“Pop up bar” might be the most millennial phrase I’ve ever heard. Right behind “Micro influencer” and “insurmountable debt”. Mistletoe Tavern is a “pop up Christmas bar” which looks exactly like it sounds. The owners have transformed a small, indistinct art gallery in downtown Honolulu into their very own winter wonderland where like-minded Xmas enthusiasts can drink and talk about all of the fall/winter things we miss because we live in a tropical island paradise. At least that’s what I thought. When I got there, I realized immediately that my low expectations should have been much, much lower.
The interior of Mistletoe Tavern looks like the owner/bar staff spent all of 15 minutes decorating it. It’s got a few TVs with Xmas movies on repeat, a fully decorated tree and presents, some other goofy shit strewn about the walls, and a block rocker mounted right above the bar and disguised by fake snow (more on that later). The venue originally was an art gallery, and the uninspired decorations don’t do much to hide the fact that it’s a large, white, emotionless room with no personality. The reason people spend money at dumb shit like this is for the experience, and the experience here is fucking terrible. Usually, the owners are passionate about the subject matter their bar is based on. The way the place looks, the owner hates Christmas and wants the rest of us to share his viewpoint. I was expecting a warm, cozy atmosphere with the staff in costumes and a vibe like your childhood living room on a white Xmas morning. What I got was the Christmas aisle at Wal-mart with overpriced alcohol.
Look at this bullshit
The only thing it has going for it is that it’s new, and if you read my scathing review of Honolulu nightlife, us local drinkers are desperate for anything new.
Anyway, my whole experience at Mistletoe Tavern was disastrous. I arrived at 6:30 PM on a Friday for a pau hana (that’s Hawaiian for ‘binge drinking’) with some old coworkers and friends. My birthday was on 11/13 (thanks), and since I hadn’t yet blacked out as per tradition, I was a little too excited to get drunk. In my experience, nothing leads to a blackout faster than unrestrained enthusiasm. I get too eager and think that more alcohol = more fun. I drank too much, too fast, and after 2 hours I was a liability to myself and everybody within a 25 ft. radius.
I started off with their Gingerbread Old Fashioned which had enough gingerbread sugar syrup in it to make Buddy the elf sick. And it’s $16. Sixteen fucking dollars for a HORRENDOUS old fashioned with Bulleit Rye. I thought “maybe I ordered the wrong thing” but nope, all of the drinks are overpriced and underwhelming. $14 is the cheapest all the way up to $30. That’s what they cost at Bar Leather Apron, a place that actually cares about its customers and the product they put out. My friend ordered a chocolate cocoa rum drink (I don’t remember the name because I’m trying to repress the memory) which was literally Nestle hot cocoa mix poured in with some rum and microwaved. The hot cocoa was congealed and floating on top. At this point I had to laugh, it’s clear the owner is either fucking with us or really hates his chosen career but instead of quitting takes it out on the customers.
At first, since I was alone in this nightmare, I started drinking aggressively to make it seem better. So I slammed one of their diabetes old fashioneds. Then another one. Then my friends arrived and since it was my birthday it was time for shots. Three of them. All within an hour. The little voice in the back of my head that usually goes “slow down” was dead at this point.
We also ordered the “holiday cheer”, a drink made for 4 people that does not live up to its name. It’s half a pound of sugar and rum all served in the iconic ‘fishbowl’ style with a bunch of straws. After taking a few large pulls from the bowl, my memory took a bit of a nosedive and terrible ideas started to become good ones. The conversation shifted from how bad the drinks were to how bad their Xmas music was. Now let me be clear, I can’t stand Christmas music. I despise it. My mom used to play it all day, every day from Thanksgiving to New Years as loud as she could throughout the house. There are only 5 Xmas songs and they got played over, and over, and over again like me and my Dad were terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. But I wanted to hear something. Drinking without music is a pointless activity. So I endeavored to save the day by switching their block rocker to my phone and playing “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes. In my drunk mind, the whole bar (10 people) would erupt in a sing-along and the night would be saved. All I had to do was sneak up there in front of the entire bar, in an all white, well-lit room, with absolutely nothing else going on to distract the customers. What could go wrong?
I moved by the chair and saw my opportunity when the bartender turned around. I jumped up pressed the Bluetooth icon. The pairing sound beeped! I look down at my phone to pair it and realized that every single person at Mistletoe Tavern staring at me in bewilderment. The bartender has his hands in the air, palms up in the classic, “why are you doing this” pose, my table of friends laughing, and everybody else shaking their heads in disappointment like they were my parents.
The jig is up. I stumbled off the chair and back to my table, thinking that was the end of it.
That was not the end of it. The owner of the place who looked like a younger, fatter, Jewish Matt Patricia (explains why the Christmas vibe is so off) heard about my blatant disrespect and came to give me a stern talking to. Not kick me out, but wag his finger and shame me. It was the weirdest way I’ve ever been punished at a bar in my life. He opened with “Have you ever seen anybody do that at a bar? Why would you think that would be OK?” And the rhetorical questions kept coming. I mean seriously, this guy would not let it go. He was acting like I walked into the place and took a steamy hot piss on the floor. Also, if you have such pride in this place, maybe put any effort into it.\
And I take full responsibility for my asshole move. I get that I was in the wrong here, but I apologized immediately. At that point, either kick me out or forgive me. Don’t make it weird.
After I explain that I will leave, gladly, instead of listening to his 20-minute guilt trip, he says no, it’s OK, stay. In retrospect, we should have just left immediately because there was nothing enjoyable about the place. On our way out, the bar owner wasn’t satisfied with how guilty I didn’t feel, so he introduces me to a very old man with Boston Red Sox regalia on and tries to do the whole “explain to him what you did” schtick from before but I was approaching blackout drunk status and the old man was borderline more intoxicated than me. I said CONGRATS ON THE SERIES MAN FUCK YEAH and then remember nothing else of what I said. I can’t imagine that it was a productive conversation. I paid my tab (I think) and our group left.
Mistletoe Tavern has no redeeming qualities. It outwardly hates it’s customers and seems to think that people are stupid enough to accept the low quality and high prices because of the Christmas gimmick. With how much alcohol I had in my system I would’ve enjoyed a Tyler Perry movie and I still hated Mistletoe Tavern. If you’re looking for a Christmas themed way to drink, make yourself some eggnog and watch Die Hard (the best Xmas movie). Or sit in the dark and stare at a wall. Do literally anything else but go to Mistletoe Tavern because I can guarantee you will not enjoy it.