Tiki Central / General Tiki
Honolulu in Alexandria, VA
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I debated where to put this, but it's of a little broader interest than for just us locals of those of us doing the DC/MD/VA get together. So here goes-
A quick review of Honolulu, Alexandria, VA since some of us are headed that a way. (I need to go back more often to write a more in depth anything!)
Last week I rounded up my partner and a friend and checked out Honolulu, and were very pleasantly surprised! If you're expecting a Mai Kai or Kahiki, don't- BUT if you're expecting a Tiki bar built with a great love of all things Tiki and a fluency in all that we love about Tiki bars, objects and otherwise, you may enjoy the place a lot (Just my opinion, you may hate it, I don't know!)
A word of consideration, though. Here in the DC area, we don't have a Mai Kai or such in our backyard (that I know of- YET!), so we're mighty happy for any Tiki we get! Californians and Floridians may be unimpressed- then again, they may find it a welcome hint of home if ever stranded in the DC area.
I haven't checked out Politiki or other Tiki things on the Virginia side, so this is not about comparison, just about Honolulu itself.
As a final word of warning, the place is not terribly big, and the parking may get crowded on a weekend, (we were there on a Tuesday). There is more parking in the back, though.
From the outside you may wonder quite what you've gotten yourself into, but if you've read the Tiki-bar review pages description, you've probably anticipated this apprehension.
Similar to my fond remembrances of Kahiki, the differences between outside and inside are vast- not quite night and day, but Honolulu is more than you'd expect if only judged from the outside. In the entrance room there's a small fountain, a mood setter- not a work of great art, pass on into the restaurant itself. Inside immediately to the left is the bar and the large glass backlit 'sunset' painting mentioned on the review page. At the bar we immediately recognized the familiar faces of Tiki mugs.
The restaurant itself is one large room, (the kitchen is of course, separate), but the space has been subdivided with large bamboo structures. There are booths that actually feel semi-private due to the use of tied back bamboo curtains. As a side note, the booths are a similar red vinyl to the booths of the late Kahiki- so it felt strangely familiar.
On the walls there's palm matting and small fish floats (mostly small) everywhere, some of which are backlit. The ceiling has been painted black to make the various lamps and objects stand out a bit more. Buddhas and El Diablos and painted Tikis (be forewarned!) All of the tables have their own individual little 'sun god' Tiki lamps. Towards the back is another section with longer tables, and 'thrones', but we didn't get a very good look back there. There were pufferfish, fishnets, and lamps that no doubt some of you would recognize immediately (perhaps Trader Vics?) which I can't describe and would have to take pictures of.
Be forewarned though, there are also plastic Leis which had perhaps seen better days and plastic grapes- yes I said grapes, hanging from the ceiling for reasons unknown.
Above all, one gets the impression that unlike the 'orderliness' (amidst chaos) one finds, or found, in some Tiki palaces, Honolulu is more evocative of an assemblage, sort of like a home Tiki bar or collection on some serious steroids- but also with 'orderly components'. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else, but I can't quite find any other way to describe it. If feels very comfortable, almost more like a clubhouse with a carefully preserved collection of all the elements of Tiki-ness- the happy clutter that makes it home- but without the formality.
Perhaps this is what the Tiki-bar review page was getting at.
None-the-less it still has distinct areas to it, is a very real restaurant, and is bigger than most clubhouses I've run across.
Best of all- there was soft Hawaiian music on in the background, not too loud, just perfectly there- we didn't hear any Denny, Lyman, or Baxter, but it certainly was a refreshing change of pace from some what I've seen- wonderful! Nor did we see a TV anywhere! Hooray!
The lighting is dim other than the shaded candle lamps on the tables, the backlit walls with floats and the mural/painting at the bar end of the room, and the occasional flaming entree or volcano. As some of the reviews have mentioned, the place is windowless- and that WORKS, I'll bet it's atmospheric even for lunch on a weekday afternoon!
The drinks were potent and some were served in orchids mugs. My friend and I shared a Flaming Volcano whose taste took me way back, which I followed by an excellent Mai Tai (not in a mug). My friends also tried a suffering bastard (also in plain glass) and a fogcutter (mermaid mug)- all of which got good reviews.
Good neighborhood Polynesian and Szechwan- emphasis on the Szechwan :). All the requisite appetizers- Pupu platters, fried crab Rangoon, shrimp toasts, etc.
It being a Tuesday night it was a little hard to tell, but obviously there were regulars, a pretty young crowd and the occasional take out. The bar did a steady business all night- yes even with the few beer drinkers.
