Aloha From Hawaii
BY Job Brother
July 02 2008 12:00 AM ET
The next day we moved into the Sheraton Waikiki (2255 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; 808-922-4422). The expansive lobby bustled with families, shops, a virtual-surfing game -- all of which made for a discombobulating Vegas-style vibe. We were later informed the hotel was originally designed to reflect exactly that.
Our room was on the top floor of the 30-story hotel. It was small, mostly white, and minimal in decor. It offered a flat-screen TV with terrible reception. Oddly, the restroom had shutters that opened across a bar-like top, as though the designers thought you might want to prepare and serve martinis as you brushed your teeth. The best features of the room came from outside: a god's eye view of the Pacific and the lulling sound of waves. At night, the poolside floor show sent echoes of Hawaiian music and applause up to our room; I found it cheerily atmospheric, but it annoyed my boyfriend.
The hotel had a tiny adjacent beach that was packed with families. When requesting towels for the beach we were given small bath towels. We indicated we wanted the larger towels that were also available, but the brusque employee informed us those were “actually called chair covers” and were not allowed outside the pool area (a mere 10 yards from the beach), so we settled for six small towels between us.
The highlight of this hotel was its tapas bar, Rum Fire, which boasts the largest selection of vintage rum in the United States. The decor was swanky and urban and, we learned, an intentional departure from Polynesian aesthetics; apparently its operators hoped to distinguish it as “happening.” From the perspective of two people from Los Angeles specifically hoping to discover the islands' unique style, this approach was a miss, because the bar looked like one more citified, hipster hop -- not bad, per se, just not what we flew in for.
We were given a crash course in rum varieties and did some taste testing, all of which was fun and illuminating. Of all the drinks we tried -- and there were many -- our favorite was something called the "deconstructed piña colada": Cruzan single-barrel rum and pineapple juice, topped with coconut foam and sprinkled with li hing mui (salted dried plum, a candy originally from Vietnam that’s a favorite on the islands and a cherished childhood memory of mine, though when most mainlanders first try its intense flavor they spit it out and cuss repeatedly). I’ll be honest. I don’t remember actually leaving Rum Fire, only waking up the next morning.
That night we set out in search of Oahu’s gay scene. We hit three bars: Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, Fusion, and Angles Waikiki.
Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand (134 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu; 808-923-0669), located on the second story of the Waikiki Grand Hotel, was buzzing with energy and felt neighborly. It's a large, dimly lit space with many hidden alcoves and tiny tables, and there are screens from every angle showcasing music videos. It was delightful to see people in shorts and flip-flops rocking out to the latest club singles -- a scene I could easily adapt to. Hula’s was my pick of Oahu's gay nightlife.
Our next stop, Fusion (2260 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; 808-924-2422), was nothing short of a David Lynch experience. A dance floor cuts the awkward L-shaped space in half. A tiny audience of about 10 took in Fusion's drag show, which seemed to feature three performers for every spectator. The acts themselves were fun -- brazen and energetic -- but the meager audience proved an unsettling match, making it seem like we were watching auditions.
Angles Waikiki (2256 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; 808-923-1130) had the most meat-market feel of the three. We had been inside a total of 20 seconds before I was hit on. Well-lit and sparse, it felt a little like an army mess hall, and seemed to be populated more by out-of-town businessmen on the down low than by the cheery locals who seemed drawn to Hula’s. As we enjoyed a local microbrew on the lanai we listened to a pornographer as he tried to recruit two American soldiers to perform on his website. Aloha!