OutAloha: Oahu venue reviews

HOTELS

Aston Waikiki Joy Hotel: “Joy” might be stretching it, but those on a budget can certainly find well-situated Honolulu contentment here. High design it ain’t — the room décor is cookie-cutter Hotel Anywhereville circa 1995 — but all 92 rooms do have marble entryways, Jacuzzis, and private balconies. And for the price, the location is terrific, mere steps from shopping-rich Kalakaua Avenue and the sands of Waikiki just beyond. The $10 daily amenity fee nabs you a few perks like internet access and free local calls. One cool bonus: The first Hawaiian branch of popular Tokyo tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant Kimukatsu debuts here in 2012. 320 Lewers St., Honolulu. 808-923-2300. $$

Aulani Disney Resort & Spa: Opened in August 2011, the Aulani is the Disney group’s first foray into the world of Hawaiian resorts, and they’ve done themselves proud with this sprawling upscale compound in idyllic Ko Olina on Oahu’s southwest side. Like most Disney properties, the 819-room Aulani is both gay-friendly and exceedingly kid-friendly, making it the perfect island choice for LGBT families. A big onsite favorite is the watery Waikolohe Valley, featuring a large main pool with slides and a lazy river, plus the more secluded Wailana Pool for adults. Foodie bonus: Trendy Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman debuts a Ko Olina branch this year. 92-1185 Ali’inui Dr., Kapolei. 808-674-6200. $$$$

Best Western Plus Coconut Waikiki: Melding a great beach-close location with fantastic mod style and very affordable rates, the Coconut Waikiki is an excellent pick for the budget-minded aesthete. The 80 rooms are decked out in a cool color scheme of avocado, beige , white, and deep turquoise, with tasteful splashes of bright reds and yellows. Most rooms have refrigerators and microwaves, and all have free Wi-Fi. Higher floors offer fantastic views of either Waikiki or the Koolau Mountains. There’s even a petite kidney-shaped pool for those days when you don’t feel like schlepping the few blocks to the beach. 450 Lewers St., Honolulu. 808-923-8828. $$

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk: Set smack in the heart of the shopping and dining bonanza known as Waikiki Beach Walk, the Embassy Suites is Hawaii’s only all-suite chain hotel. The property’s 421 two-rooms-or-bigger suites are spread over two towers (the Aloha and the Hula), and all come with pleasant Hawaiian-accented furnishings, two TVs, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffeemaker. The poolside manager’s reception on the Grand Lanai equates to free cocktails every evening, and a number of good restaurants are onsite, including the Waikiki branch of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Waikiki Beach and the Pacific are just steps away. 201 Beachwalk St., Honolulu. 808-921-2345. $$$

Ewa Hotel: It’s far from posh, but the gay-friendly Ewa is one of the very few places on Waikiki where you’ll find standard rooms for under $100. Don’t expect a lot: Breakfast, for instance, is almost laughable (toast, donut holes and hard boiled eggs). But the 92 rooms, though spartan, are usually clean, and the location (right around the corner from Hula’s Bar, with Queen’s Surf Beach just a few steps further) is fairly ideal for the gay traveler on a budget. There’s even a rooftop sundeck, plus coin-operated washers and dryers on the 4th and 6th floors. 2555 Cartwright Rd., Honolulu. 808-922-1677. $

Hotel Renew: Proudly calling itself Honolulu’s first and only true designer boutique hotel, Hotel Renew overlays its cool minimalist-chic design aesthetic with a friendly and intimate (just 72-room) environment, all at a location that’s hard to beat for quick access to Waikiki’s two most popular gay hotspots, Queen’s Surf Beach and Hula’s. Loads of extras are on the house, including arrival beverage, continental breakfast, Wi-Fi, and use of beach accessories. Special bundles include bike or scooter rentals, or go for the opulent Hawaii Five-O Package, which features surf lessons, a convertible rental car, and a helicopter ride. 129 Paoakalani Ave., Honolulu. 808-687-7700. $$$

ihilani
JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa

JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa: Just a 45-minute drive from Waikiki but a world away in terms of tranquility, the lush Marriott Ihilani is on Oahu’s sunny southwestern tip, with its own lagoon offering super snorkeling and magnificent sunset views. A complete renovation wrapped in 2011 brought a soothing sea-blue-and-sand color scheme to the 387 rooms, which start size-wise at a whopping 640 square feet. It’s no longer the sole resort in the area, but having the new Disney Aulani as a neighbor just means fewer kids at the Ihilani. The 35,000-square-foot spa is spectacular, and the Ihilani enthusiastically courts the gay civil union market. 808-679-0079. 92-1001 Olani St., Ko Olina. $$$$

Kahala Hotel & Resort: Set on the posh beachfront east of Diamond Head Crater, Kahala is a celeb-and-royalty-beloved haven of Honolulu luxury, tucked safely away from Waikiki and its tourist throngs, but still close enough (just 10-15 minutes away by complimentary shuttle) to access them should the mood strike. But really, once you’re at Kahala, you may never want to leave. The 306 generous-sized standard rooms and 32 huge suites all boast gorgeous views; the spa is divine; and the 26,000-square-foot lagoon is home to the incredible Dolphin Quest Encounter, which offers up-close contact with enchanting Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins. 5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu. 808-739-8888. $$$$

