HONOLULUThe epicenter of gay life here is near the intersection of Kalakaua and Kapahulu Streetsabout a minute walk away from Waikiki Beach, in the second-story, open-air, scenic spot known as Hula's Bar & Lei Stand.
Located inside the Waikiki Grand Hotel, Hula's is a national treasure of the gay community, not just a local stop for mai tais, $6 pitchers of beer, live musical acts, a dance floor and a bevy of 20-something, physically-fit male bartenders and servers.
After all, how many gay bars anywhere have celebrated 40 years of existence, as Hula's did this past July? Sidetrack, by comparison, will have its 33rd anniversary in 2015. And Hula's marketing crew is already brainstorming ideas for its 41st celebration during the summer of 2015something charming, catchy, creative and, no doubt, sexy and celebratory will be the theme of the festivities.
Hula's opened in 1974. Eaton "Bob" Magoon Jr. and Jack Law, the original owners, "didn't know the first thing about the bar business," admitted Law, a Michigan native who has lived in Honolulu for the past 47 years. He is still the owner of Hula's and a nightly visitor to the bar.
The original Hula's location, about a 15-minute walk away from the current location, was an outdoor space that featured a banyan tree in the middleand that was Hula's home for its first 24 years, and known as The Tree location.
Hula's now offers a breathtaking location that offers a great glimpse at Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach.
When it comes to location, location, location, Hula's hit the jackpot.
"We're very fortunate to have found this place," said Law, who is openly gay and a staunch local figure who's always pushing for LGBT rights.
"I had literally given up hope that I would find a new location for Hula's because I had looked everywhere, found nothing, and I'm a real estate broker. Nothing I saw [that was available on the market about 18 years ago] had any soul to it, plus, everything was expensive."
He found the current space by accident.
Law was, you see, looking at another nearby location for a separate real estate investment when a realtor mentioned to him the then-vacant location at the Waikiki Grand Hotel. It was a former restaurant, which had been vacant for about 15 yearsand when Law first visited, he immediately sensed why it had been vacant for so long.
When he got off the elevator, Law was hit with a strong smell of cat urine, he said.
But, still, this proved to be the perfect spot and, after about 10 months of renovations, the new Hula's was born.
"It's been a very fast 16 years, and also a very, very, very good 16 years for Hula's and the gay community," said Law.
Hula's is a simple walk to the beach and about a five-minute walk to Queen's Beach, the gay beach along Waikiki. Gays are more common at Queen's Beach than lesbians.
Hula's is the biggest, oldest and most popular gay bar in Waikiki, but there are other options for cocktails catered to the LGBT community. The other gay bars here include LoJax, Fusion Waikiki ( particularly for the weekend, late-night crowd ), In Between, Tapa's Lanai Bar and Bacchus Waikiki.
Some of the popular local restaurants are Eggs 'N Things ( breakfast served all day ), Rainbow Drive-In ( for plate-lunch ) and LuLu's Surf Club Waikiki Beach ( for a great view of Waikiki Beach ).
Law said his five favorite food destinations are Le Bistro in Niu Valley, Roy's, Alan Wong's, Legend Seafood Restaurant and Happy Day in Kaimuki.
"The food in Honolulu is really, really good. You name the [type of] food and we have it here, and it's all really good," Law said.
Hotel options here are wide-ranging, starting with the impeccable, yet high-priced, five-star Halekulani. Other hotel suggestions include the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel ( formerly the W Hotel ) and Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head. There also are two hostels for those visiting on a tight budget, and Law said each is nice.
The Aqua hotel chain is great option for Hawaii visitors, especially those from the gay community as the popular Aqua hotels even offer discount packages for gay visitorsand they hype that on their website.
"Since Aqua Hospitality's founding in 2001, we have been a huge advocate for diversity, equality and acceptance," said Elizabeth Churchill, who is Aqua's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Aqua firmly believes diversity is the core to our company's success and we understand that we have a responsibility to meet the needs and expectations to be an ally of the LGBT community.
"Aqua is a proud supporter of diversity with its ongoing commitment to the LGBT community as a member of International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association ( IGLTA ) and all hotels are approved by the Travel Advocacy Group ( TAG ), which recognizes hotels with LGBT-friendly policies and services. The company is a regular sponsor and/or contributor to organizations including the Honolulu Gay Pride Festival, Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, Equality Hawaii, GLAAD, San Francisco LGBT Community Center and more."
There are about 20 Aqua properties on Oahu, including the Aqua Queen Kapiolani, Park Shore Waikiki and Aqua Aloha Surf Waikikithree of the most popular choices for LGBT visitors.
Churchill said the chain has employee training for LGBT sensitivity.
Aqua has two specific promotions for LGBT travelers. The first is, Out and Proud, which includes a 15-percent discount, along with a free dining credit at select hotels. Aqua also offers, Free to Be at Aqua at select hotels; that promotion offers a guaranteed queen or king bed, a Kama Sutra Getaway Love Kit, a bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, a copy of the gay, locally produced eXpression magazine and a coupon for a free Mai Tai at Hula's.
"We have not had the opportunity to host a same-sex wedding ceremony at any of our hotels [yet], but have played host to those honeymooning or part of the traveling friends and family that are here for a wedding," Churchill said in late December.
"Aqua has hosted an LGBT Hawaii-focused webinar with travel agents throughout the U.S. in 2013. This was a great opportunity to showcase our hotels as well as provide some insight to travel agents when selling to LGBT customers interested in Hawaii.
"As part of ongoing training, Aqua has attended the annual Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality put on by Community Marketing & Insights out of San Francisco. In 2015, we will also be hosting Hawaii's first LGBT Tourism & Hospitality Symposium at Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head. This will be another informational event put on by Community Marketing & Insights."
Although a Honolulu trip can easily be spent simply in a Speedo or similar swim wear, there is plenty more to see and do on the island of Oahu. Here are 10 Hawaii happenings to consider:
The USS Arizona Memorial is a must-see, to reflect on the events of Dec. 7, 1941;
Hike Diamond Head, or, hike the Koko Crater Trail, particularly in the morning for the gorgeous sunrise view;
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is the resting spot for more than 25,000 victims of three American wars: World War II, Korean War and Vietnam;
Bishop Museum, for the history, arts and culture of Hawaii;
Hanauma Bay, for an up-close experience with live coral and countless, colorful fish and more;
Iolani Palace, which is great for pictures and inside is filled with amazing Hawaii history;
Honolulu Zoo is located within eyesight of Waikiki Beach, directly across the street from Hula's. Giraffes and more for the animal lover;
Polynesian Cultural Center, which features a 42-acre facility on the North Shore, showcasing the heritages of many Pacific islanders, such as Samoa;
A traditional hula show, particularly anything involving the talented Derek Daniels Productions. Law said hula dancing "is quite extraordinary, very sexy, very masculine;" and the
Catamaran ride, particularly the Saturday afternoon primarily gay event organized by Hula's.
For more about Hula's Bar & Lei Stand, go to hulas.com .
For more about Aqua hotels, go to aquaresorts.com .