The spin on restaurants: they come and they go...

August 21st, 2011
By

Restaurants come and go; we moan the loss of a beloved fave eating place and see a newbie come along, and quite often, the new arrival shuts down again.
Such is life.
I applaud but don’t envy restaurateurs, who are, frankly, community heroes. They take such risks (even sweat out the good economy sometimes, so imagine the worst of times), tirelessly work days and nights, and prepare such wonderful cuisine to whet our appetites and keep our tummies filled.
Like clockwork, at least once a month, someone will ask and reminisce about a recently shuttered eatery. Or try to recall a long-gone restaurant whose obit had been widely chronicled.
Why? (Too many reasons, but generally finances and a weak economy).What happened? (You’ve got the time to hear ‘em all out? Again, too many variables: a family doesn’t want to work hard and prefer to enjoy retirement, or a place loses its lease and the owners don’t want to bother renewing at a higher rate, or nobody showed up to eat far too many nights).Will it ever come back? (The Ranch House did, sorta, but died again).

So consider this reflection an opportunity to dust off the memories to answer some recurring queries. The latest, from two sources: Where was Le Bon? Why was it popular?
Le Bon was the singing waiters/waitresses restaurant, located on Kapiolani Blvd. mauka side, between Keeaumoku and Sheridan Streets. The food was comforting, but the workaholic servers was the reason to go; many waiters and waitresses would also appear in community theater and the restaurant provided a salary while they sought roles that didn’t compensate for their talent.
Do I miss it? Yes. Singing servers are common in New York; they work to pay the bills in-between auditions to get a real job, on Broadway. The occasional serenades by the waitstaff at Romano's Macaroni Grill are not cut from the same cloth; the focus is on opera, where at Le Bon, the fare was largely musical comedies and standards.
Or have you forgotten?

I miss many other restaurants, in all regions of town:

Kahala area:
• Spindrifter at Kahala Mall. Good steaks, seafood and a dandy business lunch destination.
• Yum Yum Tree, where ono pies were must-haves after comfort food (the one at Ward Centre, now gone, wasn’t quite the same).
• Woolworth at Kahala Mall; counter and table service came with a smile, proviing not every meal had to be “fine” or upscale).

Kaimuki:

• Hank’s Café, on 11th Ave.; one of the many short-term home for the Makaha Sons of Niihau.
• The Pottery in Kaimuki; you could get a take-home clay pot with some of the entrees, baked in an on-site oven.

Ala Moana Center:

• Prince Kuhio Restaurant, one of the original restaurants at Ala Moana Center.
• Hackfield’s at Liberty House Ala Moana.

Waikiki:

• Coco's, one of the early 24-our eateries (where deejay J. Akuhead Pupule would hang out), where Hard Rock Cafe was a long-time tenant before moving to Beach Walk; Makino Clubhouse just moved into the gateway of Waikiki that was Kau Kau Korner.
• Skillet on Ala Moana, where breakfasts were hearty and served in ceramic skillets with handles.
• Waikiki Sands on Kalakaua Avenue, where “cheap” buffets gave locals a first opportunity to fill their plates along with their palates.
• Pier 7 at the Ilikai, another ‘round-the-clock destination for after-movie, after-nightclub, after-opera outings.
• Ship's Tavern at the Moana Surfrider, a seafood emporium; the adjoining Gangplank Lounge was the home of Jay Larrin, entertainer-composer.
• Canlis’ Restaurant, one of the early fine-dining palaces popular with locals and visitors, where waitresses wore kimonos.
• Maile Restaurant, at the Kahala Hilton, where fine dining gourmet cuisine also was served by waitresses in kimono; at the adjoining lounge, Kit Samson’s Sound Advice defined dance music.

Kapiolani area:

• Green Turtle across the now-gone KGMB; at lunch, you’d see on-air personalities during their meal break.
• Cavalier on Kapiolani Blvd. where the Pan Am building now is located.
• La Ronde, the revolving restaurant atop the Ala Moana Building, where you’d get a complete “turn” every hour.
• Victoria Station on Kapiolani Blvd (ewa of Tokudo), where steaks and chops were served from a red railroad box car “restaurant.”

