“Hawaii has so much aloha, so much love, that I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be,” says Oliver Cajala of The Modern Honolulu (1775 Ala Moana Blvd. Tel: 808-943-5800. www.themodernhonolulu.com), the understatedly chic Oahu hotel that stands out as one of the island’s most urbane escapes.
“We aspire to be uncommon,” says Cajala. “So many of the hotels here are decorated with kitschy Hawaiiana, so we want to offer something different.”
Not that The Modern is entirely free of local iconography. While dominated by soothing beiges and taupes, the lobby décor comes alive with pops of color via a wall sculpture behind the front desk; crafted by artist Herbie Fletcher, it’s composed of actual surfboards that have been cracked in action, each signed by the professional surfer who rode it. The restful guest suites, with their gauzy white curtains, are visually punctuated by a rack of vibrantly hued sarongs that just beg you to get naked and turn yourself into a hula-hipped art exhibition.
“We tend to draw a pretty young sophisticated crowd,” comments Cajala, noting that The Modern originally opened as an EDITION hotel, the brand created by Marriot in conjunction with Ian Schrager. The EDITION aesthetic remains, from the airy, seductive design of the on-property Morimoto restaurant to two smart- ly landscaped pool areas, the smaller of which is on a semi-secluded adult only deck with less than six inches of water at the deep end of the pool. It’s not so much for swimming as for run-way strutting in a Speedo or bikini.
When it comes to helping his guests enjoy Oahu to the fullest, Cajala’s tips include some off-the-beaten-path gems as well as wonderful island favorites. One TripAdvisor reviewer raved that: “Oliver is the best hotel employee I’ve ever met.”
Where are the coolest places for cocktails?
Right in Waikiki, I would recommend Rumfire (Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakua Ave. Tel: 808- 271-1728 www.rumfirewaikiki.com). It’s one of the flashiest places on the island and attracts a stylish crowd from all over the world. Inside, it’s got a very sleek Las Vegas kind of vibe, which is unusual for Hawaii, and the outdoor area has spectacular views of Diamond Head and the beach. There’s a happy hour every day from three to five with drinks for as little as $6.50, and in the mid-afternoons they have a “Spiked Tea” menu, which is a fun twist on English high tea, with tea-based cocktails and pork, tofu, fish, and chicken sliders in place of the traditional finger sandwiches.
The bar here at The Modern is called The Study, and it’s especially fun to come right at opening any night. We say it’s like a sexy librarian—not quite what it first seems: At five o’clock, a wall of books in our lobby glides open to reveal a secret lounge. There’s mellow live music every night and the drinks and bites are really creative.
Also at The Modern is Addiction (Tel: 808- 943-5800. www.addictionnightclub.com), a late-night venue that really pulls in a young, hip, and sophisticated crowd. It’s quite a scene.
Where would you recommend taking someone for a romantic dinner?
After having a beautiful meal at Chef Chai (1009 Kapiolani Blvd. Tel: 808-585-0011.
www.chefchai.com), I started recommending it to guests and everyone comes back telling me how much they loved it. The food is delicious Asianfusion (prawn salad with tangerine vinaigrette, whole fresh fish with chili ginger sauce), and the presentations are creative and colorful. There’s dim lighting, which is nice for a date night, and the service is incredible.
Is there a great spa you’d suggest?
The Moana Lai Spa at the Westin Moana Surfrider is a fine choice. (2365 Kalkua Ave. Tel: 808-237-2535. www.moanalanispa.com). You can stare at the ocean waves from some of the treatment rooms, which makes it extra relaxing.
Is there a favorite gay bar that you’d suggest checking out?
Most gay tourists end up at Hula’s (134 Kapahulu Ave. Tel: 808-923-0669. www.hulas.com), which is on the second floor of the Waikiki Grand Hotel—they have drag shows, dancing, and on Saturday afternoon they run catamaran booze cruises. It’s more than 40 years old, so its very well known.
Much newer is Bacchus (408 Lewers St. Tel: 808-926-4167. www.bacchus-waikiki.com), which is owned by the same guys who have a bear bar called the 440 in San Francisco. It’s small, but a really friendly place for a drink on a fun street with lots of little ethnic restaurants.
My personal favorite is a place that visitors don’t get to as often and it really gives you a feel- ing of local gay life. It’s called Chiko’s Tavern (930 McCully St. Tel: 808-949-5440. www.chikostavern.com), about a ten-minute drive outside of Waikiki. They’ve got a pool table and a dart board, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. They have karaoke some nights, which is really popular on the island. The pupus (that’s what we call appetizers) are excellent and inexpensive, in the $4 to $5 range. Try the batter- dipped mini-sausages and the Spam musubi, which is a favorite local snack: it’s a block of rice topped with a slice of Spam and wrapped in seaweed. Don’t be afraid! It’s really good.