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Trumping with cocktails


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POSTED: Friday, December 25, 2009

Whether you enjoy a perfectly shaken and strained martini, a nice glass of wine or even just a bottle of beer with a bucket of ice, it never hurts to have a couple of classy establishments in your back pocket to provide drinking options in a pinch.

This advice especially holds true during the holidays. Got family in town this weekend for Christmas? Need to impress your date on New Year's Eve? Looking for a nice pau hana spot for you and your co-workers before the end of the year?

They might not be your typical go-to bars, but everyone needs a few picks when first impressions are vital and drink specials aren't a concern. The new Wai'olu Lounge at the Trump International Hotel at Waikiki Beach Walk fits nicely into this category.

               

     

 

WAI'OLU LOUNGE

        223 Saratoga Road
       

Open 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily

       

www.hsblinks.com/1k6

       

 

       

YES, WE'RE TALKING about a lobby bar—the type of space that's usually an afterthought for both hotel management and the guests who stay there.

The Trump Waikiki, however, takes a slightly different approach. First, the hotel lobby isn't located on the ground floor of the property at the corner of Saratoga and Kalia roads. Guests must instead ride a dedicated elevator to the building's sixth floor; Wai'olu is located just past a small area that serves as the hotel's front desk.

Next, we're talking about a Trump-branded property, so expectations are a bit higher when it comes to the decor. Wai'olu is impressive in its simplicity, with a corridor-like space that offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Furnishings utilize a lot of wood, accented by splashes of color found in fresh flowers and plants on display.

More than a dozen seats line the bar, but the best drinking experience has to be in one of four small enclaves that are open to the elements. Couches make things comfortable for couples, and nearly every chair affords sweeping views of neighboring Fort DeRussy and the Hale Koa Hotel.

The lounge's sixth-floor location is also well-removed from street-level vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which makes kicking back with a cocktail even more relaxing when there isn't any of the hustle and bustle you might expect when in Waikiki. Wai'olu also provides spectacular sunset views from a vantage point never before seen in the neighborhood.

If you visit this place only once, go around sunset on a Friday. If you time it right, you can enjoy a cocktail as the sun disappears below the makai tree line, then catch the weekly fireworks display at the nearby Hilton Hawaiian Village before calling it a night. Bring a date and you'll score some major brownie points with this plan of attack.

Just don't expect to rage at Wai'olu, unless you've got a lot of cash to support your party habits. It's all about moderation at a spot where the signature cocktails sell for $14 each.

What do you get for that kind of money, you ask? Each of the five items “;from the liquid kitchen”; pays homage to a different Hawaiian island and its designated official flower. The Yellow Ilima (Oahu) is a good pick for those who enjoy a sugary drink that's not overly sweet; citrus-flavored vodka, limoncello and amaretto are balanced by a cinnamon-sugar rim and served in a martini glass.

For the more adventurous (or those who love tequila), give the Red Ohia (Big Island) a try. This cocktail is inspired by the volcano goddess Pele, with jalepeno-infused tequila mixed with fresh pineapple and topped with a red alae salt rim. I'm no tequila fan, but was still impressed by the complexity of flavors in this drink—and the burst of heat that sneaks up on you after each sip.

As would be expected, Wai'olu also offers its take on the traditional Mai Tai ($14). The signature drink uses 10 Cane Rum with orgeat syrup, fresh lime and mango puree—no prepared drink mixes or unnecessary fruit juices here—and a layer of pineapple-mango foam on top. In addition, more than a half-dozen wines and champagnes are served here, ranging in price from $13 to $63 per glass.

A variety of non-alcoholic teas and punch is also offered for $9 each; draft ($6) and bottled ($7) beers round out the drink selections. The prices at Wai'olu definitely take a “;tourist tax”; into account, so be aware.

While higher cocktail prices are expected, what surprised us was the lackluster food offerings. Wai'olu utilizes the same kitchen as In-Yo, a neighboring Japanese restaurant that was supposed to open to the public this week. (Another restaurant, BLT Steak, is already open for business on the ground floor and operates independently of the Trump Waikiki.)

This means that, like In-Yo, the food at Wai'olu takes a more Asian slant and offers a variety of sushi and seafood items. Basics like the Spicy Tuna Roll ($18) and Unagi Roll ($18) seem a bit overpriced; the Broiled Dynamite Roll ($20) we ordered was pretty tasty and enough for two to share, but I've paid at least $5 less for the same-quality dish at other bars in town. The Soft Shell Crab Roll ($26) was also disappointing, considering the price; we were served a glorified California makimono roll with bits of soft shell crab. I've enjoyed better versions of this dish at a number of other sushi bars—and paid $5 to $10 less, too.

So you've been warned. Unless you have the time and money to pay multiple visits and figure out what the best menu items are, save your money for cocktails at Wai'olu. Luckily, the million-dollar views and four-star customer service redeem this place when you consider the higher cost of drinking here.

Barfly appears every last Friday of the month in HILife. E-mail Jason Genegabus at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).