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The Honolulu - Closed - but still remembered

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Last night (April 10, 2004), I had my last mai-tai at the Honolulu Restaurant. After nearly 26 years of being open, David and Anna Chan were finally closing the best tiki place in the DC area.

I drove up at about 8:15 pm, expecting to see a line of people waiting to get inside. But there was no line, only a sign on the door stating that the Honolulu was closing at 8:00 on their final day.

I stepped inside anyway, was told 'We are closed', but was then invited to join one of the tables by some friends.

I had been expecting a crowded mob scene, but my friends who were there all day said that the final day was quite relaxed, especially when compared to the crowds that had been there the previous weeks. I had feared that there might be a last day of pillaging of the decor, but things seemed to be OK overall. Someone had earlier in the day tried to walk off with a volcano bowl, but were caught doing so.

When I walked in, the traffic light on the bar was yellow, indicating last call. I was able to order one last mai-tai. I will usually have at least 2 or 3 on any visit, but I was content with just one, as long as I was able to experience the closing moments of the Honolulu.

My last Honolulu mai-tai was the first one served to me with two cherries on the cocktail sword, rather than a pineapple chunk and a cherry - evidently they had run out of pineapple chunks earlier.

Some people at the table had ordered a Suffering Bastard for their last drink, but were told there was no more 151 rum left either. It reminded me of my visit to the Columbus's Kahiki Restaurant on their final day, when they had also run out of mai-tai ingredients. (Strange, that I have now experienced the closing of two tiki places)

The crowd was quite nice. Off sitting in one corner were two elderly gray-haired ladies with their heads leaning towards each other, just sharing a quiet conversation.

It was a welcome contrast from the crowded tables of loud twenty-somethings that one would often see there in the preceding months.

I turned around at one point, and noticed that the Honolulu was a bit emptier, and that the traffic light was now red.

I enjoyed my last mai-tai...

The man who took the above picture had been coming to the Honolulu for over 25 years. Several of the other long-time locals continued to hang around, and I felt like a bit of a newcomer, since I had only been a customer for perhaps 5 or 6 years. Some of the locals had been stopping by at the place even before the Honolulu existed, when it was a deli instead of a wonderful tiki establishment.

Pictures were taken of the last customers who had their meals delivered (their waiter behind them).....

Tables were being cleared, and I took pictures of them too, feeling sad, knowing that after 25 years, never again would people be served at that location again.

Impromptu photo sessions were happening ...

Anna, with a long-time local customer

Two of the waiters ...

The kitchen cooks came out. They had been working at the Honolulu for nearly 26 years. One long-time customer told them that they had probably cooked more meals for him in his life than his own mother.

Some tears were shed, but overall it was a very nice moment.

On the very next day, there was going to be a small, private family wedding performed at the Honolulu. Several family members were waiting to add some wedding decorations to the tiki decor....

Since it was now mostly family members still inside, I decided it was a good time to walk away. But first, I had to take some final pictures of David, standing next to his red-lit traffic light (these are perhaps my favorite pictures taken inside the Honolulu)

I couldn't help but to linger on for a few more minutes outside.

A few people walked around from the back parking lot, and you could see they were saddened to see that they had mistimed their final visit.

I was very glad that the Honolulu lasted at least one week longer than the 7-11 which stood immediately next door. Perhaps there is hope for this country when a neighborhood tiki restaurant can outlast a corporate store. Somehow, it also seems appropriate that the Honolulu had its final day of business on the birthday of Martin Denny. The official closing time of 10:00 EST (for those inside), believe it or not, coincided with the raising of the tiki mugs by Gecko and others to honor Denny’s birthday. So even though many of you may have never personally experienced the Honolulu, you were still there in spirit.

After one of my final meals at the Honolulu, I opened my fortune cookie, and received perhaps the most appropriate fortune I have ever received in my life. It said, simply ...

Thanks for allowing me to share these thoughts and images with you.


[ Edited by: ikitnrev 2007-09-13 21:14 ]

[ Edited by: ikitnrev 2007-12-26 20:50 ]

That was well written, itbrought a tear to my eye. My last visit to the honolulu was on april 3rd. I had only been there 3-4 times before but this time it was different. We still had a good time, the food and drinks were great, but there was something sad in the air that made it a little surreal. So I can imagine how you must have felt watching them close the doors for the last time. We really lost a treasure last night. not just the restaraunt but David and Anna's hospitality. I wish them good luck and happiness. Dan


Well, that was definitely the saddest update I've ever had to make to Critiki. I'm disappointed my travels didn't take me to the Honolulu, but your excellent updates on the progress of the closing have let me feel like I was there. Mahalo, Vern.


