By Wayne Harada
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:
• 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).
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.”
• 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.
• 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...