Ward area:

• Trader Vic's, with its Souths Seas tropical décor, where the Honolulu Club now is located
• The Black Orchid at Restaurant Row, where celebrity was part of the game — Tom Selleck (“Magnum P.I.”) was an owner.
• Fisherman's Wharf at Kewalo Basin, one of the Spencecliff organization’s iconic (and longest-lasting, albeit under new owners in later years) waterfront restaurant.
• Compadres at Ward Center, where the margaritas flowed and the So-Cal Mexican menu was especially appearing on Taco Tuesdays. (Pablo’s Mexican Cantina had aspirations to carry on the red, green and white flag as a successor, but alas, the journey didn’t even make a year).
• Sunset Grill at Restaurant Row, where an open rotisserie added odorama to the dining experience, along with a splendid and afforded wine menu. And remember the roasted garlic?
• Marie Callendar's, at Restaurant Row; short-lived, like the Windward Mall location, possibly because entree portions here, even pies, were not as gargantuan as those Mainland counterparts.

Others Honolulu:
• Pearl City Tavern, home of the Monkey Bar. Worth the drive for townies.
• The counter at the Kress store on Fort Street.
• Ciro’s downtown, the place to be seen if dining downtown, when it still was a shopping destination before the era of the suburban mall.

Any others you care to add to the list? Be my guest...

9 Responses to “The spin on restaurants: they come and they go...”

  1. wop ur jaws:

    Flamingo's Chuck Wagon, where all you can eat prime rib ruled. It wasn't fancy but it was a safe go to buffet when birthday's or graduations came around.


  2. al:

    i must be old. i worked at several of those eateries that once belonged to the spencecliff chain.

    some of the best ones had to be...

    tahitian lanai @ the old waikikian hotel (both one of the only locally owned places)
    yacht harbor tower restaurant, the one time weaver's flagship eatery
    south seas restaurants, now a car dealership location
    popo's mexican and south seas village on kalakaua ave, two of the best kept secrets in their time

    but, thank God for Hy's Steakhouse.

    0


  3. al:

    a recent disappointment has to be hamura's saimin stand on kress street in lihue, kauai.

    the once "must go" old fashion saimin and bbq stick joint just hasn't been the same ever since the original owner and co-founder, aiko hamura passed away nine years ago. hamura's is now run by an ex-employee who took over the place.

    the dashi is not quite the same and the noodles are typically overcooked. the other disappointment though are the bbq sticks which not only have shrunk in portions but are not as tender as they used to be.

    the saving grace is the lilikoi chiffon pie which seems to have kept its standards to "broke the mouth" level.

    even the local folks share my sentiment. recently one afternoon a friend of mine walked in to a completely empty hamura's. sad sight since you always had to wait in line for a stool at the unique saimin counter.


  4. Annoddah Dave:

    WH: How about the Bistro on Kapiolani? or John Henry's in 1441 which was not too bad a restaurant? BTW, the Cavalier owner just passed away recently. M's Ranch House was great family place. Do you remember Sampan Inn? How about Little George's? Yes, Nittaku really flopped with the Spencecliff legacy...poor employees also lost some of their benefits. How about Khun Marian? Delmonico's was also a long time down town restaurant.


  5. Annoddah Dave:

    Response to al: I agree, went there this year...not the same! It was a bit crowded but walked in and found seats. Noodles overdone, dashi nothing to write home about, service average.


  6. melancholyone:

    I thought Spindrifter was in Koko Marina?

    This was nice.

    I miss Jon's at Ala Moana shopping center and Tasty Broiler.


  7. Joanne Sargeant:

    You really struck a nerve!

    Ship's Tavern and the adjacent Gangplank Lounge were the best things going at Sheraton Moana-Surfrider, then it became a Westin.

    We first met, and fell in love with, Karen Keawehawaii at Gangplank!

    What's there now? A spa!! Biggest mistake they ever made. Why would anyone want to go to a spa on Waikiki Beach when you can do the same thing at home, and besides, you can get all the exercise you need walking on the beach!

    Too bad some hotels don't listen to their long-time return guests before they make such drastic changes.


  8. Big N:

    Orson's Bourbon House in Kailua, great food and outstanding Ceasar's Salad. Maybe the last really good retaurant on the Windward side.


  9. Adrien Sleeth:

    I love your Blog, it's nice when you can tell somebody actuallly puts effort into a blog, and gives the blogs value.