And Then There Was One

Honolulu’s last tiki bar conjures old Hawaii

By: Christopher Pala

Before big jets brought mass tourism to Hawaii, the high cost of travel kept the number of visitors low and the Polynesian character of tiki bars high. Tikis, or wooden carved figures of gods, were a staple of these bars, along with seashell lamps, lights resembling puffer fish and glass balls hanging from drift nets.

Today these authentic decorations can only be found at La Mariana Sailing Club, Hawaii’s last original tiki bar, located about as out of the way as possible while still holding a Honolulu address. The landmark was just sold to a local builder, who has assured patrons he intends to not only keep it going as it is, but also invest some money in it.

La Mariana is the creation of one very determined and charming woman, Annette La Mariana Nahinu, the 93-year-old daughter of a Brooklyn violinist.

Though she never did much sailing, Nahinu moved to Honolulu 50 years ago with the dream of creating a yacht club without pretensions. Established in 1955, it has no members or officers, so it’s not really a club, but a dark and airy bar and restaurant facing a 110-slip marina.

As clients walk into La Mariana, they’ll notice that the pillars holding up the second floor where Nahinu lives are tikis. A cage by the entrance holds an African gray parrot that is the same age as the establishment. The bar is tucked in a corner (the exotic effect slightly spoiled by a small television showing, yes, sports). Two transparent cupolas create strategic islands of light.

There’s no door facing the sea, and luxuriant bushes filter the bright tropical sunlight coming off the marina. Off to the side is a room with a waterfall at the end, lined with booths, each dominated by a fierce-looking mask. Everything is made of dark, varnished wood. The centerpiece is the piano upon which two blind pianists Lance Kanaka and Stephen Frias alternate, playing Don Ho and Kalapana favorites, which are so well known by the regulars that they sing along with most of them. The food is hearty and tasty (the black and blue Cajun ahi is excellent), and the chef knows his way around seafood. A meal for two will run $70 or so with drinks.

Nahinu, who used to stop by every table, now sits in a wheelchair and greets her customers.

“People here are unusually nice,” she assured me on a recent afternoon. “We’re a little different from the other marinas. We take care of people.”