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Changes improve 'old faithful' hangout


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POSTED: Friday, November 27, 2009

Sometimes the best bars to patronize are the ones that never change.

Whether it's been five days, five months or even five years, it can be comforting to walk into an establishment and be welcomed by the same faces in the same environment that you remember from your first visit.

That's what it's been like for me at Karaoke Hut, a dive bar of sorts that doubles as a karaoke hall for those who like to hear themselves sing. Customers can rent out private rooms in a variety of sizes (the rates are best in the afternoons and early evenings), but I've been a fan of the lounge here since moving home in 1999.

               

     

 

KARAOKE HUT

        909 Kapahulu Ave.
       

2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily

       

734-7771

       

 

       

Despite an unusually high amount of employee turnover in recent years, this bar has been a mainstay for me during much of the last 10 years. Karaoke Hut has always been the watering hole that I consider my “;local”;—the one bar that I could count on for a cheap drink and a comfortable bar stool, no matter what time of day or day of the week I visited.

Much of what I wrote about this place during my first review in May 2004 remains the same today.

Think you need to actually have some vocal talent in order to sing in front of a room of strangers? Then skip the lounge at Karaoke Hut, since the vibe here is more about having a good time and letting off some steam at the expense of other peoples' eardrums.

But if you're looking for a Cheers-like atmosphere that caters to everyone from college students and construction workers to strippers and service industry types on their days off, this bar is definitely worth a visit.

WHILE A LOT has remained unchanged at Karaoke Hut, there are two significant additions to the lounge area that should interest people who have never considered hanging out here.

The first is the new sushi bar in a back corner of the lounge where four dart machines used to sit. Management constructed an all-new space for the sushi chef, who joined the staff at Karaoke Hut after working in the same capacity at nearby Sushi King. Only six people can sit at the sushi bar itself, but anyone in the lounge can order off the menu, which is available daily (except Sundays) from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.

If you're a fan of Sushi King, then you'll love the offerings at Karaoke Hut. The spicy tuna roll ($4.50) is almost identical to Sushi King's, as are the negihama ($4) and tekka ($4.50) makimono rolls. Specialty rolls range in price from $5.50 to $9.50, with combination rolls like eel, crab and avocado ($6) and salmon, avocado and cream cheese ($5) also available.

Want something a little more fancy? Go for a sashimi platter ($16), grilled hamachi kama ($13.50) or some zesty poke ($11); oyster shooters ($6 for three) are another good choice when they're fresh. And you can never go wrong with some simple nigiri—hamachi ($5), maguro ($5) and sake ($5) are among my regular picks when I visit.

Besides the sushi, Karaoke Hut also reopened its kitchen and now offers a variety of hot food items in addition to raw fish. It's all standard bar fare—think french fries ($6), soybeans ($7) and fried chicken ($8)—although the bar's Korean ownership means you can also get a plate of kalbi ($12), meat jun ($10) or mandoo ($8).

The other big change is a recent remodeling job that changed the look of the game area in the lounge.

In order to create more room for customers, management knocked down a wall separating one of the private rooms from the lounge. The resulting space is deceptively hidden from view when you first walk in, but head all the way to the back of the lounge and you'll find a big, well-lit area in which to play pool and throw darts. Couches and tables line the walls, making it easy to kick back and relax while waiting your turn to play a game.

As Karaoke Hut nears its 20th anniversary next year, it continues to plug away as one of the “;old faithful”; spots in Kapahulu, a place where you're always welcome when nearby bars like Uncle Bo's, Zen Shu or Izakaya Nonbei are filled to capacity. Some might complain that it's too run-down or that some of the newer employees need lessons in tending bar and customer service, but they keep coming back anyway—day after day, week after week, year after year.

That should tell you something.