All tourists, all the time


POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

Last month in this column, I explored the new-and-improved Tsunami on South King Street. It was a great example of how a group of local entrepreneurs were able to draw upon their collective experience to formulate and execute a plan that transformed an empty space into a classy drinking establishment for Honolulu's young professionals.





        Hilton Hawaiian Village

» Hours: 7 to 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily


» Info: 949-4321 or www.hsblinks.com/k1




Now, it's the big boys' turn. Following a soft opening in May and a lavish grand-opening party in June, Tropics Bar and Grill has settled into a groove of sorts on the beachfront at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Unfortunately, that groove is all about the tourist dining experience—little thought has been given to those who want to kick back with a cocktail that's got an umbrella in it. Which is fine if you're looking for a place to eat; not so much if you're drinking your dinner.

AFTER SPENDING eight months and $11 million renovating the former Tropics Showroom and Tropics Cafe, the all-new Tropics Bar and Grill is impressive in terms of its decor and the quality of materials used.

Despite being hidden away near the hotel's Alii Tower, most locals won't have trouble finding their way to Tropics. An open-air waiting area greets customers, many of whom will be forced to cool their heels for a bit, since everybody seems to want to dine at the tables outside.

That's too bad, because the “;retro Polynesia”; vibe incorporated into the dining room is worth paying attention to. Ceramic tiles, onyx sconces that serve as mood lighting and elaborate ceiling light fixtures all show how much effort was put into the remodel.

At the bar itself, “;green bamboo”; glass tiles line the bar top, which surrounds a centralized back bar that runs parallel to the nearby shoreline. Barstools are much more comfortable than other watering holes in Waikiki, with curved backs and plenty of space to stretch out and relax with a drink.

But while the bar looks pretty, it's not very functional for anyone but the bartenders who work behind it. Take a seat facing the ocean, and you'll struggle to see over the back bar and all the bottles of liquor stored there. Face the kitchen, and you'll find it gets pretty annoying to keep twisting around in your seat every time you want to look at the water.

Watching the weekly fireworks display the Hilton sponsors is another exercise in frustration. Unless you're lucky enough to be seated at one of the tables outside, you'll be forced to abandon your seat—and that's pretty much anyone seated at the bar inside.

THE FRUSTRATION continues when you get to the menu at Tropics, which is described as “;authentic beach cuisine.”; For local residents it just means more of the same, overpriced items found at other establishments in Waikiki.

If you're jonesing for some overly sweet Glazed Chicken Wings ($13) or the ubiquitous Coconut Crusted Shrimp ($14), you won't be disappointed here. Flatbreads—also known as pizza—feature quality ingredients like Alii Mushrooms and Hamakua Goat Cheese ($14) and Rock Shrimp with Mojo Verde ($16). A standard grilled fish sandwich ($16) and hamburger ($15) are also on the menu.

Want something a little more hearty? Be prepared to spend some money, as the dreaded “;tourist tax”; is in full effect, despite press materials that boasted prices had dropped from previous levels.

Entrees at Tropics will set you back anywhere from $26 to $36 during dinner; at lunch, local favorites like loco moco ($15) and saimin ($16) aren't much cheaper. The Furikake and Beer-Battered Fish and Chips ($16) was my favorite overall, but I couldn't help but feel taken advantage of while eating it—the serving size justifies a price closer to $10, in my opinion.

You won't do much better with cocktail prices, either. Draught beers like Bud Light, Kona Brewing Company's Big Wave Golden Ale, Primo and Blue Moon will all set you back $8.25 per glass. Order a premium Mai Tai '54 and you'll spend $12; other fruity favorites like the Category 5 Hurricane, Lava Flow or Blue Hawaii will set you back $10. And no, none of the cocktails are served with umbrellas!

DESPITE THE high prices and challenges that face customers looking for a quality cocktail-drinking environment, what's most troubling about Tropics is the attitude of some employees behind the bar. The screensaver on computer terminals contains the phrase, “;Practice Aloha,”; but a few of the bartenders could use a refresher course on customer service.

On multiple visits to the bar at Tropics, I noticed a lack of compassion for customers who had no reason to be aware of Honolulu's liquor laws.

I know you aren't supposed to stack drinks, but why hassle the tourist who is trying to order for himself and his wife while she visits the restroom? And why behave like it's ruining your entire evening when a customer asks about the ingredients in a mai tai?

Locals should also take note of the Hilton Hawaiian Village's offer of free, validated parking and a 15 percent kamaaina discount when visiting Tropics. Both make paying a visit to Waikiki a little easier on the pocketbook.

I was never informed of the deals when I visited, however—you must remember to ask for them, or else you're out of luck.


”;Barfly”; appears every last Friday of the month in HiLife. E-mail Jason Genegabus with suggestions of bars to visit.