Another of the city’s great bartenders is Town's Dave Power. Located in Kaimuki, just a few minutes drive from Waikiki, Town feels like I’m back home in San Francisco. Local, organic foods served with with rustic, Italian technique, all-American heart, gourmet animal parts, and classic cocktails (all $10).
Power executes cocktails simply but with a beautifully, even literary, bent. His tequila negroni is a revelation. He explains that his inspiration is M.F.K. Fisher‘s love of equal parts gin, vermouth, and bitters in her cocktail. His version adds an equal part of Don Julio Reposado and a Campari infused with local Hawaiian Kiawe wood chips for a gentle smoky taste.
He also makes a Very Very Good Martini (this being how it’s listed on the menu) and my beloved Death’s Door -- something you don’t see much in these parts -- and a white manhattan with moonshine (white whiskey) and Dolin Blanc vermouth.
I’d recommend eating as well as drinking here. It’s a special place that evokes other big cities, but uses Hawaiian ingredients and laid-back charm.
Mai Tai Bar:
I am in love with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. A pink, playful beacon that jumps out of the town’s blanket of highrises, it is the one hotel that evokes the history of old Waikiki. Built in 1927 and dubbed the Pink Palace of the Pacific, this is the classic Hawaii I dreamed of.
I'll stay there one day. But in the meantime, one can always head through its grove of trees laden with hanging lights, past torches, through the lobby, and out to the back lawn where the Mai Tai Bar looks out over the beach. Live music at sunset and my own private cabana on the beach made this scene one of the most magical I spent in Honolulu.
This is not the place for refined cocktails but the bar has a history of providing tropical oceanside drinks. Manager Mike Swerdloff is a wine lover himself, but keeps up on the national cocktail scene and is passionate about great service, food and drink.
As for cocktails, there are various versions of the mai tai here -- all too sweet for me, but they're destined to be crowd-pleasers, and are greatly enhanced by the paradisical surroundings. Were I to really go for sweetness here, I'd prefer the Chi ($13), made from coconut and Maui’s organic Ocean Vodka and perked up with fresh pineapple and basil; or Pina Rocks ($10): Bacardi 8 year, coconut cream, pineapple, and a lemon-thyme float.
We had a lot of fun with our Smoking Gun mai tai, a winner in last year's Mai Tai Festival on Kona. A glass of Whaler’s dark rum, Bacardi White, and a housemade velvet falernum was torched with smoke, then topped with a brown sugar-torched pineapple wedge. The presentation was quite dramatic -- smoke even spilled out from the glass -- but I could still taste the propane when I sipped the drink. That aside, the Smoking Gun yielded a delightfully sweet, smoky island imbibement that evoked roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
Inside the gorgeous Halekulani Hotel hides a classic New York hotel bar, rich with history and flush with jazz. And the music really is the reason to come. Nightly live jazz sets the classy, upscale tone of Lewers -- don’t you dare wear shorts or flip-flops because this elegance is maintained with a strict dress code. You’ll also need a reservation on many nights.