Modern Honolulu: She may look like a carefree young starlet, but the Modern Waikiki has seen more than she lets on. For years part of the iconic Ilikai Hotel, she became Marriott’s super-cool 353-room Waikiki Edition in 2010 following a stunning $200 million makeover. Less than a year later, the Aqua family quite suddenly welcomed (some say kidnapped) her as the Modern Waikiki; for all the drama behind the scenes, however, she’s kept her airy poise. As with any 21st century “urban resort,” there’s a studied trendiness here, but the blissful Hawaiian in her keeps things from ever feeling too forced. Some say that for her rates, the Modern should be beachside; others like her calmer placement just beyond Waikiki’s bustling heart. 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu. 808-943-5800. $$$

Outrigger Reef on the Beach: Widely considered one of Waikiki’s top hotels, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach undeniably enjoys a superb location, with all of the shopping one could want (Waikiki Beach Walk, et al) just steps away on one side, the glorious beach and Pacific Ocean on the other. A $110 million super-facelift unveiled in 2009 stayed true to Outrigger’s classic elegance, plus made many of the 639 rooms larger—especially the 42 suites, which now top out size-wise at four bedrooms and 2,151 square feet. Staff is extremely obliging, and there’s no resort fee. 2169 Kalia Rd., Honolulu. 808-923-3111. $$$

Sheraton Waikiki: Its massive size may make it bustle at times, but the Sheraton Waikiki is a solid upscale choice at a fantastic location, with the heart of the beach and Honolulu’s best shopping just out the door. Thanks to its clever design, the Sheraton offers ocean views from a full four fifths of its 1,634 rooms. Its “superpool”, called Helumoa Playground, boasts a 70-foot water slide and Diamond Head vistas, while the adults-only infinity pool is among Waikiki’s most beautiful. There’s a $26+ daily resort charge, but this includes self-parking, Wi-Fi, and an hour of long distance calls. 2255 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu. 808-922-4422. $$$

Waikiki Parc: Tucked on a relatively quiet side street just steps from Waikiki’s main action, the Parc is a quite consciously hip boutique hotel with a lot going for it beyond its fantastic location. Not only is it home to Hawaii’s sole outpost of the renowned Japanese eatery Nobu, it’s also the sister property of the super posh Halekulani Resort just across the road — which means that Waikiki Parc guests can charge visits to the fantastic SpaHalekulani to their rooms. Meanwhile, the Parc’s nightly rates are far lower, and many of its 298 rooms still have dazzling ocean views. 2233 Helumoa Rd., Honolulu. 808-921-7272. $$$

Waikiki Shore: This condo hotel (part of Castle Resorts group) situated at Waikiki’s far west end has it fair share of both pros and cons; if you don’t mind the latter, the former can make it a great option, especially for longer stays. First the good: Its beachside location is terrific; ocean views are unobstructed thanks to its park frontage on one side; and the 168 rooms are big, reasonably priced, and come with either kitchenette or full kitchen. Now the not so good: Facilities and room furnishings are mostly dated; elevator waits can be excruciating; and there’s a two night minimum. 2161 Kalia Rd., Honolulu. 808-952-4500. $$$

DINING

Alan Wong’s: Alan Wong’s friends thought him crazy in 1995 to open his restaurant in the view-less third floor of a parking-deficient Honolulu office building. By 1996, he’d already proven them wrong, earning a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in the nation. Considered a master of Hawaii Regional cuisine, today Wong is still going strong, and his eponymous restaurant is a fave of no less than President Barack Obama. The five-course tasting menu is highly recommended, but if you’re really famished, go for the seven-course version. If you prefer à la carte, try the President’s reported preferred entree, the twice-cooked soy-braised short ribs. 1857 S. King St., Honolulu. 808-949-2526. $$$$

Chai’s Island Bistro: Set a bit apart from the main Waikiki action in downtown Honolulu’s Aloha Tower Marketplace, Chai’s Island Bistro has been an island favorite for two decades. Chef Chai Chaowasaree, who’s also Hawaiian Airlines’ executive chef, blends Hawaii Regional and Pacific Rim cuisines, using fresh local ingredients from both on and offshore the islands. The two-person combination appetizer platter is a terrific sampler, including Alaskan king crab cake, gravlax roulade, kataifi and macadamia encrusted jumbo black tiger prawns, roasted butternut squash, and lobster bisque shooters. Chai’s is also known for its great Hawaiian entertainment, nightly Wednesdays through Saturdays. Aloha Tower Marketplace, Honolulu. 808-585-0011. $$$$

