I’m often asked about which tiki bars to visit in Hawaii. It’s not a simple question to answer. There absolutely was a heyday of Polynesian pop in Hawaii, but much of that is in the past now. There is good and bad in that. Mid-century tiki bars were a Hollywood creation, and in the ’70s and ’80s, Hawaii started to reclaim its roots. It never stopped catering to tourists, but it started to do it on its own terms a bit more, and that has meant shedding some of the fantasy elements. As much as I love the fantasy, it’s Hawaii, it doesn’t exactly need help. On the sad side, though, nearly all of the old tourist places have been replaced by the same boring stores that can be found anywhere else on the planet; Waikiki feels like Santa Monica feels like San Jose feels like Dallas feels like Mall of America. It’s not what I want when I’m traveling, but apparently most people do want that, so that’s what we get.
The shopping, dining and entertainment centerpiece of mid-century Hawaii was the International Market Place, a lush tropical garden ringed by shops and restaurants, with a towering banyan tree at its center. The anchor was Don the Beachcomber, which had a chattering myna bird greeting guests at the entrance. The old International Market Place was torn down some years ago, redeveloped, and now it’s a three-story shopping mall. Its banyan tree is still there, but that’s about it.
Here’s the thing: at some point you’re going to find yourself in Honolulu, even if it’s just passing through on your way to another island. You’re going to see what it’s become, you’re going to sigh, you’re going to be disappointed, you’re going to long for the past. You’re going to make your plans to get out to La Mariana as quickly as you can… but after a bit you’ll shift to Hawaii time, and everything will become less urgent. You’ll see Diamond Head, you’ll make your way to a few of the old hotels. You’ll see what’s still there.
And now, maybe, you’ll walk into the new International Market Place, seek out The Myna Bird, sit at the bar, order a classic tiki drink, and enjoy yourself for a little bit.
The Myna Bird is a new tiki bar, opening very soon. It’s part of Michael Mina’s group of restaurants; Mina’s specialty is upscale dining, and the group is based out of San Francisco. Mina has a whole cluster of restaurants and bars at the International Market Place, in a food court-like space called The Street. The Myna Bird has some limitations: it’s not very big, it’s surrounded by a lot of other stuff going on, and essentially, it’s in a mall. But it is trying to serve up a teeny sliver of what’s been lost. This bar is Mina’s tribute to Don the Beachcomber and his history at the International Market Place.
Generally speaking, it’s been a big challenge to find good drinks in Hawaii. I feel comfortable telling you that you are likely to get good drinks at The Myna Bird. I don’t know yet exactly what you can expect from the decor—an early spy shot from my friend Randy Wong shows a few beachcomber lamps, and a tapa-inspired bartop. I don’t think there’s much more to it. But sit in the right spot at the bar, enjoy your drink, squint a bit, and enjoy this little sliver of throwback tiki that’s within walking distance of your hotel.
I’ve added a Critiki listing for The Myna Bird. If you have pictures or are planning a visit there soon, please add them! Once it’s officially opened, you’ll be able to add your ratings.