Jason Genegabus

24-hour spot keeps
night owls plump
with burgers

Of all the different pupus I've tried during my visits to different bars on this rock, one of my all-time favorites remains the good old cheeseburger. There's something inherently satisfying to me about chowing down on a heart attack-inducing slab of beef while pounding back a couple of cold beers.

Cheeseburger Waikiki

Location: 1945 Kalakaua Ave. (Corner of Kalakaua and Ala Moana)

Hours: 24 hours daily

Call: 941-2400

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So when I visited Cheeseburger Waikiki recently, it was hard to see myself being disappointed. As long as the beer was cold and my burger wasn't overcooked, I knew I'd be happy.

LOCATED IN the former Sizzler location at the Ewa end of Kalakaua Avenue, Cheeseburger Waikiki is the fourth Hawaii restaurant opened by California residents Laren Gartner and Edna Bayliff.

After opening the original Cheeseburger in Paradise in 1989 on Maui, the pair followed with Cheeseburger in Paradise, Waikiki, in 1997. But a lawsuit filed that year by Jimmy Buffett, the popular musician who recorded the song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" more than a decade before the first Maui restaurant opened, forced Gartner and Bayliff to stop using the words "in Paradise" on future restaurants when a settlement was reached in 1999. So they opened Cheeseburger, Mai Tai's and Rock 'N Roll, Wailea, in 2001.

These days, locations in Las Vegas and Mexico share the Cheeseburger moniker with the second Waikiki restaurant. Buffett opened his own chain of Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants on the mainland in 2002, and retains all rights to the name except for the first two restaurants Gartner and Bayliff opened in Hawaii.

Restaurant Manager Blaise Pyun fixed up a Mai Tai at Cheeseburger Waikiki. The restaurant, open since December, now serves food and drinks 24 hours a day.

MAYBE IT'S the "Cheeseburgers With an Attitude" mindset, or the constant roar of traffic passing by just steps from the bar on Kalakaua Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard, but the vibe here doesn't seem as laid back as other watering holes in Waikiki. It's a little more fast-paced, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

A visit on a recent Saturday night found the bar sparsely occupied by a mix of tourists, some of them leftovers from the dinner rush that picks up around 7 p.m. and lasts about two and a half hours. An acoustic guitar duo played from an impromptu stage near the front entrance, relying on sheet music to serenade customers with songs by Guns 'N' Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Coldplay.

The decor here is a mix of Hawaii and the Caribbean, with lots of painted wood to go with the bamboo, chicken wire and corrugated metal used on the centrally located bar area. Retro posters and plantation-style knickknacks cover the walls, with the only reminders of the 21st century being the restaurant's order processing system and a pair of plasma screens that hang over the bar.

CHEESEBURGER WAIKIKI recently expanded its hours of operation, and is now open 24 hours a day. It was a smart move, although the bar only has a 2 a.m. liquor license. It would be nice if the Honolulu Liquor Commission would allow them to serve until 4 a.m. like the nearby Wave Waikiki does.

For Honolulu residents out for a night of fun, this joint is a great idea for some action before heading off to the clubs, as well as a last stop to eat and sober up before going home.

With four restaurants in the area open all night (Jack in the Box, Eggs 'N' Things and Wailana Coffee House are the other three), this end of Waikiki is a haven for the hardcore nightcrawler -- and Cheeseburger Waikiki tops them all when it comes to a quality burger, with or without a beer to accompany it.

How much for a Bud Light?
The Barfly drank a $3.75 Bud Light draft before moving on to a Tropical Sensation ($6.50) and Maui Mai Tai ($6.50), two of the signature drinks at all Cheeseburger restaurants. Get them served in a hollowed-out pineapple for $3 more.

Get things to do?
Other than straining your neck to get a look at one of the two plasma screens that hang over the bar, there isn't much else to do but enjoy the open-air atmosphere. Live entertainment is offered nightly.

What about the grinds?
You can't go wrong with a cheeseburger, from the basic Cheeseburger Waikiki ($7.95), a "five napkin" burger with Colby and Jack cheeses, to the "It's All Good" Cheeseburger ($12.95) with sauteed mushrooms, bacon, extra cheese and guacamole. The Black 'N Blue Cheeseburger ($9.95) was a winner, too, with crumbled Bleu cheese and bacon.

And the help?
Sitting at the bar gets you faster service, although you might want to opt for a streetfront table to take full advantage of the open-air seating.


Been there, done that

Breakers Restaurant and Bar
66-250 Kam Highway
One of the few bars with a surfing theme to use actual gear, not freebies from liquor sponsors. Beer isn't the cheapest, but it's worth a stop if you're cruising the North Shore.

Red Lion University
2535 Coyne St
Red Lion doesn't miss a beat with its move from Waikiki to the former Bedroq location across from Puck's alley. Be sure to visit on an empty stomach -- the pupu menu rocks!

572 Kailua Road
Take a trip out to the Windward side and check out the only bar I've found that offers both indoor shuffleboard and the classic tabletop version of Ms. Pac Man.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.
Barfly appears every Friday in Star-Bulletin Weekend. E-mail Jason Genegabus at jason@starbulletin.com with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.

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