Sometimes you’re looking for a happy hour spot that’s more classy than trashy — a place where you can bring your team from work to decompress with pupu and drinks without having to worry about pau hana regulars getting too happy with their buckets of beer and complimentary karaoke.
Waikiki quickly comes to mind when thinking about watering holes like this, and rightfully so. The concrete jungle on our south shore is home to some of the swankiest joints for sipping at sunset, from recent additions like RumFire to iconic destinations like the Royal Hawaiian’s Mai Tai Bar or the Halekulani’s Lewers Lounge.
The lounge at Nobu Waikiki strikes a healthy balance between over-the-top opulence and come-as-you-are casualness. Doubling as the main entrance to the restaurant, this area is a destination for customers as well as a holding pen for those wanting to eat a full meal in the dining room.
To minimize the foot traffic passing you by, skip the two booths on the mauka side of the room and look for an opening to the left of the front doors. Those out on date night might want to consider one of the two tables set up just outside the lounge along Helumoa Road (although the lack of air conditioning can be an issue), or just sitting at the bar itself. It also appears that the bartenders at Nobu double as servers, so planting yourself on a bar stool may actually make it easier to order food and drinks.
2233 Helumoa Road
You’ll want to make it as easy as possible to order, since both the cocktails and pupu at Nobu Waikiki are constructed with a great deal of style and skill. Even better, the new tapas-style menu that the restaurant introduced at the beginning of the month is available all day in the lounge, which definitely makes it easier to stick around for "just one more plate" after happy hour is pau at 7 p.m.
Be warned, however, that the phrase "tapas-style" is no exaggeration. Most of the dishes afford just one or two bites; sharing isn’t really an option for those with hearty appetites. Guys out on a date will definitely find themselves hungry afterward if they split dishes with their significant others.
That doesn’t mean the food isn’t satisfying. On the contrary, we couldn’t get enough of some of the offerings at Nobu Waikiki — until we realized eating our fill would mean spending upward of $50 on multiple plates of the same item. (We spent nearly $100 on happy hour for two, including tax and tip, on five plates and two rounds of drinks).
The flavors of the Lobster Ceviche ($10) were spot on, while the Beef Anticucho Skewers ($10) were the perfect balance of sour and spicy with a hint of smoke from the grill. And as expected, it’s hard to make a bad choice when it comes to anything having to deal with seafood at Nobu. With nearly two dozen items available on the tapas-style menu, it’s a good bet you’ll need to return more than once to try everything.
If there was one request we have for happy hour here, it would be to expand the number of cocktails on special. The current featured drinks are all pretty sweet, and your choices are limited if you don’t like the taste of cucumber, sake or lychee. Still, we had no complaints about the Champagne 95 we ordered, with its mix of orange brandy, creme de peche, pineapple juice and Prosecco — especially when it means paying $8 instead of $14 during happy hour!
Pau Hana Patrol is a weekly look at Honolulu bar and restaurant happy hours. E-mail happy hour tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.