An alphabetical list of the best bars and nightclubs, plus a few gay-popular restaurants and cafés, in Hawaii's largest city, Honolulu, including the main hub of gay nightlife, the resort neighborhood of Waikiki. Most of these establishments are within a compact area near the beach in Waikiki, within an easy walk of many resorts and hotels. But you'll also find some restaurants around Honolulu, notably in Chinatown, that have a bit of a mixed gay/straight bar scene as well as some downtown Honolulu dance clubs that have occasional gay nights.
Honolulu Gay Bar Guide - continued on Page 2
Waikiki saw the opening of its first gay bar in many years when this cool, actually rather elegant, little second-floor bar opened just off Kuhio Avenue in 2011. Bacchus Waikiki
(408 Lewers St., at corner of Kuhio Ave., 808-926-4167) serves a nice mix of basic and top-shelf drinks, including a nice range of wines and several good beers. There's a compact main room, a smaller little side seating area that's a perfect spot to hold court with a few friends, and a narrow outside balcony and railing overlooking the street below. Other gay nightspots like Fusion, LoJax, and In Between are within a couple of blocks, and there's a nice Thai restaurant adjacent to Bacchus. The crowd at this bar opened partly by San Francisco's popular 440 Castro
is fairly mixed, drawing locals and tourists, a fair number of women as well as men, and an all-ages bunch. It's an especially nice place to have drinks early in the evening, perhaps before heading to dinner at one of the many dozens of restaurants nearby.
A popular mainstream but fairly mixed gay/straight nightclub in downtown Honolulu, Bar Seven
(1349 Kapiolani Blvd., 808-955-2640), which had been known previously as Venus, is one of the hotspots in the city for late-night dancing and revelry. On Saturday nights, it's more of a gay party, although you'll see some GLBT folks there at other times. Talented DJs play the usual club (house, hip-hop, party anthems) tunes, stripper and go-go boys occasionally strut their stuff, and drag shows are sometimes presented. The space is attractive and industrial-inspired with flat-screen TVs, and although the dance floor isn't huge, it's a good enough size to cut loose. Expect a fairly young crowd, and because it's a taxi ride away from Waikiki hotels, it tends to draw fewer tourists than Hula's, LoJax, and the rest.
In the heart of Honolulu's hip and increasingly trendy Chinatown neighborhood, Bar 35
(35 N. Hotel St., 808-537-3535) is a great all-around place to sip drinks inside at the long bar or out on the patio, and to nibble on exceptionally tasty pizza. Try the pie topped with Chinese sausage, sweet chili sauce, cilantro, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. The fries, available with 14 different dipping sauces, are pretty addictive as well. Bar 35's other big draw is the seriously vast beer list - more than 100 types, including Kona and Mehana varieties from Hawaii and plenty of other craft beers from Oregon, California, Colorado, as well as Belgium, Canada, China, the U.K. - you get the idea. Beer aficionados shouldn't miss this place. The crowd is friendly and urbane, mostly straight, but always pulling in a fair number of gay folks, especially as Chinatown's bar scene continues to appeal to an increasingly eclectic crowd.
Chef Chai Chaowasaree, a celebrated cookbook author and a personable, talented guy in the kitchen, is the creative force behind long-running Chai's Island Bistro
(1 Aloha Tower Dr., 808-585-0011), a charming and romantic place to feast on inventive Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. The restaurant has a large patio area as well as a warmly lighted indoor space, and it's at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, in downtown Honolulu not far from Chinatown. For a date night away from the crowds of Waikiki, this is an excellent, gay-welcoming option. Chai's serves both lunch and dinner, and prices are on the upscale side. One way to sample several different items at a relatively reasonable price is to opt for the special five-course dinner (offered only Sunday through Tuesday nights). Typical offerings from the frequently changing menu include sun-dried tomato and puna goat cheese wontons with mango-tomato salsa; pan-seared diver scallops with pumpkin-lobster beurre blanc, and wok-seared jumbo black tiger prawns with a chili-ginger glaze, Asian stir-fry veggies, and steamed rice. One last great things about Chai's: there's an impressive wine list.