The main feeling that one walks out of Honolulu with, though is that it's a 'Tiki bar love built' (well, aren't they all?)- it's obviously an homage to an era gone by, yet still alive and well in a little corner of Alexandria. For us, at least, a place well worth the drive, and one we intend to frequent!
I'd be really interested in what other folks who have been there have to say about it. Feel free to compltely dissagree...
Wow, great, detailed review!
I've not been there, but I feel like I have been after such a descriptive piece.
Sabina did a stellar job reviewing this place! This is one of the main reasons why I love these forums. Keep those reviews coming!
I NEED to take an Eastern tiki excursion from Tennessee to D.C. to New York to Boston to Montreal! There are at least 6 classic places to see and probably more. Everyone says we have it better in California but the distance from San Diego to San Francisco is about the same as the distance from D.C. to Montreal (about 600 miles). At my count there are 10 classic tiki bars in California. So you Easterners don't really have it so bad.
I've been going to the Honolulu on and off since 1983 or so. It is definitley a tiki bar built on love. David Chan and his wife are wonderful warm people that have endured many ups and downs in the business. David was a bar tender at the DC Trader Vics and I've read somewhere that he used to make Mai-Tai's for Richard Nixon. That makes him a bonafide national tiki treasure in my book.
[ Edited by: kailuageoff on 2002-08-29 15:26 ]
I want to read your 10 classics in Ca. list!
Please post- I'm just curious what others would say.
Please post- I'm just curious what others would say."
Tonga Room, San Francisco
The Tiki Bar in Modesto and Trader Sam's in San Francisco are old, but are nothing like the above 10.
Nice review on the Honolulu. A few of my own observations to add .....
I did a review of the Honolulu for Tiki News, and have excerpted some additional comments here for you to read.
Located off of Telegraph Road just a few hundred feet south of the Beltway and I-95 interstate, the Honolulu is easy to miss. It sits off the corner of a busy intersection and is visually overshadowed by the 7-11 immediately next door. Once one parks in the limited parking space and walks in the front doors though, one will be immersed in the best Polynesian decorated restaurant in the D.C. area.
The lights are low, two deep blue colored landscape scenes are located on opposite walls, and indirect lighting is provided partly through giant translucent seashells. The setting is rather intimate - several times I have stopped in for a Mai-Tai and found myself the only customer in the restaurant. This is the type of small, family owned and operated businesses I like to frequent, the type where the owners will simply close down the restaurant for several weeks whenever they choose to take their family vacations.
The Honolulu Restaurant opened in 1977, but the original owner was forced to sell it only ten months later. The restaurant's saving knight was a man named David Chan, who bought the restaurant with his wife Ann in the summer of 1978. Returning to the D.C. area after two years of operating a restaurant in Saskatchewan, Canada, Mr. Chan decided the warmer D.C. climate was more appealing and has since kept the restaurant running for 21 years.
Except for a remodeled bar, the restaurant appears much as it did 21 years ago. Mr. Chan has significantly improved the bar area from its previous closed in closeted state to the more accessible wide-open look, which enables one to watch from your table as David and Ann mix their top notch tropical drinks, including the house favorite Mai Tai. It is obvious that Mr. Chan has an artistic touch. He not only is an expert at mixing drinks, but also drew the pictures of the drinks contained in the full drink menu.
Mr. Chan has extensive drink mixing experience, having been a bartender at the now closed Washington D.C. Trader Vics restaurant from 1970 through 1976. This was the era of the Watergate controversies, and the tropical décor of Trader Vics proved to be an irresistible location of escapism for then President Nixon. David Chan did meet and shake hands with President Nixon at Trader Vics, and remembers how Nixon would usually visit either in the daytime or on a weekend so he could enjoy his favorite drink - the Navy Grog. Mr. Chan has personally served President Ford, his vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, and most likely quite a few other senators, representatives, and other movers and shakers of our nation's capital
[ Edited by: ikitnrev on 2002-08-29 16:45 ]
Thanks, everyone! So much good stuff in here!
Perhaps over the DC/VA event we'll get some pictures...
As folks pointed out- and I guess I just assumed others already knew (the downside of writing in the dead of night), the history at Honolulu goes DEEP! Please forgive my obvious oversight!
Also special thanks to ikitnrev, (and naturally, the tiki bar review pages!) it's always good to see others have traveled this thick jungle path and reported back before.
One other thing, looking back at what I wrote; we saw pufferfish in one of the wall nets, but I don't THINK we saw pufferfish lamps. That and I forgot to mention the shell lamps, which are awesome!
