Pau Hana Patrol: Genius Lounge
BY MINDY PENNYBACKER / email@example.com
Because rushing to make an early happy hour is anything but relaxing, night owls and those working long days will appreciate Genius Lounge’s civilized pau hana window from 6 to 8 p.m.
Founded in 2009, the sake bar and Japanese restaurant draws a mix of fashionably dressed locals and visitors in their 20s and 30s whose laid-back hipster affect is echoed by that of the servers. While happy-hour discounts apply only to drinks, many of the tasty Asian-Hawaiian tapas on the regular menu are priced under $10.
346 Lewers St., upstairs
It doesn’t take a genius to find the lounge, located mid-block on Lewers Street on the top floor of a white, three-story building whose ground floor houses the Genius Outfitters fashion boutique.
The compact back lanai, from which you enter the lounge, has deep rattan seats and low tables. Quiet and buffered by treetops, it gave a nice view of fireworks in the early winter night. If you are sensitive to smells, however, do not linger here, because outside odors can encroach upon your dining experience; opt for the air-conditioned interior or the roomy front lanai (where traffic noise is the potential hazard).
Genius Lounge is romantically lit by wrought-iron wall racks holding votive candles; shaded energy-efficient lamps hang above a long, graceful bar. With dark wood flooring and overhead beams, iron cafe chairs and mosaic-topped tables, and lots of bamboo and rattan, the place has a decadent, post-colonial atmosphere reminiscent of the former Indigo Restaurant in Chinatown. The front lanai overlooks Lewers Street; we watched a party pedal bike pull up to the curb, discharging a group of young women who came upstairs for a drink.
Happy-hour prices apply to draft beers ($3-$5), house wines ($4) and well drinks ($3).
Our friend, a visiting journalist, had the well vodka (Barton’s) straight up, pronouncing it “fine. Perfect.” Then he had two more. His wife, also a writer, ordered a vodka tonic ($3) and said she was pleased that it came with a lemon twist, “a nice touch that not everybody does.”
I was impressed by the taste of the Dark Horse chardonnay ($4) and the generous pour, but it should have been better chilled.
Kirin and Bud Light on tap are $3 a glass and Asahi is $5.
My companion tried the limited-edition bottled craft beers, Hitachino Nest Commemorative IPA and Espresso Stout ($4 each). The bartender and manager, Dave Minch, explained that he bought these rare beers at auction; they’re extra limited because they were made before the 2011 Japanese earthquake that put producer Kiuchi Brewery out of business for a few months.
After quaffing and exclaiming over the crisp IPA, of which only eight bottles remained as of the end of January, my companion was moved to try the Espresso Stout, of which 1 1/2 cases remained. The latter “didn’t travel well,” he decided, although our friend said she rather liked the strong coffee taste. The Hitachino beers will be sold until they’re gone, so stop by soon if you want to try them.
Having arrived hungry, we were disappointed to be informed by the waiter, who pointed out a yellow “conditional pass” on the wall, that the kitchen was closed pending a city health inspector’s visit. The inspector was due that evening to decide whether violations of food temperature and employee hygiene standards had been rectified.
After waiting an hour, as the tables filled up, the management decided to go ahead and serve food, and, on the theory that there’s no safer time to eat than when the inspector is expected, we ordered. We were glad we did.
The kim chee tofu ($6), a cool, quivery artisanal block crowned with coarse, very spicy won bok kim chee, was a satisfying study in contrasts. Homemade kalua pork “chazuke,” a generous mound of smoky, shredded meat atop a bowl of rice gruel ($6.50), was also a hit.
Although I can be squeamish about raw fish, I was won over by the Genius Poke ($9, pictured), made from truly fresh local ahi, perfectly cut and stacked in cubes with a touch of wasabi, and not oversauced.
Our table’s favorite was the pumpkin and bacon garlic saute, which mixed thick rinds of bacon with hot, slightly al dente chunks of kabocha squash. As he brought the last dish, our server informed us that the inspectors had come and gone, awarding Genius a green pass.
Genius Lounge is a place where serious eaters and drinkers with a hankering for basic, unpretentious peasant fare can enjoy a refreshing, satisfying and affordable early evening spread. In the true spirit of pau hana, it is a place where you’ll do best to relax and go with the flow, not least because the service, while genial, can be a bit disorganized.
Patience will reward you with distinctive tapas made with high-quality ingredients whose tastes shine deliciously through.