Grind Time: Tropics opens at Puck’s Alley
BY JASON GENEGABUS / email@example.com
Fans of the old Tropics Cafe Bar & Lounge at Ward Farmers Market will be excited to learn the shuttered establishment has been redeveloped and reincarnated as Tropics Tap House — and the potential is there for it to become a favorite spot for both old customers and new ones.
When the old Tropics closed about a year and a half ago, it was known as a bit of a dive bar that offered live entertainment and had quite a following among the local hip-hop and reggae music communities. Pair that with a variety of affordable food and drinks and central location within the Ward Entertainment Centers landscape in Kaka’ako, and it’s easy to understand why many were disappointed to see the bar go.
Tropics Tap House
1019 University Ave.
Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Tropics owner Pat Kashani missed running a bar, too. The 34-year-old had returned to where he started, focusing his efforts on interests in Auntie Pasto’s Beretania and My Big Fat Greek Restaurant (he’s also a partner in multiple restaurant ventures on the mainland) before realizing he missed pouring drinks and hosting live shows.
“I shifted gears from the bar business back to the restaurant business,” Kashani said. “I took a year and half getting back into restaurants and learned a ton. I was able to hone my skills and can now apply that knowledge to this bar.”
Kashani and partners Isaiah Delsi and Jason Silveria recently signed a five-year lease to open Tropics Tap House at Puck’s Alley, with the understanding they will have an opportunity to remain in neighborhood for years to come.
“They’re planning on redeveloping, but it’s written into our lease to guarantee us a spot,” said Kashani. “I’ve gotten word we could actually be here up to five years before they do anything. I can’t wait.
“We’ve already gone through the diagrams and picked the location we want. It’s going to be amazing.”
DON’T GET too excited about the future just yet; there’s still plenty to be jazzed about right now at the new Tropics Tap House. With more than 50 taps pouring a variety of mainstream and craft brews — most in the $5 to $8 range — and a full kitchen serving up food, it’s only a matter of time before students heading back to school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa rediscover this longtime college hangout.
Those old enough to remember will recall Puck’s Alley as a popular destination in the 1990′s and 2000′s. Multiple bars doubled as nightclubs for the college crowd, while the old Magoo’s served up the best pizza and cheapest beer to help keep people motivated between stops. The Varsity later replaced Magoo’s, and despite a larger, renovated space to work with and limited competition, it ended up closing in 2012.
Tropics Tap House could be the first step to reclaiming the Puck’s Alley area as a destination for college students. RB Sportsbar is hanging on across the street with Anna’s still open a few blocks away, but greater success will only come with strength in numbers. The more options UH-Manoa students have, the more likely they are to stay near the dorms and not venture out to other areas (or go home to stay with family on the weekends).
“I think we’re right where we want to be,” said Kashani. “We have 54 taps, and about 10 of those will be mainstream beers so we can offer cheaper pitchers. And then we’ll have 44 taps for craft beer.
“Every week we’ll be rotating in new beers. We’re working with the beer companies to get the best selection available to service the market and the demand that’s there.”
A VISIT last week quickly showed how much potential this bar has, both now and in the years to come. This neighborhood sorely needs another destination for UH football viewing parties, live music, UFC pay-per-views and other nightlife options. Tropics can easily reclaim its reputation for quality live music, while building upon the kitchen offerings from chefs Casey Kusaka and Clark Newgold to establish a new following among the college and sports fan crowds.
Happy hour prices, in effect from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, are another great way to quickly build a customer base. Looking at the chalkboard menu (designed by local artist Erin Mauro, who also creates chalkboard menus at bars like Pint + Jigger and REAL a Gastropub), some may be disappointed their favorite beer costs $6 or $8, but show up during happy hour and those prices drop as low as $3 a pint and $10 a pitcher, depending on the day and featured brewery.
What doesn’t change are the food deals during happy hour — from 4 to 6 p.m. you can order a featured pizza of the day for $5, Tap House Sliders for $2 each and $3 bowls of fresh-cut French fries or your choice of spicy or garlic edamame.
If price is not a factor, take some time to peruse the full food and drink menu. I’m also looking forward to a return visit to work my way through the bar’s lineup of beer cocktails, a drink concept that has yet to gain traction here in Honolulu.
The new Tropics is still in its soft opening phase, which means there are still small issues Kashani and his staff need to work out. But with the NFL and Major League Baseball postseasons and the upcoming college football season looming, he knows he needs to be ready for prime time very soon.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming our old friends at the new location,” he said. “We’re trying not to be pretentious. We’re not going to overprice things. We just want to get beer to the people and have a good time doing it.”
“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at firstname.lastname@example.org.