Over the years, Waikiki has lost all the gloriously kitsch cocktail bars it boasted in its 1950s heyday. In an obscure corner of Honolulu's industrial waterfront, however, one such club survives; not only that, but its octogenarian owner has salvaged the finest fittings from its forgotten rivals.Every weekend, the little- known La Mariana Sailing Club continues to stage evenings of 1950s-style lounge entertainment, and a host of authentic images gaze down on the crooners who cluster around the grand piano in the centre of the dance floor.
The desperation of Honolulu business- owners to find a formula that will appeal to both American and Japanese tourists at the same time can result in some bizarre hybrids. Few come more postmodern than the Texas Rock'n'Roll Sushi Bar, which sets out to combine cowboy chaps-and-spurs chic with Hard Rock-style memorabilia, Blade Runner meets karaoke-club decor, and, of course, Japanese cuisine. Strangely enough, the food isn't at all bad, if you don't mind your pork barbecue wrapped in seaweed, or prefer your BLT roll as sushi.
Thanks to the vagaries of the time zones, it's just possible to fly from Heathrow in the morning and to land in Honolulu as the sun sets that evening. What's not possible, however, is to rent a car at the end of that 20-hour trip, drive straight out on to the six-lane freeway - it's officially an interstate highway, though there isn't another state within 2,000 miles - find your way across town to Waikiki without incident, and park parallel to the roadside using your forward and reverse gears only. I know, I've tried.
According to official statistics, less than two per cent of the population of Hawaii are pure-blood Hawaiians, and in Honolulu it can feel like you never meet a true Hawaiian at all. Wanting to see the restored Art Deco interior of the Hawaii Theater, I bought a ticket to a one-off concert called Na Lani Eha, only to find I'd gatecrashed the 161st birthday party of Hawaii's best-loved 19th-century monarch, King David Kalakaua. The beautifully dressed, solidly Hawaiian audience was treated to a magnificent programme of Hawaiian music, humour and dance, with performers I'd previously seen going through the motions in Waikiki hotels now throwing themselves wholeheartedly into rousing statements of cultural pride, and guest appearances by hula troupes who'd never dream of demeaning their art in the tourist shows.
Built on the site of a secluded beach house where Robert Louis Stevenson once entertained the King of Hawaii, the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is a five-minute walk along the beach out of Waikiki proper. With its romantic waterfront restaurant and spectacular sunset views it makes a perfect night-time retreat from the hectic resort life down the road.
The Polynesian Cultural Center, 30 miles north of Honolulu, is Hawaii's most popular paying attraction, and purports to introduce visitors to Polynesian traditions. However, for the most part it's a tawdry theme park, staffed by students from the adjoining Brigham Young University whose mild-mannered Mormon upbringing ill equips them to pretend to be Maori warriors and the like. What little history the place relates is drawn from the Book of Mormon, so in the face of all evidence to the contrary the Polynesians are said to be remnants of one of the lost tribes of Israel who fled here by way of Central America.
Few cities can boast a more beautiful setting than Honolulu, which consists of a long narrow strip squeezed between golden Pacific beaches and unspoiled mountains. A couple of miles from downtown, rainforest trails lace through deeply indented valleys. On the Ualakaa Trail, for example, orchids and wild gingers glisten in the undergrowth, slender waterfalls cut crevices in the footpath, and you're forever brushing aside the lianas that dangle from the mighty gnarled banyans. At one point, a jungle clearing frames the skyscrapers of Waikiki perhaps four miles away, with the ocean stretching to the horizon beyond.
Three airlines fly non-stop from London to the US West Coast and then on to Hawaii. United Airlines (tel: 0845 844 4777) offers daily flights to both Los Angeles and San Francisco, with connections to Honolulu, while American (tel: 0345 789789) and Air New Zealand (tel: 0181-741 2299) fly to Honolulu via Los Angeles. In winter you should be able to find a ticket for around pounds 450, in summer it will be more like pounds 750.
The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is just below Diamond Head, at 2863 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki HI 96815 (tel: 001 808 923 1555). Rooms start at just over $100 (pounds 60).
The Texas Rock'n'Roll Sushi Bar is in the Hyatt Regency Hotel at 2424 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki (tel: 001 808 923 7655). Sushi rolls cost anything from $1.50 (93p) upwards.
La Mariana Sailing Club is at 50 Sand Island, Access Rd, Honolulu (tel: 001 808 848 2800), and is open daily 11am-11pm, with live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Greg Ward's Mini Rough Guide to Honolulu is published this month, as are his Mini Rough Guides to Maui and The Big Island.Reuse content