What a heart warming tale, Vern--I am serious. I thought it was well written. So sad that it wasn't another tiki fiction book quote. I have had my share of last nights, too. Some were of places I had never heard of before so I rushed to them when I heard they were closing. A great bowling alley in Novato, the nave Lanes served free booze all night until it ran out and then people were reduced to shots of green chartreuse ,etc!
So long, Honolulu, I never really knew ye--but thanks to Vern, I feel like I knew ye a little.----mr "frowny", signing off.


That's a real shame that it closed, especially in these times of Tiki resurgence. Your post was very moving and conveyed the atmosphere as the time ticked away in such a way that we can imagine sitting in your seat.

Anyway, it's been said before but we should all go out and make an effort to support our local Tiki bars. Take friends along, and just keep these places going.

Trader Woody

Deleted due to double-post

[ Edited by: Trader Woody on 2004-04-15 02:54 ]


I've added photos to my post about the final night at the Honolulu. Please go to the first post in this thread, for a richer understanding of what the evening was like.


[ Edited by: ikitnrev on 2004-04-23 20:43 ]

mahalo vern, the picture of david at the bar is priceless.

the atmospheric quality of the indoor photographs is also quite touching.


Very nice, well written. I felt like I was actually there with all the wonderful descriptions and photos. Thanks!!!

I first stepped into the Honolulu restaurant a few weeks before they closed. It was great place. I'm sad to see it go. I only had two weeks, in which i went frequently. I went with some friends the tuesday before they closed. It was swamped. I waited an hour to have a place to sit. Well worth it.

the only solace i have with their closing is that they have a website http://www.time2tiki.com
where they will be selling their mai-tai mix, mugs and other things. I bought 2 bottles of mai-tai mix when i went there last.

There are some other places in sterling and herndon, but this place was better than all of them.

I thought I would give an update on some happenings concerning the Honolulu Restaurant. It is still closed, surrounded by a chain-linked fence, and the parking lot asphalt has been ripped out - it will not be long before the place is torn down.

No more tikis inside - just an empty shell. It is sad looking at these entrance doors, knowing there are no mai-tais inside.

But although the building where the Honolulu existed for over 25 years will soon be demolished, the restaurant will still live in in other ways. Several people, including Sabina and myself, bidded on and obtained some of the tiki decor within. There were others who had closer ties to the restaurant, who had been going there for meals and drinks for nearly 20 years - and as you will soon see, these people have done some really amazing things to keep the spirit of the Honolulu restaurant alive.

I was fortunate to be invited to a private party this past Saturday - the opening party of what some were calling the Honolulu 2. No, there will not be a new Honolulu Restaurant. Instead, this is a private space created by those long-time customers of the Honolulu who did not want to see the Honolulu vanish, and decided to capture and retain as much of the look and spirit of the original restaurant. For various reasons, I was asked not to reveal too many details about the location.

I was able to take a few pictures, which only begin to capture the whole feel of this new space.

One starts by entering a small entry way. The door is the actual inside door from the Honolulu. In the corner is a water fountain - not the Honolulu original, but one that captures the spirit of the original well. This entryway also has the original coat rack and (non-working) pay phone from the original restaurant.

One then walks inside into another large room - and one finds himself in a replica of the original Honolulu. One sees the original glass counter-case, along with the original Honolulu cash register on top - and behind that is the original Honolulu bar. (And no, that is not Johnny Dollar in front of the bar)

A great A-framed thatched roof has been added to the bar area.

Along the back wall is one of the two original lighted murals from the Honolulu. And yes, those are original tables and chairs from the restaurant.

Some of the original booths were also retained. Some of you may recognize a mask from the original Honolulu, along with two of the tiki pole carvings.

From the ceiling was hung an item that was not from the original Honolulu, but something that was very cool - an Oceanic Arts outrigger canoe!

And along one wall was another welcome surprise - the original roof sign for the Honolulu - and yes, it does light up.

Among the attendees at this party was this guy, who was also there during the closing moments of the original restaurant. He was with his new friend, who also enjoys mai-tais.

And what would a Honolulu II be without an appearance by David and Anna Chan - the owners of the original Honolulu restaurant.

Those of you who were able to visit the Honolulu Restaurant will understand what a great intimate place it was, and perhaps understand the empty hearts us in the D.C. area still feel with its loss. I myself only discovered the Honolulu late in its life, and consider myself fortunate to have 5-6 years of wonderful experiences there.

I couldn't but admire the love and care that the owners of the Honolulu II took to capture the look and feel of the original restaurant, with the layout and the amount of floorspace being roughly the same. Although the owners of the Honolulu II space are not a part of the Tiki Central community, they definitely have the right spirit of tiki within themselves, and the dedication and work that they put into the Honolulu II should be an inspiration for us all.


