Jamm Aquino / firstname.lastname@example.org
Champions Sports Bar and Grill's Nolan Uehara, right, toasts with friends including DJs James Coles, left, Wu-Chang and Rick Rock, next to Uehara.
It’s game time for Champions Sports Bar
Keeaumoku street has long suffered an unfortunate stereotype among the alcohol-drinking public, thanks to the neighborhood's high concentration of hostess bars. Multiple strip clubs don't help to change locals' perceptions of the area, either.
But dig a little deeper, and you'll find Keeaumoku is also home to a number of mainstream watering holes. The latest addition is Champions Sports Bar and Grill, which opened earlier this month in the former Easy Music Center location on the corner of Young Street, one block makai of South Beretania.
Champions actually consists of two different concepts, depending on which side of the building you enter.
Choose the doorway on the left when you're outside, and Champions is a full-service Japanese restaurant. Those looking for a cocktail, however, will want to pick the mauka entrance.
There's a bit of deja vu when you first walk in, especially for musicians who used to shop here. Other than a new wall cutting the building in half, most of the layout remains the same.
All the furniture appears to be new, with LCD televisions lining the walls and hanging over the bar itself. The best vantage point to watch a game has to be from one of the booths along the makai wall, where individual screens are mounted above each table. Don't like what you're watching? Ask nicely, and they just might let you change the station.
Along with about a dozen barstools, a mix of generic tables and more booths make up the rest of the seating. And even though the bar just opened on May 9, almost every seat was taken by 9:30 p.m. last Friday.
For a true sports bar experience, the best time to visit Champions is - obviously - when there's a game on. These days, that means Major League Baseball, the NBA playoffs and the NHL's Stanley Cup.
With its central location and more than a dozen parking stalls out front, this place is perfect for an extended "business lunch" or as a hiding spot when your significant other is shopping at nearby Ala Moana Center. Nearly two dozen customers filled the bar and surrounding tables when I stopped in recently to watch a mid-afternoon NBA playoff game.
The bar even flirts with nightclub status when marketing director Rick Rock pulls a few of his tried-and-true promotional tricks. "Flashback Fridays" features a mix of '80s and '90s hits from 5 p.m. to closing, with DJ Wu-Chang arriving about 9 p.m. to replace the mix CDs played earlier.
Also in the works is a "Ladies Night" promotion, tentatively set for Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m. at the bar (Rock hopes to have the party up and running in the next few weeks). The plan is to offer half-priced pupus and $3 drinks with a soundtrack that caters to a more mature, professional crowd.
After visiting multiple times since Champions' grand opening, I'm a little torn when it comes to recommending this place to others.
On one hand, this bar is worth a try if you're looking for a clean establishment with an extensive pupu menu and servers who are easy on the eyes. But the vibe might be a little too sanitized for those who prefer a more divelike setting (and more beer company logo items on the walls) when knocking a few back.
Another concern is that too many club nights might dissuade some customers from becoming regulars.
Turntables and mood lighting remind me more of a nightclub than sports bar, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if that really is the clientele you're trying to attract.
But it also begs the question: Why bother calling it a sports bar in the first place, then?
It's too bad Champions didn't open in a neighborhood with less competition. While they could have easily become top dog in neighborhoods like Kaimuki, Mililani or Kaneohe, the bar's location on crowded Keeaumoku makes it too easy for picky customers to go elsewhere if they're not satisfied.
What did you drink?
Jamm Aquino / email@example.com
Bartender Moses Gomez serves three martinis in a single pour. Part bar, part club, Champions opened May 9.
The Barfly drank $3 bottles of Bud Light during multiple visits to Champions. Kudos to the owners for keeping prices low and not jacking them up as the night goes on.
Get things to do?
Four dart machines and a pool table are located in a separate area on the mauka side of the building. While the layout here is geared more toward hanging out at a table with friends, the game area is perfect for breaking the ice with that hottie you just met (or to just expand your social circle).
What about the grinds?
The quality is there, but almost everything on the menu at Champions is painfully overpriced. We paid $14 for a Fried Philly Roll that wasn't (the deep fryer didn't work that night) and contained just six pieces that looked like they came from Kozo Sushi. The Toro Roll ($6.50) was just as disappointing, and who in their right mind would pay $19 for a sizzling steak platter or an order of kalbi ribs? Unless you've got the cash to handle those kinds of prices, plan on eating someplace else first.
And the service?
As is normally the case at new establishments, service is hit or miss depending on who is working. Our first visit ended uncomfortably when we got charged twice for two rounds of drinks, adding nearly $20 to our bill. When asked for an itemized receipt, our server said she couldn't provide one while the bartender added that we could "dispute the charge" with our credit card company if we had a problem. Not the best first impression, but still easy to deal with - we just paid cash for each round of drinks on subsequent visits to keep things drama-free.
Champions Sports Bar and Grill|
Location: 1108 Keeaumoku St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Barfly appears every last Friday of the month in HiLife. Reach Jason Genegabus
with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.