While travelers descend on Hawaii’s capital city for palm-lined Waikiki Beach, postcard sunsets at resort bars such as Halekulani’s House Without a Key, and plentiful shopping options, “sophisticated cocktail scene” doesn’t tend to rate high on its list of attractions. But away from Waikiki’s high-rises and busy boulevards, a group of local entrepreneurs are building a craft-cocktail kingdom.
Downtown Honolulu is only a 20-minute drive west of Waikiki Beach, but it’s a totally distinct side of the city. Here, centered mainly in the diverse, easily walkable Chinatown neighborhood, former sailors’ haunts and once-abandoned buildings now house a lively crop of restaurants, bars, art galleries, and boutiques that stand beside dim-sum counters, lei shops, and produce markets. “Ten years ago, people wouldn’t go to Chinatown at night, but that’s changed,” says Honolulu-based Virtuoso travel advisor Randy King. “The city has put an emphasis on cleaning up this neighborhood over the last few years, and now it’s a great place to go for a different kind of night out in Hawaii.”
There are still mai tais (this is Hawaii after all), but whiskey, sake, and even mezcal dominate menus here, shaken and stirred into inventive cocktails enjoyed in secret rooftop courtyards and at intimate six-seat bars. Leave the sunsets and palm trees behind for a bit and drink in the action down the street.