[ Edited by: ikitnrev 2005-09-25 23:08 ]

On 2005-09-25 22:46, ikitnrev wrote:
(And no, that is not Johnny Dollar in front of the bar)


thanks for sharing vern, it's heartwarming to see the honolulu live on like that! 8)

Wow, after viewing all the pictures again, then seeing the images of the Honolulu 2, very fond memories were brought back and I'm unable to keep from crying.

That's a really wonderful thing they've done. It makes me very, very happy to see everything set up so close to the original.

I'm all sad and happy at the same time.

Thank you for posting the pictures, and thank you to the hosts for allowing them to be taken.

Kono posted on Mon, Sep 26, 2005 3:34 PM

That's one of the coolest stories I've ever read here on TC! It's kind of a weird story as well. Weird in a Twilight Zone sort of way. That the regulars loved the restaurant so much that they reconstructed it in a secret location for a member's only club is just too cool. I wonder how many years they'll keep it going. Thanks for the post!


I swear the picture of the two little old ladies is a classic photo that you should never lose. It really reminded me of the Shag painting: The Last Days of Kahiki. Shag added the words to this painting: "A tiki bar is destroyed to make room for a drug-store. Somewhere in the distance a girl weeps softly. Frogs rain from the sky, and the sun is darkened." I feel like that girl Shag writes about is somehow inside those two gray haired ladies. I wish I was there to see it in person, but at the same time I'm glad I missed it. Thanks for the words and pictures.


Holy crap! I'm totally floored by those pics. That's one hell of a space. And seeing those murals back together with those tables is choking me up for some reason. That's just so cool.

I'm glad to see that a lot of the Honolulu's decorations have been kept together as a collection. During the auction days, it did sadden me to think of all of the pieces getting spread out all around the area. I worried about lone items losing their meaning years from now as memories faded or children inherited their parents' wacky stuff. I suspect that fate won't befall the stuff in the Honolulu 2 basement (?).

Now I know why within my circle of friends, only one of us managed to win a single bid; we were competing with some mucho serioso buying power. :)


Wow... that news floors me.

I had the outstanding good fortune to live 3 blocks away from the Honolulu for five years, and was there the Friday night of closing weekend. The small army of mugs in my kitchen cabinet attests to the many good times had there. Its closing was the springboard for me to venture out to see what other tiki is out in the world, and led me to the good people of this forum. And it also led me to the mug hunt which is quickly consuming the walls above our bar... but that's another story.

Seeing these pictures and finding out that the Honolulu lives on in more than our hearts is really refreshing...and inspiring. Part of me is curious about how to become part of the club, and part of me wants to remember it the way it was. It's an odd situation, and I'm envious of those who were able to create H2. Best wishes to them, and if they should ever want to host a TC gathering, I'd be willing to do anything to coordinate, host, attend such an endeavor!



Seeing the recreation is positively spooky- far beyond a moment of deja vu, it's the feeling of walking over a grave or something- and yet, it also feels so very good- this is not a bad thing.

I know so many of the original Honolulu customers were more than just customers- they were friends of the Chans, so to see a phoenix like revised Honolulu 2 is sort of a combination of feelings; awe, wonder, and tears to the eyes- as it shows the depth of love the Chans and Honolulu inspired.

For those of you who never wandered the original, I have a few treasured pictures you can compare the new 2 to-

These were taken before most of the artifacts were removed-


This is the folder of the external Tiki pole removal with some external pix of the original, and some internal pix after everything was gutted-


And here's one last picture from our 'night of the seven pleasures' last summer here at our home bar taken with the Honolulu external poles-

I can't get over how well the owners of the new space conveyed the real feeling of the original! Mahalo for sharing these with us!

rupe33 posted on Tue, Nov 1, 2005 9:08 AM

More Honolulu II news here at David & Anna Chan's site:

If the news has updated, check the scrapbook page for more!



The following item was recently posted on the http://www.time2tiki.com website

Just a big pile of rocks...

If you didn't get a chance to drive by the former Honolulu Restaurant before the end of year...well it is too late. Before 2005 was over, VDOT finally bulldozed the building that 7-11 and Honolulu Restaurant once occupied. What do David and Anna say about it? Well, how can you explain jaw-dropping astonishment!!

Well, it was good while it lasted.
Ashes to ashes, mai-tais to dust


I couldn't find the thread for Honolulu, so I thought I'd post this picture here.

My brother and I having dinner (Dad taking the photo) at Honolulu in October of 2003

vern, do you still have the photos that were in that first post? would it be too much to ask you to repost them? i remember that they were quite beautiful.

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