tinis, sake shots, and sake flights. Whether you love sake or have never tried it before, you’re likely to find one that’s not too strong, not too sweet, but just right.
Tucked away on the bottom level of Market City Shopping Center, this low-key, tapas-style bar has topped local Best Wine Bar lists since its inception. Its red and white offerings can be ordered by the glass or in 2oz tastes and can be paired with bites ranging from foie gras crostini to wild mushroom pizza. With two happy hours, you can also sample fine wines at a discount while listening to live music in the cozy, dim-lit tavern.
What began as a homebrewing hobby for owner Geoff Seideman resulted in the island’s only brewpub (until recently), meaning this craft brewery was the only bar to serve beers made on-site in Honolulu. An old warehouse was transformed into a brewery and neighborhood pub, along with the island’s first outdoor beer garden. With only its local brews on tap, it offers a rotating list of saisons, IPAs, stouts, brown ales, and limited releases made just behind the bar. Grab a fresh beer (or a flight of six) and snag a picnic table or barrel stool, or maybe even fill up a growler to go. Just no taste-testing on the walk home.
Contrary to what the name may sound like, this is not a museum about beer -- it’s a museum with beer. Formerly a horse barn, the now German-style beer hall is adorned with the Tomlinson family’s collection of World War II memorabilia, complete with model bomber planes, black-and-white wartime photographs, and a real 1945 Army Jeep, where you can strap on a helmet, jump in, and take selfies. A night at The Brewseum also means sipping on its house beers, Pilot Pale Ale and Remember Pearl Harbor Dark Lager (soon to be brewed on-site), and the swift realization that history can actually be fun.
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1. Downbeat Diner & Lounge42 N Hotel St, Honolulu
2. Murphy's Bar & Grill2 Merchant St, Honolulu
3. The Beach Bar2365 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
4. Smitty's Smiths Union Bar19 N Hotel St, Honolulu
5. La Mariana Sailing Club50 Sand Island Access Rd, Honolulu
6. Tropics Bar and Grill2005 Kalia Rd, Honolulu
7. Side Street Inn1225 Hopaka St, Honolulu
8. Bar 3535 N Hotel St, Honolulu
9. REAL a gastropub1020 Auahi St, Honolulu
10. Pint + Jigger1936 S King St, Honolulu
11. Bevy661 Auahi St, Honolulu
12. Chez Kenzo Bar & Grill1451 S King St, Honolulu
13. Formaggio Wine Bar2919 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu
14. Honolulu Beerworks328 Cooke St, Honolulu
15. The Brewseum901 Waimanu St, Honolulu
You’re downtown, and you’re craving a nice, meaty burger… but your friend is a vegan. Fortunately, Downbeat Diner & Lounge has you covered. Virtually everything on this menu can be made vegan or vegetarian (even the Carnivore burger, whose name implies the antithesis of vegetarianism, can be prepared vegan). Throw in nightly live music from local acts and cocktails served in Mason jars (vegan root beer float, anyone?), and you’ve got an island paradise for hipsters from all walks of dietary life.
This Irish pub has had it's liquor license since1987, but the red brick building has functioned as a hotel and tavern since 1890. Their St. Patrick’s Day block party is nothing short of epic (the streets swell with green-wearing partygoers) but stop by any day during the rest of the year for their shepard’s pie, shuffleboard or to watch a game.
Located at one of the oldest hotels in Honolulu, the Beach Bar serves signature cocktails within steps of Waikiki Beach. In the past, the likes of Frank Sinatra were patrons of this popular outdoor space.
Smitty's holds the title of oldest bar in Honolulu, and it still carries some remnants of its history. Located in what used to be the island's red-light district, the bar now offers one dollar karaoke and plenty of beer in a classic dive bar style.
This tiki bar claims to be a museum as well as a place to get umbrella drinks. With an impressive collection of carved wooden masks and traditional decorations, this bar is immersed in Hawaiian culture and history and calls itself the only remaining original tiki bar in Honolulu.
Located in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, it was here that the famous Blue Hawaii cocktail was invented, with Curacao liquor, rum, pineapple juice, accessorized with mini paper parasol. While the breezy beachfront bar may be a bit touristy, they offer live nightly music and free sunset views.
Before Anthony Bourdain stopped by in 2009, before Chef Colin Nishida’s face was on Rogue’s Side Street Inn Ale, this was just a local bar with sweet local food -- and when you get down to it, it still is. Side Street Inn has some of the best fried rice in the 808, and lucky for you this is a family-style kind of place so you can order a huge platter of the stuff and no one will judge you for it.
Serving 200 different international beers alongside signature pizzas and snacks, this downtown bar offers something for everyone in their multi-purpose space. Everyone will be able to find a place, between the bar seating, lounge, outdoor patio, and a VIP section. They run a happy hour from 4pm until 10pm during the week, and host art events, beer tastings, and live music regularly.
Hawaii is not beer bar country (seriously, people consider the bars in Whole Foods beer bars). But that hasn’t stopped Real in Honolulu from digging in and doing it right. With 200+ bottles and a steady rotation of great beers heavy on the finest from Cali, Oregon, and Belgium, Real would be a contender even if it wasn’t in paradise. That’ll happen when you stock your staff with cicerones, then put them in one of the greatest places on earth with a stockpile of world-class beer.
This classic gastropub has 21 constantly rotating beer taps, innovative cocktails, and a menu of upscale comfort food that'll satisfy any palate. Located right in the heart of the McCully-Moiliili district, the pub prides itself on its locally-sourced ingredients and the amount of effort they put into the food—smoking their sliders, slicing their own bacon, and casing their own sausage, for a start. The spacious venue has plentiful seating, whether inside at the bar or a private table, or outside in their beer garden where picnic tables help you meet your neighbors.
Taking inspiration from its home in the Kakaako neighborhood, Bevy is an upscale cocktail bar with a trendy, industrial feel and a commitment to sustainability. Ingredients for their drinks and menu of small plates are all sourced from local farms, and the decor is exclusively made of reclaimed materials and eco-friendly furnishings. The cocktail list is extensive and playful, with homemade syrups and infusions sharing space with innovations like candied ginger foam and barrel-aged bitters. There's also a new cocktail created daily, so make sure to ask your bartender what's cooking!
This sake bar has generous pours of their house sake, sake cocktails, sake-tinis, sake shots and sake flights all on offer, in addition to Japanese-influenced small plates.
This casual tapas-style bar is tucked in the bottom level of the Market City Shopping Center and has been on top of best-wine-bar lists since it opened. Their wines can be ordered by the glass or in 2-oz tastes. Plus, there's small bites like foie gras crostini and wild mushroom pizza on offer.
What started as a hobby for owner Geoff Seideman grew into Honolulu's first brewpub. A renovated warehouse serves as the brewery and outside there's picnic tables and barrel stools serving as a beer garden.
Although the name may make this sound like a museum about beer, it's actually a museum with beer. This World War II memorabilia barn is complete with model bomber planes and a real 1945 Army Jeep. And also, beer.