On the Beach
Waikiki's beachfront bars offer many possibilities, from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Mai Tai Bar (tel. 808/923-7311), a few feet from the sand, to the Beach Bar (tel. 808/921-4600) under the banyan treet at the Moana Surfrider, to the unfailingly enchanting House Without a Key (tel. 808/923-2311), at the Halekulani, where the breathtaking former Miss Hawaii, Kanoelehua Miller, dances hula to the riffs of Hawaiian steel pedal guitar under a century-old kiawe tree. With the sunset and ocean glowing behind her and Diamond Head visible in the distance, the scene is straight out of Somerset Maugham—romantic, evocative, nostalgic. It doesn't hurt, either, that the Halekulani happens to make the best mai tais in the world. Halekulani has the after-dinner hours covered, too, with light jazz by local artists in the Lewers Lounge from 7:30pm to 1am nightly.
Another great bar for watching the sun sink into the Pacific is Duke's Waikiki (tel. 808/922-2268; www.dukeswaikiki.com), in the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. The outside Barefoot Bar is perfect for sipping a tropical drink, watching the waves and sunset, and listening to music. It can get crowded, so get here early. Hawaii sunset music is usually from 4 to 6pm daily, and there's live entertainment nightly from 9:30pm to midnight.
Inland, the 20-something crowd, visitors, and military personnel head to Moose McGillycuddy's, 310 Lewers St., in Waikiki (tel. 808/923-0751; www.mooserestaurantgroup.com). Downstairs is a cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; upstairs is a happening bar, with happy hour from 4-7pm daily.
In the Aloha Tower Marketplace
Unlike in Waikiki, palm trees don't sway at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, on the waterfront between piers 8 and 11, 1 Aloha Tower Dr., Honolulu Harbor (tel. 808/528-5700). But the landmark Aloha Tower, once Oahu's tallest building, does occupy a prime downtown location -- on the water, at a naturally sheltered bay, near the business and civic center of Honolulu. Which means that since its construction, the Aloha Tower Marketplace has gained popularity as an entertainment and nightlife spot. In the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (tel. 808/599-4877; www.gordonbiersch.com), diners swing to jazz, blues, and island riffs with a changing slate of entertainers from sunset through the evening Wednesday through Saturday. The food and beer are great, too.
Downtown & Chinatown
First Fridays, which originally started as an art gallery walk on the first Friday of the month, has now evolved into a club and bar crawl that can sometimes turn Chinatown into a frat party on the streets. Go on a non–First Friday weekend for a mellower scene.
The activity is concentrated on Hotel Street, on the block between Smith and Nuʻunau. That’s where you’ll find Tchin Tchin! and Manifest, 32 N. Hotel St., one of the best craft cocktail bars in town, with a great selection of whiskey and gin. The bartenders here are happy to whip up complex whiskey drinks or simple, classic cocktails. After 10pm, DJs and live music make the laidback bar more clubby. Across the street is Bar 35, 35 N. Hotel St. (tel. 808/537-3535), whose claim to fame is its 110 beers available, plus wine, cocktails, and even pizza. You must be 21 to enter (strictly enforced).
Hanks Cafe, around the corner on Nuʻunau Avenue between Hotel and King streets (http://hankscafehawaii.com; tel. 808/526-1410), is a tiny, kitschy, friendly pub with live music nightly, open-mic nights, and special events that attract great talent and a supportive crowd. On some nights, the music spills out into the streets and it’s so packed you have to press your nose against the window to see what you’re missing. Upstairs at the Dragon Upstairs, there’s more live music Tuesday through Sunday nights (http://thedragonupstairs.com; [tel] 808/526-1411). At the makai end of Nuʻunau, toward the pier, Murphy’s Bar and Grill is a popular downtown ale house and media haunt.
Gay Bars & Clubs
The reigning queen of gay bars and clubs in Waikiki is Hula's Bar & Lei Stand, Waikiki Grand, 134 Kapahulu Ave., second floor (tel. 808/923-0669; www.hulas.com), still going strong after 35 years. Overlooking Kapiolani Park, Queen's Surf Beach, and the Honolulu Zoo, it's packed from the 10am opening until last call at 2am the next day. Drag shows are the thing at Fusion Waikiki, 2260 Kuhio Ave., near Seaside Ave., second floor (tel. 808/924-2422; www.fusionwaikiki.com); the clientele tends toward local Hawaii residents at this only after-hours (till 4am) gay bar. The In-Between, 2155 Lauula St., near Lewers St. (tel. 808/926-7060; www.inbetweenonline.com), is a neighborhood gay bar with a great karaoke sound system. (You can belt out everything from contemporary hits and Broadway to Hawaiian and country & western.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.