When the Row Bar by Tamura’s opened 18 months ago, I may have been a little too eager to dive in for Pau Hana Patrol, as the new management was still working out the kinks — especially the food service.
A well-established watering hole long before Tamura’s took over, the casual, open-air space is at the epicenter of Waterfront Plaza in Kakaako.
For my return visit, I brought along a new, younger set of eyes to provide a fresh perspective. My companion, a former industry pro who is half my age, also was there to check my old-fogey tendencies.
The place is really a sports bar, with the flat-screen TVs, circular bar and surrounding tables, but the largely male clientele is more moneyed and mature. To paraphrase my drinking partner: The Row Bar isn’t a loud, obnoxious “bro bar.”
My companion, who works for a Bishop Street firm, found the super casual vibe and absence of walls a welcome relief from the downtown bar scene.
“It’s chill compared to downtown,” she said. “Sometimes it’s too much at (certain places), where you feel like a douche if you don’t order the right kind of alcohol, and it can be claustrophobic. And at some downtown bars you’re almost over-serviced. Here they get you what you order and they don’t try to upsell you.”
Wow. Have another drink, girl.
“It’s not snobby, it’s Tamura’s. Tamura’s is for local people and I feel like it’s a bar for chill, local professionals. It’s a nice, open setting if you just want to hang out and have a conversation outdoors while the sun’s up.”
When I remarked on the gecko poop on the grimy bar, table tops that needed a good wiping and the leaf litter, her response was swift and succinct: “It’s outdoors. What do you expect?”
The most noticeable thing about the Row Bar by Tamura’s is the laissez-faire policy toward smoking. Cigar aficionados abound, with an occasional cigarette smoker in the mix, despite Hawaii laws that prohibit smoking at outdoor restaurants.
What my companion said next surprised me, coming from a woke member of the P.C., save-the-planet, Gen-Y crowd.
“I kinda like that everyone is smoking,” she said. “For my generation, we don’t necessarily remember when people could smoke in bars, so it’s like, oh, wow, that’s old school!
“It’s not cigarettes. I kinda of like the smell of cigars, and because it’s open-air it doesn’t feel as nasty as some bars.”
We happened to drop by Row Bar on a Thursday, when Tamura’s — a purveyor of quality smokes — often hosts special cigar events. There must have been 50 people puffing away, and I was surprised how little it bothered me.
On Friday nights there’s live music. As for parking, you’ll get 3 1/2 hours free with validation.
The happy hour menu is skimpy, with just four simple items. All the food is served in takeout containers; it’s delivered from Tamura’s former plate-lunch spot down the way.
Your best bet is to also order off the well-priced “shareables” menu, available from 4 to 11 p.m.
The ample list includes deep-fried garlic chicken ($14), Hawaiian nachos ($9) with kalua pork, lomi salmon and sriracha aioli, Ronson’s Pipikaula Burger ($15) and Country Style Pork Chops ($18) with grilled onions, mushrooms and my favorite Chamorro finadene sauce.
Or BYOP — bring your own poke from the Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors shop, just a few steps away.
With “Tamura’s” on the marquee, the focus is on fine whiskey and spirits. Happy hour pricing is offered on such high-end brands as Grey Goose vodka ($8), 12-year-old Dalmore single-malt scotch whisky ($10) and Hennessy VSOP Privilege cognac ($15).
Happy hour cocktails include margaritas, mojitos and Old-Fashioneds for $7.
During our visit, the specials included refreshing cucumber mint spritzers and citrus and rose martinis, both made with Ketel One Botanicals, also $7.
The rotating draft selection included three spring brews: Firestone Walker’s fruity Luponic Distortion IPA, Elysian Brewing’s Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale and Kona Brewing Co.’s 25th-anniversary Hibiscus Brut IPA.
For many, the decision on whether to check out the Row Bar by Tamura’s will come down to whether you want to share the open-air space with smokers. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Otherwise, I’ll defer to my companion: “Not everybody wants to do that hipster thing, but you don’t want to slum it. It’s a good in-between for pau hana relaxing.”
Now, buy that girl a drink!
THE ROW BAR BY TAMURA’S
Waterfront Plaza, 500 Ala Moana Blvd.
Happy Hour: 3-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, all day Saturday
>> Well drinks, drafts, house wine, $5
>> Select cocktails, $7
>> French fries, $4
>> Onion rings, $5
>> Dried aku poke, $10
>> Pipikaula poke, $7