Making your way along Oahu's Windward Coast, or up around the North Shore and continuing down toward Kaneohe? One delightful, gay-owned bar and restaurant that's perfect for post-beach cocktails, a light dinner, or even late-night cocktails and socializing is the Crouching Lion Inn
(51-666 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaaawa, 808-237-8981), which occupies a vaguely English cottage-inspired building set up slightly on a bluff, offering beautiful views across the road of the ocean. Crouching Lion is in the shadows of the dramatic Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park (formerly Kahana Valley State Park), with its soaring, lush mountains. Stopping here is as much about the setting as the food, which is fairly casual and of the straightforward pub fare variety: wings, burgers, fish and pork sandwiches, salads. Next to the dining room, there's a little bar that does draw its fair share of gay patrons (as well as local surfers), and next to that is another small bar with a pool table.
Another cool, artsy, inviting little hangout in funky Chinatown, Downbeat Diner & Lounge
(42 N. Hotel St., 808-533-2328) is a great spot for drinks or dinner. Like nearby Bar 35, it's a mostly hetero hangout, but it does have a relatively mixed following and is as fun for socializing and cocktails at the small bar in the back as for eating - just grab a seat in one of the comfy booths. Although it doesn't open until 11 am each day, Downbeat does serve some breakfast items as well as more typical, but inventively prepared, lunch and dinner fare throughout the day: burgers, buffalo chicken sandwiches, "volcano fries" with garlic and Cajun seasoning, plus loco moco, French toast, waffles, and more from the breakfast menu. Note also the extensive selection of quite luscious milkshakes. Adult beverages include a good selection of wine and beer plus some fun cocktails, including a bacon-maple old fashioned that's a hit with the brunch crowd.
(2260 Kuhio Ave., 808-924-2422) is one of the main gay bars in the Kuhio Avenue area, right around the corner from Tapa's and Bacchus, and directly beside the gay sports bar, LoJax. Climb the stairs to this compact but well-laid-out club that includes a central bar, a small but often packed dance floor, and a terrific balcony seating area from which you can watch the passersby below. Fusion has been here since 1990 and has a regular following among tourists and locals, men and women.
No gay bar in Honolulu is more celebrated and, arguably, beloved than Hula's Bar & Lei Stand
(134 Kapahulu Ave., 808-923-0669), which occupies a second-story semi-open-air perch inside the Waikiki Grand Hotel, a space it's been in for many years following a move from Kuhio Avenue, where Hula's thrived for more than two decades prior. The handsome club with a good-size dance area, a center bar, and lots of table and bench seating on the balcony starts to get busy in the afternoons, when sunbunnies from nearby Queen's Surf gay beach
drop by to mingle and refresh, and to take in the big views of Diamond Head
in the distance. While historic as gay bars go, Hula's has continued to reinvent itself over the years, adding fun theme nights, booking excellent live bands, and working hard to keep its very loyal and mixed crowd of gay men and lesbians of all ages happy. Most recently, the bar unveiled excellent new food service - the kitchen turns out delicious small-plates-oriented American fare with contemporary, global twists: quesadillas stuffed with five-space duck and topped with a raspberry chipotle sauce, for example. On weekends, brunch is served - everything from French toast to eggs Benedict. On Saturday afternoons, Hula's organizes gay catamaran cruises
- these are a very fun way to make new friends and enjoy a quite different view and perspective of the Waikiki skyline. Hula's is a short walk from a number of gay-friendly hotels.
It takes a little effort to find cozy In Between Bar
(2155 Lau'ula St., 808-926-7060), a friendly little neighborhood gay lounge right beneath Velvet Video adult boutique. It's tucked down a short lane just off of Lewer Street - once you turn the corner, just walk maybe 100 feet, and you'll see the entrance to the bar on your left. It's opposite the side entrance to the Aston Waikiki Joy Hotel (a great, gay-friendly lodging choice). In Between draws a predominantly male crowd and is a relaxed place with a conversation-friendly noise level and nice bartenders. It's a good spot to hit before continuing a couple of blocks north along Lewer to Bacchus.