Kailuageoff, you're definitely on to something there... national treasure....hmmmm!
They definitley need a pufferfish lamp and they're not that hard to make (hint, hint). I think David told me the shell lamps came from the DC Vics. Ask him to show you guys his orignal menu from when he worked there, and the original menu from the Honolulu Restaurant. He won't part with them though (actually he should frame them). The art on the original menu is really nice, and like Vern said, I think David did the art work on the old menu as well as the new one.
Aloha! Sounds like a spot I have to hit soon. I'm DC's "Lei Man" and am looking for a place to make my fresh leis on a regular basis. Would you recommend Honolulu? Does it do enough business to sit there and make and sell fresh orchid leis? Just wondering. . . Pay a visit to my website and let me know what you think, http://www.therealleiman.com
Aloha and Mahalo
The Lei Man
I know what you mean about the exterior and the interior not being obviously linked. I passed by the Honolulu for several months while going to the Pearl Art Supply across the street, before I realized the place was even open. I used to complain out loud in my car that "The Honolulu needs a Tiki Mural!". There is so much space on the wall that faces away from the 7-11, and it would definitely make the place look less like a dying stripmall. But if they do put in a mural on the building, they better be prepared to expand the parking lot!
a) Mural Topic -- I think the idea for a mural on the side of the Honolulu is a great one. David, the owner, might be appreciative of this idea, as he has some talent as an artist himself - he drew the drink illustrations for the drink menu. I'd certainly be willing to help out with painting a mural, although my painting skills fall more towards the 'paint by number.' Which makes me wonder ... Have there ever been any commercial PBN kits that featured tikis in the picture design?
b) lei topic - I love the idea of having a person making and selling leis in a properly decored restaurant - leis are so much better than the simple roses that are so often sold by walk-through vendors. However, I feel that the Honolulu would be too small of a place to support a 'on-site' vendor, as there just isn't enough traffic going through, and space is somewhat limited inside. Too bad there isn't a restaurant on the scale of the Kahiki or the Mai Kai in the DC area. Perhaps the Honolulu would allow you to display some of your business cards there - you might get a few calls for leis for those more celebratory tiki events.
I feel much better about the DC area, now that I know where to go for my next authentic lei.
Well, Dean, the differnece is that in California, Tiki is everywhere - strip malls, bowling alleys, apartment buildings, etc etc etc etc
Things like this do exist all over the country, indeed, but the total number of Tiki trailer parks (for example) in CA outnumbers the combined total for the rest of the country. You list ten classic Tiki Bars in CA (and granted, SF and LA are far apart), but try listing ten more outside of CA that are as good as the ones you list - there are probably ten more that good in the rest of the USA COMBINED. I'd say 50% of the great Tiki stuff in the US is in one state, and the other 50% is spread out over the rest of our great land...
So you really do have it good in CA!
So you really do have it good in CA!"
Sure, but keep it down - we don't want more people movin' here!
These are just a few older pictures from a MD/DC/VA gathering at Honolulu- taken without a flash so as to retain the moodyness of the Honolulu in all its glory;
A picture from the back end of the dining room facing diagonnally across the restaurant-
a bunch of capital area Tiki-freaks!
puupuu platter ablaze
the back mural left-
part of the thatched entry to the back dinning room
a quiet corner with tapa- and another with the tapa on the back wall-
And finally, SHELL LAMPS, made to look like jellyfish, with leis as 'tentacles'
[ Edited by: Sabina on 2003-06-15 07:57 ]
[ Edited by: Sabina on 2003-06-15 07:59 ]
Mahalo for the great photos Sabina. My wife and I will be at the Honolulu Restaurant this Saturday night. Can't wait!
[ Edited by: Kailuageoff on 2003-06-17 18:41 ]
if you're going to be there Sat Evening you may want to take a look at this MDDCVATiki thread-
It looks like some of us will be getting together there Sat. just before noon for a Tiki lunch- any chance you'd be up for that?
Thanks Sabina. I would love to, but unfortunately our flight doesn't get in until 1:30 pm and we need to get to the hotel first. We will be meeting some old friends from DC though, so we'll have company.
David & Anna and the crew at Time2Tiki have posted some old-school Honolulu pictures on their Facebook page - here are a pair:
From August 1979, approximately 1 year at said location:
And colored doors (which weren't there that I can remember having arrived in 1999):
Here's a direct link to their photo album there:
And here's their profile:
[ Edited by: rupe33 2010-03-25 11:39 ]
Thanks for posting that, Rupe. I miss that place so much it hurts. Put a smile on my face to see the Chans so young!
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