Jason Genegabus

Friday, December 31, 2004

"I find myself wanting to go someplace that's clean and comfortable, with affordable drinks and pupus served by employees who care about giving the best service to both newcomer and regular alike."

The Barfly
On choosing the top bar for 2004

Scoping out the 5 best
watering holes of 2004

IT'S THE end of another year, which means it's time for me to unveil my picks for the top five bars of 2004.

After an excruciating process, the Barfly finally picked his top five bars of 2004. However, he doesn't want people to forget that there are other great bars out there, including the following, which received honorable mentions:

» Kona Brewing Co.

» The Shack Kailua

» BluWater Grill

» The Sand Bar

This is the third annual listing of the best watering holes to visit on Oahu, based on more than 40 bars reviewed in the Star-Bulletin during the last 12 months. Let's get to it ...

5. Morton's Steakhouse

1450 Ala Moana Blvd. (949-1300)

Two years have passed since Morton's started their "Mortini Nights" happy hour, and the restaurant's lounge is still packed almost every weeknight between 5 and 7 p.m.

Brave the crowds and you'll be rewarded with free tenderloin steak sandwiches and some of the best $3 martinis I've had anywhere on this rock. There aren't a lot of tables to sit at if the bar is full, and only one television hangs in the corner of the lounge, but you're guaranteed to see a variety of interesting people passing through to grab an Appletini or Cosmopolitan.

Just be careful to order those drinks before 7 p.m. Get there any later, and you'll pay upward of $8 for those same martinis.

Queen Bee takes the top spot on the Barfly's list of best bars this year.

4. Karaoke Hut

909 Kapahulu Ave. (734-7771)

You don't have to be a karaoke singer to enjoy a couple of drinks at this established Kapahulu watering hole.

While you can bring your own food and drinks into one of the private rooms available by the hour, customers are also welcome in the lounge area, which offers dart machines and pool tables in addition to karaoke.

Customers range in age from their 20s to 60s, so the music choices can vary drastically on any given night. You might hear a mix of current rock and pop tunes during one visit, traditional Hawaiian and Japanese-language songs the next. The diversity makes this place unique and certifies it as a true neighborhood watering hole.

Morton's Steakhouse bartender Erin Offenhauser pours a Cosmopolitan at the Ala Moana restaurant. The Barfly enjoyed the $3 martinis and free steak sandwiches when he dined there in March.

3. Laimu Grill and Bar

1020 Keeaumoku St. (596-8001)

I was pleasantly surprised by Laimu when I paid a visit in July. For an unassuming bar in a slightly questionable location, this place has everything you need for an evening of fun with friends.

Got a big group to entertain? Laimu is the spot, with more than a dozen booths in addition to nine seats at the bar. I also liked the addition of Megatouch machines to some of the booths on the Ewa side of the room, since there aren't a lot of other bars that offer the games at individual tables.

As I said in the original review of this joint, "Laimu feels like a pool hall that has a lounge attached to it." There's more than enough room to move around, and the food menu offers a variety of choices at affordable prices.

Now if the staff would treat everyone who walks in as regular customers instead of just strangers, I'd probably be back there drinking with my friends more often.

2. Aku Bone Lounge and Grill

1201 Kona St. (589-2020)

Two things separate a great bar from an average one: ambience and food. Unless you're drinking at one of Oahu's handful of microbreweries, the beer is always the same. It's just the prices that change.

But at a bar like Aku Bone, it's the pupu menu and laid-back backyard vibe that keeps customers coming back. Formerly known as the Kickstand Cafe, this place now rivals some of the more popular establishments in the area for the kamaaina crowd.

If you go, be sure to bring your appetite -- I had to return on a number of occasions just so I could try everything I wanted on the menu. The hibachi-grilled spencer steak ($10) is just as good as other places that charge more, and the steamed island moi ($18) brings people in from all over the island.

What kept this bar out of the top spot? Parking will always be an issue here, and I found that the quality of service can be hit or miss, depending on who is working that day. Regardless, Aku Bone is still definitely worth a visit.

Elias Parker sang to his fiancée, Rose Quilallan, in June at the Karaoke Hut on Kapahulu Avenue. The couple have now been married for about four months.

1. Queen Bee

747 Queen St. (591-0712)

It was pretty tough picking out my favorite bar of 2004. With so many worthy choices, it's hard to choose one type of establishment over another.

Just looking for a cheap beer? Want to be able to play pool or sing karaoke while you drink? Is the availability of eye candy a factor?

There are different bars all over Oahu that cater to each of these types of customers. But time and time again, I find myself wanting to go someplace that's clean and comfortable, with affordable drinks and pupus served by employees who care about giving the best service to both newcomer and regular alike.

And that's why Queen Bee is my No. 1 pick. After striking out as Club Yokohama and the short-lived Eagle Sports Bar, this place cleaned up its act and recruited some top talent to handle food duties.

Chef Ron Takara had my belly bursting when I stopped by in July, with items like furikake garlic chicken ($8), fried pork chops ($9) and a monster serving of nachos ($8). Add Sushi Supreme's Grant Kawasaki to the mix, and it's all over. His Spicy Tuna Dynamite Roll ($12) is reason enough to visit.

But what really set Queen Bee apart was the service. I've gone back numerous times in the last six months, and I've never once had to wait for a drink. Not only are the servers here easy on the eyes, but they are also some of the hardest-working bar folk in Honolulu.

Honorable mention Kona Brewing Co. offers a variety of beers at its Hawaii Kai location.

Honorable Mentions

» Kona Brewing Co., Koko Marina Shopping Center (394-5662): Two dozen taps serve up nine different brews while customers enjoy the waterfront view of Koko Marina. The food didn't impress me much when I reviewed the bar in February, but recent changes to the menu make this place worth another visit.

» The Shack Kailua, 1051 Keolu Drive (261-1191): A fixture in Kailua since 1989, the Original Shack Cheeseburger ($5.95) is a must-try, especially with a slab of Portuguese sausage added to it. Pitchers of beer are only $7 each, and eight televisions and a big screen provide customers with a good view of whatever game is on that day.

» BluWater Grill, 377 Keahole St. (395-6224): A cozy spot located in the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, the bar in BluWater grill doesn't afford the same views as the dining area of the restaurant. But a surprisingly deep cocktail menu and wide variety of bottled beers (you can get Red Stripe, Anchor Steam, Negra Modelo and even Chimay), plus a selection of affordable pupus, make this eastside newcomer a winner.

» The Sand Bar, Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel (922-4744): One of those bars that you almost don't want to tell your friends about -- open until 4 a.m. with pool tables, dart machines and a small pupu menu. Popular among local residents who work in Waikiki, this joint doesn't hit full stride until most other bars have already passed last call. You can even check your e-mail and surf the Internet here for free while you drink a beer!

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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