Hawaii offers some of the most beautiful beaches, surfing, and hiking in the world. It also has the worst nightlife in the United States outside of Bozeman, Montana. I would know, I’ve been a borderline alcoholic for almost 4 years in downtown Honolulu and this has been a constant source of frustration for me.
This place was made for outdoor activities, going to sleep early, and waking up even earlier to surf/hike/praise Allah or whatever it is people do. Locals here, for the most part, don’t partake in the club life like east and west coast alcoholics do. So coming from DC, it was a bit of a letdown. I mean, great for my health and internal organs but I’m here for a good time not a long time. The local culture is more weed focused and the economy isn’t conducive to a thriving nightlife. The other problem is most people don’t live downtown because why would you? Nobody moves to Hawaii for the bustling city life. It’s unrealistic to expect it to be anything less than mostly non-existent. It’s the only “city” I’ve ever been in that is regularly dead at 10 PM on a Friday.
Still, for those of us that live here with the hopes of having our cake and drinking it too, there are a few bright spots in an otherwise desolate landscape. Here is the definitive list of the best bars in Honolulu.
Waikiki Club Life
So you came to Hawaii and stayed in Waikiki the whole time, that’s really dumb but at least you have this trifecta of watering holes to choose from. Also, because of the steady influx of tourists, these clubs usually have the best and most populous crowds.
Sky Waikiki (why they didn’t call it Skykiki is beyond me) and Rumfire are the two closest things you’ll get to decent clubs on the island. Sky is fairly new, has a beautiful open space and massive balcony on the top floor, and most nights, an OK crowd. The DJs there on the weekend play a nice mix of Top 40 and trap music to get the crowd going, and if you’re one of those people that loves to stunt by paying way too much for bottle service, they have plenty of options to drain your bank account. Don’t wear white soled shoes because their dress code is retarded and they like to pretend they’re a high class establishment.
RumFire is a slightly older, slightly worse version of Sky Waikiki but still a lot of fun. It’s in the Sheraton Waikiki hotel, so you have to wade through some Japanese tourists to get to it, but once you’re there it’s a dark, drunk oasis in the middle of an overcrowded tourist nightmare. Make sure to go around 11 PM because any time before that it’s kind of empty and awkward.
Arnolds Beach Bar
If clubbing isn’t your thing, go to the best dive bar on the island, Arnold’s Beach Bar. Arnold’s is at the end of Waiks off of Saratoga road so you may have to walk a bit, but it’s definitely worth it. They serve pitchers of Kona and Maui brew company, it’s dirty, it has a lot of charm, and there are a decent amount of local (white) people to interact with. It’s a place for conversation rather than a dark, sweaty room full of awkward erections. If you can’t find it, look for the bouncer standing outside. There is no sign, or door, it’s more of an open space that turned into a bar. I’m not even sure they have a permit but that’s beside the point. It’s fun.
The North Hotel Street Mafia
Manifest/Next Door/Bar 35
These are the best options in the downtown area. Don’t worry about which one to choose, they are all pretty much the same thing, Bar 35 is my favorite out of the 3 because of the outdoor patio area in the back, it actually lets you breathe a bit from the terrible dancefloor inside (and smoke cigarettes). Nextdoor is the most clubbish but least judgemental, and Manifest is a hipster coffee bar during the day and nightclub during the night. You’ll get the same at all 3, 90s club music/trap bangers, decently priced drinks, bad service, and if you’re really lucky, a good crowd.
The clubs and bars downtown are mostly mediocre and forgettable, but Tchin Tchin stands out from the crowd. It’s really, really hard to find (look for the staircase right next to Bar 35) but once you get upstairs, it’s like you’re in a different city. The space is beautiful and open, the lighting is perfect, and their menu and list of craft cocktails rival some of the more hispter spots in other major cities. If you find yourself downtown and in need of a cocktail, this is your spot.
As its name implies, this party happens on the first Friday of every month. Downtown shuts down and turns North Hotel St. into a massive block party. This is one of the rare instances where most of the young Oahu residents come out of the woodwork and get drunk together. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s crowded, a rarity for downtown Honolulu. If you love big parties this is the spot for you, and it’s the second best party every month.
Off the Beaten Path
Art After Dark
Hands down, the best party on Oahu every month happens inexplicably at the Honolulu Museum of Art off of Beretania St. Sticking with the Honolulu theme of “good parties only happen once a month”, On the last Friday of each month the art museum shuts down and turns into a massive shitshow from 6-9 PM. Why end at 9? Have you ever seen a club after it closes at 2 AM? There would be no art left. Anyway, the city gets dressed to the 9s and the most beautiful people are out and about and hammered. The art museum provides a massive outdoor space that offers 5 bars, a DJ, big dance floor, and plenty of other seasonal activities in the various enclaves around the building. Remember to plan your own after party because, like Cinderella on a school night, the crowd disappears as soon as the clock strikes 9.
With Asian culture comes karaoke, and there’s plenty of it to be found on Oahu. If you’re looking for nice, beautiful, new karaoke rooms, this place is not it. In fact, it might be the oldest, most divey karaoke bar on the whole island, or at least in the running for top 3. What makes it special? Their song list is by far the best (the newer Korean karaoke places, while really nice, have shit song selection) and updated weekly, it’s cheap, you can bring any food or alcohol you want without an upcharge, seriously if you want to get your room catered they’d be fine with it, and it makes you feel at ease. If you want to get drunk and sing while being fiscally responsible, this is your spot.
Pint and Jigger
Pint & Jigger is a warm, inviting place that has an incredible beer selection, great bartenders, and a speakeasy (Harry’s Hardware) you can access next door through a hidden door. They offer shuffleboard and a giant chalkboard for drinking games and have some of the best food on the island. If you go to Harry’s, try the oysters, they’re shockingly good. If you’re looking to have a few but keep it low key, there’s no better place on Oahu.
After Hours Spots
Asylum Afterhours Club
This is by no means a “nice” place, but it’s the only one open past 2 AM. It’s the after party spot for people that don’t want to start drinking, are still on drugs, want more drugs, or a combination of all three. If you’re tweaking or don’t want the party to end yet, this is your spot. Just get ready to get really…weird with it. But what do you care? You’re not in an after hours spot to ask questions or pass judgments, just enjoy the strange.
Cafe Duck Butt
This place is a Korean karaoke bar that has a lot of soju options and is tolerant of people being pants-shittingly drunk. Come here after you’re done downtown or Waikiki and try some watermelon soju that’s served in an actual watermelon (just don’t try to eat the watermelon, they reuse them. I know, gross). You can also try to rent a karaoke room but unless you’re Korean or know somebody there that’s next to impossible. Try to reserve a table before getting there, and don’t forget to eat, their food is incredible.