It was a pretty odd sight, watching a ragtag bunch of people milling about just before 5:30 p.m. last week in an alley off Koko Head Avenue in Kaimuki.
The new iPhone 4 has been out for a while, so I knew it couldn’t be a bunch of Apple fanatics angling to buy the company’s latest gadget. There weren’t any big concerts with tickets going on sale that day, and besides, who buys concert tickets in an alley behind Coffee Talk?
A soup kitchen? Nah. These folks were too well dressed (except for the two surfer types in the back).
Then, exactly at the bottom of the hour, a lock clicked, and the door to 12th Avenue Grill swung open. Eight bodies quickly swept through the door and into the small restaurant, snapping up all but two barstools at a counter fronting the kitchen.
12TH AVENUE GRILL
1145 12th Ave.
Welcome to the "Craft Bar," 12th Avenue Grill’s secret weapon for those who want to nibble on small plates and enjoy discounted drinks. For 60 minutes, three times a week, the restaurant offers a relatively affordable alternative to a complete meal with a rotating list of tapas and a tasty, grass-fed burger that’s worth standing in line for.
IT WAS a good thing I rode solo to Kaimuki, since I wasn’t ready for the mad rush of humanity that day.
By the time I got inside the door, a single barstool was left—that random seat between two couples that normally stays empty in other establishments. Not here.
As I waited for one of the waiters to pour me a glass of water (apparently a lot of regulars show up here, since he took the time to talk story with people on my left and right while completely ignoring me), I perused the menu placed on the counter. Along with the Eku German pilsner ($5) listed on a chalkboard as the day’s beer special, another nine brews from around the world were also available.
Besides Germany, Belgium (Chimay) and Holland (Heineken, of course) are also represented, as are the states of Oregon (Rogue, Deschutes) and California (Anchor Steam). Kona Brewing’s Longboard Lager is also on the menu, although it’s difficult to classify something that’s brewed and bottled on the mainland as being "from" Hawaii.
I eventually went with a bottle of Eku, partnering it with one of 12th Avenue Grill’s grass-fed hamburgers. Who needs small plates when you can order a half-pound slab of beef cooked to order?
I asked for my burger to be cooked medium-rare, and it arrived perfectly pink in the middle while still seared nicely on the outside. Add some lettuce, tomatoes, a little mayo, ketchup and Dijon mustard, and I had a little piece of carnivore heaven on a plate!
Unfortunately, the "Craft Bar" burger doesn’t come with fries, and the buns 12th Avenue Grill uses don’t appear to be much more than the kind you buy in bulk from Costco. Making it with a fresh bun from a local bakery is worth considering, and would definitely elevate this dish to the next level.
After polishing off my plate and draining my glass, I made my way back out into an early summertime evening with lines from "Fight Club" running through my head.
While it’s my job to tell people about cool places to go for happy hour, I couldn’t help but think of the first (and second) rule of "Fight Club" and how it could translate to "Craft Bar"—if you want to make sure you can still get a seat, you DO NOT talk about "Craft Bar"!
Oops. Too late.
"Pau Hana Patrol" is a weekly look at Honolulu bar and restaurant happy hours. E-mail happy-hour tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.