The pub life in Kailua


POSTED: Friday, February 27, 2009

In my eight years covering Oahu's bar and club scene, I've never felt like I absolutely needed to hang out in Kailua.




Kailua Town Pub and Grill

        26 Hoolai St.

11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday






I grew up in Enchanted Lakes and have knocked a few back in watering holes like The Shack Kailua, Creekside, Bob's Sports Bar and even Porky's. I've watched live music at Boardriders and sat at the bar inside Pali Lanes.

Still, when friends from the Windward side asked for my professional opinion, more often than not I suggested finding a designated driver and making a trip into town. That's changed now that I've spent some time inside Kailua Town Pub and Grill.

I SAY INSIDE because from the exterior, Kailua Town Pub and Grill looks like more of the same gentrification that has turned the neighborhood of my youth into some sort of bastardized Southern California suburb.

Just a few storefronts away from a longtime Blockbuster Video location and sharing a parking lot with a dry cleaner , sporting goods shop and bottle-it-yourself winery, the bar's gold-on-black appearance is an almost over-the-top homage to its Irish theme. You almost expect to see a national chain's signage hanging over the door, but this place is thankfully owned and operated by a longtime Kailua resident.

Debbie Van Emmerick opened the bar in December after closing Tropics Kailua a few months earlier, opting for a drastic remodeling of the new space to transform it into separate bar and dining areas.

Some might compare the layout to Murphy's Bar and Grill, but Kailua Town takes it a step further by placing a door between the two sides. This allows the grill to maintain a much more reasonable noise level at night and on the weekends when the pub is more crowded. Wooden booths and tables also provide more seating for larger groups.

That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of room to operate inside the pub, which also features an exposed ceiling to make it feel even more spacious.

Nearly 20 bar stools surround the square-shaped bar here, with another dozen or so along one wall. Various World War II-themed photos accompany a framed copy of the Star-Bulletin's cover from Dec. 7, 1941, above the seats. Van Emmerick even managed to wedge a shuffleboard table into the room, with a couple of dining and bar tables near the door.

Another nice touch is a vintage-looking telephone booth, which sadly doesn't include a working pay phone inside. But it's still functional for those with cell phones, since the door is unlocked and you can jump inside to take or make a call.

A single dart machine and a digital jukebox are the remaining forms of entertainment here, with a number of flat-screen televisions positioned throughout the room. I'm a big fan of the four screens hanging over the bar itself, which make it extremely easy to relax with one of the bar's 30 different draft beers and watch a game.

BASED ON ITS interior appearance and beer list alone, Kailua Town Pub and Grill is already worth a visit for Oahu residents who want to try something new.

But what will turn customers into regulars is the extensive lunch and dinner menu and reasonable prices on both food and drinks. Even if you don't visit during happy hour, it's definitely possible to enjoy a nice meal with a couple of beers for less than $20.

The Irish theme obviously carries over to the food, which is dominated by fried items and a variety of seafood. Order the Fisherman's Platter ($10.95) for a heaping serving of calamari, shrimp and fish sticks atop a mound of french fries. The English Fish and Chips ($8.50) is another worthy pick, with sizable hunks of fish battered with Samuel Adams beer and deep fried.

Other pub classics, like the Ruben Sandwich ($8.50) and Hot Pastrami Sandwich ($8.50) accompany a New York Steak Dinner ($14.95) and Bacon Cheddar Chicken Sandwich ($7.95) on the menu. Buffalo Chicken Wings ($7.50), Nachos ($5.95), Potato Skins ($5.95) and other holdovers from Tropics Kailua's pupu menu remain as well for those craving an affordable bite to eat.

If you only order one thing, however, make it Kailua Town Pub and Grill's Gourmet Pub Burger ($5.95) or a freshly baked pizza ($6.95).

Even though I ordered my burger in the midst of a busy Saturday night crowd, the kitchen delivered it perfectly cooked (medium rare, no less!) with a toasted bun and cheddar cheese oozing out the sides. At just 50 cents per extra topping, I opted to add some bacon as well—and was glad I did!

The pizzas here aren't personal pan-sized, either. Anchovies, Italian sausage, Linguisa sausage, mushrooms, olives, pepperoni, ham, chicken and jalepenos are all available as toppings for an additional $.50 here as well, making a three-topping feast for two people much more affordable than what you could get at Pizza Hut or Papa John's.

AFTER MULTIPLE VISITS over the last few weeks, I'm not entirely sure this bar ranks among Oahu's elite just yet.

Despite low prices and a refined appearance that was desperately needed in the neighborhood, it's the attitude of employees that could deter some customers from a return visit. Service here was hit or miss, depending on both the time of day and day of the week.

Cocktail servers are employed on the weekends in the pub, which makes it a little easier to get a drink when the bar stools are packed with a mix of military and local 20-somethings, who want the feel of Chinatown without having to traverse the Koolau Mountains. But it was still a waiting game at the bar, despite three bartenders working hard—and me knowing one of them personally!

It's a bit more calm during the afternoon, when food and beer specials are offered between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., and the majority of customers are old men and construction workers. It's obvious a regular crowd is already well-entrenched here, which means newcomers get served only after everyone else has had a chance to order another drink.

Pau hana is probably the most fun time to visit, when it's not as crowded (or rowdy) as the weekends, and the mix of people in the pub is the most diverse. Customers range from 21 years old to retirement age, and it seems like they come and go often enough to keep a few bar stools open for those just joining the party.

If Van Emmerick's history at Tropics Kailua is any indication, expect Kailua Town Pub and Grill to be at its current location for quite a while. Its welcoming atmosphere and ono kine grinds have raised the bar on the Windward side and should only become more attractive to nocturnal types as the years go by.