Pau Hana Patrol: REAL a Gastropub isn’t cheap, but has value
Honolulu can be a tough place to call home. Anyone who has juggled rent and utilities along with car payments, the rising price of gasoline and the costs associated with trying to eat healthy knows every last nickel and dime really does make a difference.
REAL a Gastropub
1020 Auahi St.
Even the happiest hour of the day can fall victim to the reality of living in paradise. When money is tight, fun stuff like pau hana is typically viewed as one of those “nice to do” activities instead of a “need to do.” And even if you have some discretionary income available, tough economic times often mean limiting your spending to those businesses that provide the most bang for your buck.
As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not always necessary to search out the cheapest beer and pupu specials to still have a good time during happy hour. Sure, I can get down with $3 beer specials like everyone else, but I don’t have as much of a problem spending a little more if it means enjoying a higher standard of quality when it comes to food, service and ambience.
And that’s why I don’t feel bad telling friends that happy hour at REAL a Gastropub isn’t necessarily the best deal in town — but it’s still a great place to go for pau hana.
Located at the Ward Farmers Market where the old Tropics Cafe used to be, REAL opened in early June and has enjoyed a steady stream of customers nearly every night. With two dozen taps and 200 bottles available, it’s a dream come true for beer drinkers.
The old stage and bar area at Tropics is gone, replaced on the Ewa side of the room by a new bar and a pair of large chalkboard menus that tell customers which beers and small plates are available. The menu nearest the door is for beer, so be sure to stop and look to the left immediately upon entering if you plan to order a few pints. Another welcome practice is the option to sample anything served from REAL’s 24 taps before ordering a full glass; simply ask your bartender or server for a taste and they’ll be happy to oblige.
Be warned: Drinking at REAL is not cheap. Most beers on tap fall in the $6-to-$8 range, with nothing priced at less than $5 and a few beers going for $9. The liquor selection shouldn’t be ignored, either; the variety of Scotch whisky here is to be commended for an establishment of this size, although some of the best stuff can get pretty expensive.
Still, this is a column about happy hour, and REAL does offer a few decent options for those looking for a deal. From 2 to 6 p.m. daily, the bar pours $4 well cocktails and select wines by the glass. Beer drinkers will find a different bottled beer on special for $5, but there have been a number of rotating specials that didn’t get a lot of publicity despite being a pretty good deal.
Last week, for example, the six local beers on tap were priced at $4 during happy hour. I can’t think of anywhere else on Oahu that offers Kona Brewing, Maui Brewing, Hawaii Nui Brewing and Aloha Beer Co. beers on tap, all in one place.
Another special took place on July 26, when REAL partnered with San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits to offer 13 different beers, including five (Indra Kunindra Indian Curry Stout, Navigator Doppelbock, Bourbon Barrel Aged Piper Down Scottish Ale, Longfin Helles Lager and Reef Rye Brown Ale with Coriander) that had never been served in Hawaii before. During happy hour all of the Ballast Point brews were $2 off, bringing the price of a pint into the $5-to-$7 range.
The best way to keep up with the bar? Facebook, of course; the bar’s fan page is regularly updated with
details about new kegs getting tapped and additional happy hour specials.
What helps take the sting out of the beer prices here is how surprisingly affordable the food is. Sure, the tapas coming out of the kitchen aren’t the heaping, family-style plates of food some might expect, but I haven’t been disappointed yet by anything I’ve had to eat during multiple visits. And with nothing priced at more than $12, I don’t feel bad ordering two or three plates to share, either.
You can’t go wrong with the Braised Pork Belly ($12), served atop a potato puree and topped with a dijon pork jus. It’s the most expensive plate on the menu but totally worth it. I’ll happily order the blue cheese-stuffed Kulana Burger ($8) and Chicken and Waffles ($7) again and again, and if I feel like fish I know I can order the Fresh Island Fish and Chips ($8) or Blackened Island Fish Slider ($8) and not be disappointed. A number of small bites (order the house-made potato chips — they’re addictive!) and desserts are also available.
The best part about going to REAL for happy hour is that you’re there early enough to score a table, which becomes prime real estate right around 6 p.m. Live entertainment also gets started around 5:30 p.m. daily. It may not be the cheapest happy hour in Honolulu, but stopping here for pau hana will definitely leave you in a happier mood than when you first walked through the gastropub’s doors.
– Jason Genegabus / firstname.lastname@example.org