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Barfly

Jason Genegabus

Friday, July 30, 2004


Mellowing for 60 years



THE WILLOWS CAFE
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Location: 901 Hausten St.
Phone: 952-9200

fly


SIXTY YEARS after first opening its doors to the public, island residents are still able to relax among the lush scenery at the Willows in Moiliili.

Built on land formerly owned by descendants of King Kamehameha, the restaurant was a result of economic difficulties suffered by the family of Emma "Ma" McGuire Hausten during World War II. After first allowing private parties to be held on the grounds, the decision was made in 1944 to begin offering food and drinks to the general public.

For most of the '40s and '50s, Willows gained recognition as a destination for live music, thanks to the efforts of Emma's daughter, Kathleen Perry, and her husband, Al (who had also served as musical director for the radio show "Hawaii Calls"), along with Emma's sons Allan and Walter McGuire and other relatives.

And although the restaurant was forced to close its doors for six years in the '90s, it reopened in 1999 and has since renewed its reputation as a place to visit when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of surrounding city life.

BUT WHY is the Barfly using space in the paper this week to tell you about an establishment widely recognized as a restaurant, and not a bar?

Thanks to Ola Souza, a former co-worker from my time in radio, I discovered that you don't need dinner reservations to enjoy the scenery here -- just grab a seat at The Willows Cafe!

Located just off to the left near the restaurant's front entrance, The Willows Cafe is a cozy space, with about a dozen tables spread throughout and another eight seats or so at the bar itself.

With cement floors and an angled ceiling, the open air lounge feels more like a lanai in someone's back yard. Visit during the evening, and it's like you've stumbled upon a graduation party or wedding reception.

Live entertainment starts every night at 6:30 p.m., and the lounge also offers a $10 all-you-can-eat pupu buffet, so it really does feel like you're at some sort of family celebration. When I visited earlier this week, the traditional Hawaiian stylings of Ale'a served as the night's soundtrack while I made my way toward the buffet line.

ALTHOUGH THE food offerings at the buffet aren't as substantial as Willows' dinner menu, it's really easy to get your money's worth off mochiko chicken, grilled fish, ahi poke, fried rice and mixed vegetables located in a room just behind the performance space in the lounge.

I was also impressed with the family atmosphere of this place. Sure, almost everyone in the room had a drink, but I saw a group of canoe club members sitting together, and there was also a stream of guest hula dancers who would come up and perform for one song before going back to their seats.

With last call at 9:30 p.m., The Willows Cafe is a great place to start the night while enjoying live entertainment in a lush, green setting.

Although its smaller than some of the more popular outdoor bars like Duke's, Tiki's or the Mai Tai Bar, the vibe here is also more mellow. If you want to impress someone special with a visit to a bar off the beaten path, drive down Hausten Street and relive a time when life in Honolulu moved at a slower, more genteel pace.


The Barfly is on vacation next week. His column returns on Aug. 13.


How much for a Bud Light?

The Barfly drank $8 pitchers of Bud Light during his visit to The Willows Cafe. A number of domestic and import drafts are available, with prices ranging from $8 to $11. I was most impressed by the availability of my favorite beer, Deschuttes Black Butte Porter, at the bar; a variety of wines by the glass and single malt scotches are also on the menu.

Get things to do?

A pair of television sets hang in the mauka corner of the lounge, but their positioning makes it hard for anyone other than those directly in front of them to see what's going on. The main reason to visit this place is the live entertainment that's offered from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every weeknight. Call the restaurant for the latest lineup, as the schedule changes pretty often.

What about the grinds?

You've only got one choice when it comes to visiting The Willows Cafe, and that's the $10 all-you-can-eat pupu buffet. However, with items like mochiko chicken, fried rice and ahi poke set out for customers, you're not stuck with the same old bar food here. Get there early enough, and it's entirely possible to get full off of the food that's offered.

And the help?

As always, sitting at the bar here will ensure the quickest service, but I was also impressed by the number of employees that were on duty for such a small room. Three servers and a bartender took care of the lounge on the night I visited, and I didn't see anyone waiting very long to get another drink or their plates cleared from trips to the buffet line.




See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Barfly appears every Friday in Star-Bulletin Weekend.
E-mail Jason Genegabus at jason@starbulletin.com with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.



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