La Mariana Sailing Club, a restaurant, bar, and marina located in an untrendy part of Honolulu, several miles northwest of Waikiki Beach is tucked next to a boat dock in an industrial zone. La Mariana is not some place you’d just happen to wander by on your way home. It’s definitely a destination, and even though it’s hidden, word of mouth is spreading its fame. This is where Waikiki's tiki culture has migrated. If you go, and you should if you enjoyed the days of Don Ho, Trader Vic's, Don the Beachcomber's, and other -now gone - tiki haunts of the 60's, 70's and 80's, arm yourself with the telephone number (808-848-2800), it is difficult to find. The staff is used to literally talking visitors to the parking lot.
Inside, it might take a few moments for the eyes to adapt to the dim lighting. What emerges is amazing. Nearly every square inch of the restaurant had been decorated with "treasures". There is a waterfall behind the tables in the main room, and colored lights twinkling throughout. Stories have been told about Corky, an unsocial African gray parrot, who once occupied a cage and performed pitch-perfect renditions of car alarms and digital telephone rings. The empty cage was there, but no bird.
As the old Waikiki tiki bars shut down, former La Mariana owner, Annette Nahinu, now deceased fastidiously gathered up bits of the past and installed them here. The wood dining tables are from Don the Beachcomber's, the blowfish lamps from Trader Vic's. The huge clamshells next to the waterfall came from the Hyatt's Tiki Room, and the tiki posts from the Sheraton's Kon-Tiki. When the Waikikian's Tahitian Lanai shut down, La Mariana acquired the woven lauhala walls. This would not get an approving nod from todays designers, but neither would any of the great tiki places of the past.
Today's decorators simply don't use fishnets, carved war clubs, and eight-foot tiki statues. Yet these "modern" places utterly failed to jibe with my notion of a classic tiki bar. They likely have glossy, polished floors and big windows overlooking a sandy strand of beach. The spare furnishings look as if designed by a Tahitian Ikea. Their freakishly light and airy, nothing like the dim caverns of the '50s. The echo of midcentury Hawaii will likely be very faint indeed.
We arrived on Friday evening, enjoyed a late dinner and when the pianist started to play, the reason people come here became clear. The entertainment starts at 7 p.m., and if you feel nostalgic for the Trader Vic's or Don the Beachcomber's, you’ll find others who feel the same way as you here. It’s common for audience members to get up and sing when a favorite song comes on.
He plays everything from Broadway to Hawaiian to classical hits, including “Unforgettable” on a portable keyboard. It’s loads of fun.
It’s the kind of place you would want to come back to time and time again, just to hang out and listen to the music.