Anna’s continues to draw eclectic crowds

Jul. 6, 2014 | 1 Comment In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Anna O'Brien's, which has been spruced up since its lease was acquired by veteran pub owner Bill Comerford four years ago, celebrates its "Anna-versary" Sunday. The Moiliili-area bar hosted the Space Cadets last month. (Cindy Ellen Russell /  crussell@staradvertiser.com)

Anna O’Brien’s, which has been spruced up since its lease was acquired by veteran pub owner Bill Comerford four years ago, celebrates its Anna-versary Sunday. The Moiliili-area bar hosted the Space Cadets last month. (Cindy Ellen Russell / crussell@staradvertiser.com)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

Same as it ever was? Not exactly.

After 45 years, Anna’s has had a little work done — no extreme plastic surgery, but some upgrades here and there, enough to spark renewed interest in this bar and music venue.

The Moiliili-area pub formerly known as Anna Bannana’s, now named Anna O’Brien’s, has long provided booze, beer and booming live music to college students, dive bar aficionados, neighborhood tipplers and cultlike patrons.

‘ANNA-VERSARY’

With J.P. Smoketrain

Where: Anna O’Brien’s, 2440 S. Beretania St.
When: 3-7 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Free
Info: (808) 946-5190, annaobriens.com
Note: Anti-Matter headlines a punk and ska show at 9:30 p.m. Friday, $5

Ownership changed four years ago, but the bar remains proud of its heritage as a longstanding, continuous stage for rock ‘n’ roll.

With its “Anna-versary” coming up this weekend, the bar and music venue is now positioned to entertain fans for years to come.

ANNA’S is a bar with two niches to fill: a downstairs pub and an upstairs venue for music and live entertainment.

Four years ago, Bill Comerford — who also owns three Irish-themed bars in Honolulu — took over the lease with Kamehameha Schools, intending to fix up the joint.

Anna’s had been in need of some TLC: At the time of the transfer, it was relatively notorious for the state of its bathrooms and overall faded glory.

“I had great plans, but one of the things you never plan on is government,” Comerford said wryly.

According to Comerford, it took most of the past four years to get all the plans in order and permits in place to finalize changes he wanted.

Eventually, change did come: renovated bathrooms, revamped air conditioning, better stage lighting, a bigger bar upstairs and a new draft beer system for the bars.

There are now 20 different beers on tap, along with a variety of whiskeys and other spirits.

“We believe in cold beer because nothing sells a bar better,” Comerford said.

One change that will please many is a strict no-smoking policy in the live club upstairs.

“It’s cleaner. … A whole lot of things changed over there,” Comerford said.

Meanwhile, some things haven’t changed: Anna’s is still a welcoming bar for rowdies, nerds, townies, hipsters, office workers and bikers. There’s still a rock ‘n’ roll jukebox. And it’s still a haven for live music.

The collection of album covers on the walls upstairs remains, going all the way back to 1970s Eric Clapton, Foghat and Lou Reed.

“There’s plenty of tattooed and pierced people working there, and all over the place,” Comerford said, sounding pretty proud of it.

Promotions manager Rob Graves can be found running Anna O'Brien's new sound system on weekends. (Cindy Ellen Russell /  crussell@staradvertiser.com)

Promotions manager Rob Graves can be found running Anna O’Brien’s new sound system on weekends. (Cindy Ellen Russell / crussell@staradvertiser.com)

FOR MUSIC fans, a new, upgraded sound system may be one of the most important changes.

Rob Graves, who worked with Anna Bannana’s before it was taken over by Comerford, returned to the venue a few months ago to book acts, promote shows and manage the stage. He also runs the sound system, which he showed off during a tour of the upstairs club last week.

“This venue is unique,” Graves said. “There’s no other of this size (legal capacity: 120) with this much gear, and with its reputation for live music.”

Graves radiated enthusiasm as he described the PreSonus soundboard. It’s capable of mixing a multi-track recording during a live set, which is exactly what Graves did recently for Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones. There are also new QSC speakers, from stage monitors on up.

The sound system will be in service to “great shows coming up,” Graves said, ticking off highlights. “It’s never sounded so good in here.”

On Sunday, the bar officially celebrates its anniversary with live music and barbecue (grills will be set up behind the building).

Graves is particularly excited about a show next week with Go Jimmy Go, Black Square and the Pressure Down Soundsystem DJs (9 p.m. July 12; $10), which should bring some longtime rockers out of the woodwork.

Recurring nights include reggae on Sundays, comedy on Wednesdays and EDM DJs on Thursdays.

Keep an eye on TGIF calendar listings for more shows, local and national.

“We’ve been working with Unsigned Hawaii and KTUH to bringing in a variety of live music acts,” Comerford said. “We’re trying to be a means for people to enjoy music and to find it. … It is a challenge, but I’d love to see it grow.

“Anna’s has always been a unique part of Honolulu, because it’s always maintained its character,” he said.

“If you remember it, come back and give it a try. You’ll be pleased.”

  • Anna O’Briens

    Are you a band or promoter & would like to book a show at Anna
    O’Brien’s? email the Band name, direct link to your music, band
    info/bio, your email & phone contact info to Rob Graves at
    booking@annaobriens.com .