Pau Hana Patrol: Bills Hawaii
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m sort of in love with Bills Hawaii, Australian restaurateur Bill Granger’s year-old outpost in Waikiki. I’d been there a couple of times since it opened last spring, marveling each time at the soothing, airy design of the interior and the healthy but luxe menu — and thought, “I’d go there often, if only it wasn’t actually in Waikiki.”
Well, Bills is still in Waikiki — and that’s a natural location for the restaurant, which has locations in London, Seoul and Tokyo, and a reputation to attract worldly travelers to its door. But now the restaurant has offered me an additional incentive to cross over to the land of little parking: happy hour. Hallelujah!
Much care has been spent on the design of this beachy, light-filled restaurant. Before you even step inside, you’ll be attracted by the whitewashed exterior and cheery, lime-green “bills” sign. There is a small outdoor seating area for the downstairs bar. Inside and out, the restaurant has a casual but impeccable vibe.
820 Beachwalk Ave., Waikiki
Online, the happy hour listing says it is offered downstairs, but when I arrived last week, we were directed upstairs, to the bar seating area. That was more than all right with me: Bills’ upstairs, with its outsize windows, peaked ceiling and knotty wood paneling, and aquamarine, cream and lime accents, is a contemporary sanctuary, relaxing even when full of customers.
Parking, $6 for four hours, is across Beachwalk Avenue at the Bank of Hawaii garage.
The happy hour menu is tightly edited but worthwhile, including something more recently added to Bills’ menu: Korean chicken.
This isn’t the flash-fried piece you may have received elsewhere, but Granger’s take on the craze: Here it’s juicy and only faintly spicy, though served with a chili oil for dipping. The chicken comes with big leaves of butter lettuce that can be used to wrap up bites. It’s a satisfying choice that won’t leave you feeling guilty.
Pizza is a relatively new addition for Bills, but the style here is just what I like: a crisp flatbread crust serving as a palette for pleasing tastes. I had the “bianco” with caramelized fennel, sausage, chili and ricotta. It was rich and delicious, and packed enough flavor (and calories) that I saved a couple of pieces for the next day’s lunch. At happy hour there’s a $3 discount on the pies, which are big enough for two to share.
After enjoying my happy hour experience so much, I had a crush on Bills that could not be denied.
The following weekend, I went for brunch and tried his trademark pancakes.
Success! They were airy, moist and satisfying. I hadn’t thought to order pancakes for happy hour, but now I know Bills’ pancakes are good at any time of day.
A happy hour special, buttermilk pancakes with either fresh fruit and yogurt or “smoked bacon” (a hamlike, sliced cut) and pineapple, are $10.
Happy hour prices here are really an incentive: Drinks made with liquor from Bills’ premium well (Absolut/Boodles/Buffalo Trace/Bacardi/El Jimador) are only $5.
Ask about classic cocktails that are offered for just $5, too: I savored my daiquiri, tart with lime, mixed expertly and served in a martini glass.
Beer drinkers don’t fare as well: Maui Brewing Co.’s Bikini Blonde Lager and Sapporo Premium, both on tap, or Bud and Bud Light are the only options. On the bright side, each is only $4. That’s an attractive discount of $3 on the Bikini Blonde, $2 on the Sapporo and $1 on the Bud.
Word to the wise: From the full menu, Bills also serves freshly squeezed juice, a specialty grind of Stumptown coffee and a killer Bloody Mary all day and night long.
Bill Granger knows how to set up a restaurant. It is a pleasure for the senses — beautiful, comfortable and delicious.
From the time you are smilingly seated until the time you leave, you will have the pleasure of giving yourself over to this well-thought-out, buoyant experience.
Wealthy beach-dwellers might live like this 24/7, but at Bills’ happy hour, the rest of us working folk can have a taste of the good life at a reasonable cost.