Imagine sipping a cocktail from a skull — and then you get the feeling that you are being watched.
Could it be the shrunken heads on the counter, or the mermaid above the bar? Or perhaps it’s just be one of the friendly bartenders at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
Since opening their doors on June 7, Honolulu’s newest tiki bar has brought an immersive experience to Chinatown — a natural stop on First Friday, or during a pau hana in town.
Patrons are greeted with haunting vibraphone tones over the sound system, coupled with random thunder claps. And the room is full of skulls.
It almost feels like a haunted house, which is no coincidence if you know the masterminds behind it all.
Skull & Crown Trading Co. is the brainchild of Noa Laporga and Angelina Khan, no strangers to providing Honolulu with immersive encounters. Both confess to an affinity for horror and a love for tiki bars.
The name itself is meant to hint at the nature of the experience, which is akin to adapting Disney’s Adventureland to Hawaii.
Last year, the duo brought a pop-up Halloween-themed bar to Ala Moana Center. For one month, the Ghost Bar allowed ghouls young and old the chance to capture Instagram-worthy moments in a space filled with coffins, creepy dolls, killer clowns and bloody brides.
Between 2016 and 2017, Laporga and Khan presented their own take on escape rooms with Unlocked: The Killer’s Experiment in Ward Village. The horror-themed room gave daring visitors 60 minutes to find necessary clues in order to prevent themselves from becoming a serial killer’s victim.
And of course, there’s the event that started it all in 2006: Haunted Plantation, which takes over Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu during Halloween’s spooky season. Providing 13 years of fear, Haunted Plantation has gained national recognition.
Laporga and Khan call Honolulu home for half the year. The rest of the time, they are at work with Black Box Fx, a special effects company in Van Nuys, Calif.
Several custom pieces were created for Skull & Crown Trading Co. at the Black Box Fx studio, including a spooky mermaid reclining above the bar.
While the mermaid doesn’t have a name (yet) she bares a striking resemblance to Khan, who lent her face to be cast for the piece.
“It was sculpted by a legendary Hollywood effects artist named Joey Orosco,” says Khan. “He sculpted the original dinosaurs for Jurassic Park.”
AT A glance, Skull & Crown Trading Co. may appear to be a Tortuga pirate hideout from the 1600s. But upon further inspection, the bar is haunted with artifacts of Hawaii’s past.
The shiny doors leading to the kitchen are actually art deco doors that were originally from Hawaii Theatre in the 1930s. In the middle of the room stands carved Douglas fir beams, taken from the now demolished Ward Warehouse. In the corner of the bar stands an old clock lamp post from Kailua and a huge tiki from Oahu’s North Shore, which, according to Laporga, took six Samoan men to transport.
The relics lend to the story of the bar. Skull & Crown Trading Co. is intended to be the lair of a mysterious trader who collects random items and stores them in his cove.
In true trader fashion, the collection is never complete. Laporga intends to add and/or swap out items periodically.
Whatever the weather on Hotel Street, the forecast indoors is always stormy. Erratically timed sounds of thunder crackle throughout the room, causing vibrations under the seats. The theme-park ride sensations can be enhanced with libations from the bar.
The signature drink is the Skull & Crown. Served in a skull mug, the cocktail is made to be shared with a fellow beachcomber — just watch out for the flames.
Traditional flavors of Chinatown are represented with several varieties of meat on a stick, including some impressive lemongrass chicken skewers. The recipes come from Honolulu butcher and chef Robert McGee.
REGARDLESS OF when you enter the trader’s quarters, all of life’s problems should be left at the door.
“Tiki bars traditionally are all about escapism,” says Khan. “People want to get out of their reality and go somewhere for a drink or two.”
Laporga has noticed a resurgence of tiki bars on the mainland and hopes their new watering hole inspires others.
Being in the heart of an arts district, Laporaga says they have been approached by artists of every persuasion who want to take part in the action. So far, Intoxika is the only musical act to call Skull & Crown Trading Co. home, with live exotica performances each First Friday.