Japengo: This second branch of the popular Hawaii eatery (the other’s at the Hyatt Regency Maui) just opened last fall, but already it’s getting high praise for its blend of Pacific Rim and Southeast Asian cuisines, specializing in sushi, sashimi, and maki rolls. The gyoza are also great. What’s more, Japengo’s placement on the third floor of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach (in the space that formerly housed Ciao Mein) puts it right at the core of the Honolulu’s most popular beach and shopping action. 2424 Kalakaua Ave., Ewa Tower, 3rd Floor, Honolulu. 808-923-1234. $$$$

Keo’s Thai Cuisine: A Waikiki classic, Keo’s has been serving up Thai fare to everyone from sightseers to sovereigns for 35 years. Chef Keo Sananikone credits his success not to “doing extraordinary things,” but rather to “consistently doing the ordinary thing extraordinarily well.” Keo’s may be a bit past its prime, but prices are very reasonable, and the food here is still good, especially traditional favorites like lemongrass soup and pad Thai. Its open-air seating makes Keo’s great for Waikiki people watching. Bonus for kitsch-lovers: The parade of celeb photos gracing the walls includes everyone from Cheryl Tiegs to Charo. 2028 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu. 808-951-9355. $$

Sure Shot Café: Tucked away in Honolulu’s less-tourist-traveled Makiki neighborhood (birthplace of POTUS Barack Obama), the gay-friendly Sure Shot Cafe is a longtime local favorite, not just for its excellent selection of coffees, but for its delicious lunch fare and dessert options too. The bagel sandwiches (including vegetarian options) are a constant crowd pleaser, as are sugary baked goods like the banana bread squares and cream cheese brownies. Service is always friendly, and works of local artists usually grace the cafe’s walls. 1249 Wilder Ave., Honolulu. 808-523-2326. $

Town: This hip but unpretentious local foodie favorite is in Honolulu’s non-touristy Kaimuki neighborhood, just a mile and a half east of Waikiki. The focus here is on organic local ingredients, and to ensure they’re as fresh and flavorful as possible, the menu is tweaked daily. Service can be spotty, but the Mediterraneanized American fare is worth the wait, especially crowd pleasers like the Ahi Tartare and the Hand-Cut Pasta. Though Town does get busy, walk-in guests are welcome, and there’s even a dog-friendly patio. 3435 Waialae Ave., Honolulu. 808-735-5900. $$$

NIGHTLIFE

Bacchus: This intimate, classy lounge occupies a snug, darkly lighted, second-floor space just off of Kuhio Avenue, a short stroll from several other gay bars. Beyond the well-chosen, sensibly priced list of wines and whiskeys by the glass, note the bevy of classic cocktails and the daily noon–8 happy hours. Music is at conversation-conducive decibel levels (especially in the tiny “wine cellar” side room), and a narrow lanai provides fresh air and people-watching. This is where Hawaii’s Aloha Bears kick off their monthly Waikiki “Bearboat” catamaran trips every second Sunday. 408 Lewers St., Honolulu. 808-926-4167. 

Bar Seven: A few-holds-barred late-alcohol-serving straight venue for most of the week, Bar Seven turns gay on Saturdays, with a midnight drag revue followed by raucous dancing. The crowd skews young and, with the aid of the seven bars, heavily booze-fueled. Located about a mile northwest of Waikiki, Bar Seven gets especially crowded after 1:30am when Honolulu’s other bars start closing. Cover is $10 for those aged 18 to 20, $5 for everyone else. 1349 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu. 808-955-2640.

Max’s Gym: Max’s isn’t a bar, but it’s not exactly just a gym either: More men than not come here for its less-clothed gay bathhouse half. Since it’s open till 4am on weeknights and never closes on weekends, Max’s always picks up (pardon the expression) after the bars close. You’ll find it on the fourth floor of the innocent-enough looking Eaton Square shop and office plaza on Waikiki’s northwest side, just blocks from the area’s top hotels. The vibe is relaxed, and the clientele a great racial mix. Prices are reasonable, and anyone celebrating a birthday gets a free locker. 438 Hobron Lane, Penthouse 1, Honolulu. 808-951-8232.

Tapa’s Lanai Bar: The vibe at this central Waikiki demi-dive is relaxed and friendly, with a clientele of mostly mature-leaning locals. The couches (it’s also a restaurant) give Tapa’s a lounge-y feel, while the karaoke and pool table offer recreation for those who crave it. This is where Hawaii’s Aloha Bears meet, and also where they kick off their monthly Waikiki catamaran trips every second Sunday. Tapa’s entrance is via the back of the building, upstairs on the second floor. 407 Seaside Ave., 2nd Floor, Honolulu. 808-921-2288.

BEACHES

Queen’s Surf Beach: Despite its current role as Hawaii’s gayest beach, Queen’s Surf actually picked up its catchy name from Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, who had a beach house here. These days it’s Honolulu queer oceanfront central—not exclusively LGBT, since its gorgeous semi-seclusion-at-the-heart-of-Waikiki setting (easily accessible at the northwest corner of Kapiolani Park, between the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium) makes it irresistible to everyone—but these days the gays rule. The beach has its own snack bar, shaded area, restrooms and showers. Kalakaua Ave. at Monsarrat Ave., Kapiolani Park, Honolulu.

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OutAloha: Oahu venue reviews