It’s been a year since Wang Chung’s Karaoke Bar got a bigger space, just next door to its old space, past the lobby of Stay Hotel. It’s bigger, all right, nearly six times larger than what it was before.
That isn’t saying much, since the 6-year-old bar used to be the size of a closet, with room for just about a dozen customers at the bar and maybe a few more along a red banquette by the wall. Now there’s a spacious bar, plenty of tables and chairs, a spanking-new restroom, a kitchen (so yes, there are now pupu) and even a "secret room" (ask to see it).
It’s not as cozy as before, but the kitschy Asian charm and the signature, happy Otafuku face are all there. So are the free Chinese bear hugs from none other than Wang Chung’s owner, Danny Chang, himself. (Limit one per customer, subject to stock on hand.)
2424 Koa Ave. (inside the Stay Hotel)
Wang Chung’s was hidden at its old location and still is, ensconced inside the back of a boutique hotel with no street frontage. But it’s still a gem, once you find it. All you need to know is that it’s across from the back of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. Enter the ground-floor lobby of Stay Hotel and look for the glass etching of the happy Otafuku face in the window.
You’ll escape to a colorful, happy place — paper lanterns lit by neon Philips Hue LED lights over the bar; friendly bartenders who can belt out karaoke songs (free during happy hour with a purchase); and walls decorated with Godzilla, Astroboy and a trio of maneki-neko (Japanese lucky cats). The kitchen is in the back, behind a black door just past the Domo monster window that leads to the secret room, a surprisingly spacious area that would be great for hosting private parties.
Whether you’re single, married, separated, taken or un-taken, you need a Boifrien’ — a refreshing combination of oolong tea vodka, elderflower liquor, house lime sour and lemon-lime soda ($6 happy hour, $8 regular). I like that it’s not too sweet, and something about the elderflower kept me sipping, and sipping some more again.
Wang Chung’s has unique, artisan "drinkie drinkies" and its own house-infused lychee vodka. You’ll find that vodka liberally utilized in the Lychee Kamikaze Shot ($6 regular).
Regulars might remember the Moscow Mule with house-made ginger beer sourced from Kolo Kai Organic Farm on Kauai; it’s still on the menu, as good as ever.
The exciting addition to Wang Chung’s is a full kitchen. The menu created by chef Randy Sanchez (aka Mexican Randy) offers a fusion of Asian- and Mexican-inspired pupu. Keep an eye out for pop-up dinners offered at the spot.
Word of warning: It’s pretty much all fried, some of it spicy and all of it heavy. We’re talking about hand-cut house fries; fried, or "flied," okra; and "flied" pickles, with Sriracha mayo, all $6. They come served up in Chinese newspaper-lined takeout boxes.
The Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken ($6 happy hour, $9 regular) is fried chicken, dusted with Chinese five spice and white pepper and served up with fried basil and lemon, simple and filling, and great with beer. The F.O.B. ($6 happy hour, $8 regular) is to die for — Chinese spareribs with cilantro, sesame and scallions in bao buns. If you want dessert, the apple brie wontons ($6) served in a champagne glass taste like a rich apple turnover sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
My favorite item was the Chili Wontons ($6 happy hour, $8 regular), one of the few un-fried items — a bowl of Sichuan pork wontons in red chili oil. Comfort food at its finest.
Great cocktails, pupu and genuinely friendly people in a cool, laid-back atmosphere make for a gathering space away from the crowded chains in Waikiki and off the beaten path. Chances are you’ll even get a free hug!