HANALEI — From the second week I started working as a reporter at The Garden Island, my editor, Bill Buley, has told me countless times about a little tiki bar in Hanalei called Tahiti Nui.
This past Friday, I finally experienced North Shore hospitality, and I wasn’t disappointed.
During a lengthy beach day with my girlfriend visiting from Oahu, both of us — including our belongings — were swept up by a high tide, much to the amusement of other families on Anini Beach.
With our clothes drenched in sand and water, my girlfriend came up with the idea of hanging our clothes out the window to air dry as we drove. While driving, I had a great idea of my own: grabbing a drink at a place I have never been to while soaking wet.
We stumbled into Tahiti Nui in the late afternoon. Coincidentally, it was happy hour: my favorite time of day.
After trying to enter in through the “luau” side of the establishment, my girlfriend led me to the correct entrance and we sat at the bar. I hadn’t even drank one of their world famous mai tais and I was already out of sorts.
The bar was empty with the exception of the bartender, myself and my girlfriend, and two guitar players playing in front of an empty audience. It’s not everyday you get to hear slack key guitar, so it was nice having a front row seat to the action.
I highly recommend coming for happy hour at Tahiti Nui for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s quiet and you can actually have a conversation over discounted drinks — $3 off mai tais and $1 off beer. Secondly, you can easily go over and find actor George Clooney’s seat (from the movie, “The Descendants”) without annoying a bunch of people trying to sit at the bar in peace.
But let’s get back to the drinks.
We both ordered a mai tai because frankly, every cute bar in Hawaii claims to have the best mai tai so as a reporter, it is my duty to be through and see for myself.
To this day (and to my grave) the best mai tai you’ll ever have is located on Oahu in a small little tiki bar called La Mariana. But Tahiti Nui’s mai tai is as tasty as it is strong, rivaling Gaylord’s at Kilohana and its signature mai tai for best cocktail on the island.
What does stand out, however, is that Tahiti Nui has Kona Brewing Company’s Hanalei IPA on tap. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re missing out. And if you have, you’ll understand how special it is to drink it on tap.
While I was tempted to try their pizza, my girlfriend convinced me to share Aunty Louise’s Tahitian Poisson Cru. Fresh ono and ahi cooked in lime juice, coconut milk, onions, cucumber, Tomato and Ulu chips complimented my IPA extremely well. So well in fact, I had to order another round.
Surveying the bar, pictures hung in every which direction on the wall with people enjoying their drinks, playing slack key guitar or showing the beautiful history and parts of the island.
If you haven’t been yet, don’t wait any longer. Looking back on the few months I’ve lived here, I regret not taking more opportunities to drive up to Hanalei to enjoy a drink or two with some live music playing in the background.
As many bars tend to do as the sun sets, seats were becoming scarce near 5 p.m. so my girlfriend and I decided to pay the bill and drive back to Lihue to get ready for dinner.
“It was really cute,” my girlfriend told me as we walked back to my car. And cute it was.
It’s safe to say that my first visit to Tahiti Nui will not be my last.