The happy-hour drink specials at the Genius Lounge are great, but the biggest thrill about this buzzworthy hangout is the location itself.
Genius is the kind of place that makes you think, "Why didn’t I know about this already?" And then, "How soon can I come back?"
It’s cute and cheery, with a hip, Japanese sensibility. It’s comfortable, but not shabby. It’s in Waikiki! And yet, it’s not that pricey.
If I lived in Waikiki, I would probably stop in to Genius often — honestly, it’s that attractive. Just skip up the stairs around the side of the Genius Outfitters boutique on Lewers Street, and the crush and noise of touristville fade away.
At the top of the stairs: Boom! Complete change of environment, from concrete jungle to airy hideaway.
346 Lewers St., third floor; 626-5362
The word "pretty" comes to mind as I gaze on the back lanai — the first thing you see upon scaling the stairs. It’s small but well-ordered, ideally suited to catch the late-afternoon sun, then transition into a softly lit landing place, scattered with cocktail tables and a love seat, and embellished with a candle-lit wall.
Inside, there’s a bar and a few tables, with repurposed home furnishings serving as side cabinets. It’s shabby chic — but more chic than shabby.
Keep going toward the front, and another lanai overlooks Lewers, high enough to keep you above the fray. As the sun sets, small lights strung along the wrought-iron fencing give the place a twee glow.
OH. Did I mention happy hour? Sorry, my satisfied reverie got the best of me. But maybe you’re the type who doesn’t care about atmosphere. Fair enough. Genius Lounge has half-price drinks seven days a week. Maybe that helps.
At happy hour every night, from 6 to 8 p.m., cheerful if sometimes distracted servers will sooner or later set you up with half-price Kirin, sake, sangria or house wines, and at a good price — particularly for Waikiki. The first time I stumbled upon Genius, happy hour was over, but 12-ounce draft Kirin served in an icy glass at $5 still seemed fair. At $2.50, I’m truly impressed. The sake, at $5 for a large pour during happy hour, is also serviceable. Patrons receive small bowl of crispy, semi-salty mixed nuts, enough to encourage a second glass of something.
You can complement the drink specials with small plates that help the liquids go down easy with a bit of panache. I was most pleased with the vegetable-based dishes. Other creations don’t always work — and food is not discounted at happy hour, only drinks.
The "pumpkin" (kabocha squash) pupu ($10) arrived warm and glistening, just the right mix of starchy squash and chewy, salty bacon. Edamame ($4.50) came to the table with a bit of artful char, sprinkled with chunky salt. But the tempura squid ($6) was more bread than meat, and chewy, chewy, chewy. The "Shrimp Fry" — five smallish pieces of battered shrimp — was nothing special at $13. And the Genius Original Poke ($8) in a "secret" miso sauce was fresh, but didn’t feel like a discovery.
Still, after sipping a sake, I felt cheered and satisfied.
Value drinks in a charming setting: That’s enough to make you feel a bit smarter than before you discovered the joint.
"Pau Hana Patrol" is a weekly look at Honolulu bar and restaurant happy hours. E-mail happy-hour tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.