three cocktails on a table with a rose in the sunlight
A Storied Culinary History

At Halekulani’s exquisite culinary destinations, discover links to history, literature, and art.

Text By
Ray Sojot
Images by
Jonas Maon & Gabe Estevez

An experience is a collection of a thousand details. Such is the case at Halekulani, where lovely, intimate, and sometimes unexpected details add rich dimension to the premier dining experiences found at La Mer, Orchids, and House Without a Key. With storied links to history, music, literature, and art, each restaurant offers an assortment of anecdotal amuse-bouches to be enjoyed.

A Source of Inspiration
Evoking the casual charm of Waikīkī’s yesteryear, reservations are never needed at the House Without a Key, Halekulani’s storied seaside restaurant. Guests are invited to stop in and step back in time to enjoy the hotel’s proud tradition of Hawaiian music, hula, and cocktails—best taken in during the sunset hour, when all is gilded in gold.

In the 1920s, novelist Earl Derr Biggers stayed in a cozy, low-slung bungalow on the property, then known as Gray’s by the Beach. As the story goes, when Biggers checked in, he asked the proprietress, Mrs. Gray, for a key. “What key?” She replied. “No one locks their doors in Waikīkī.”

Biggers found grand inspiration under the property’s majestic kiawe tree during afternoon drinks with Halekulani hotel owner Clifford Kimball and Honolulu sheriff Arthur Morgan. Biggers was captivated by Morgan’s riveting tales of the crime-fighting exploits of Detective Chang Apana, a Chinese police officer renowned for his fearlessness and talented employ of a bullwhip. In 1925, Biggers published The House Without a Key, a mystery set in Honolulu featuring a Chinese detective named Charlie Chan. The novel became a sensational hit, spurring a series of books and films.

Named after the novel, House Without a Key evokes the simpler times of Hawai‘i that Biggers delighted in, and brings the romance and ease of Waikīkī’s past into the present.

Flowing Faculties
As Waikīkī’s only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant, La Mer is an exquisite exercise in fine dining, gracious service, and elegant ambiance. Situated on the second floor of the hotel’s historic main building, guests are treated to unfettered views of Waikīkī’s fabled shoreline. An attentive wait staff elevates hospitality to an art, while the award-winning neo-French haute cuisine features local tropical ingredients. As a result, La Mer emerges as Hawai‘i’s ultimate romantic dining experience.

Ensconced like a jewel within elegantly carved wooden screens, La Mer’s signature cocktail lounge, L’Aperitif, glitters as an extension of the restaurant’s l’esprit français. Capturing the glamour and allure of La Belle Époque, or “the beautiful era,” of Western European history between 1871 to 1914, the cocktails, like the posh interior, are sophisticated. Colin Peter Field of the esteemed Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris, who has twice been named “Best Barman in the World” by Forbes magazine, guided the lounge’s reinvention of French cocktail classics. Accordingly, absinthe—the bohemian drink of choice for many artists and writers who flourished during the decadent era—is offered the traditional way, la louche, employing a ritual that dilutes the absinthe by cold-water drip to an opalescent green.

And like La Mer, L’Aperitif does romance especially well: For women, each cocktail is accompanied by a rose.

An Artful Experience
Harmony meets hospitality at Orchids, where light tradewinds, white-on-white décor, and open seaside spaces give the restaurant a bright and airy feel. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as well as the famous Sunday brunch) are served in chic areas that seamlessly transition from indoors to outdoors. Complementing Orchid’s oceanfront aesthetic is chef de cuisine Christian Testa’s culinary vision: fresh interplays of local island flavors and Mediterranean-inspired, coastal Italian cuisine. The dishes are elegant, lighter fare, complementing the island’s balmy climate. Although decadent, even Orchid’s signature coconut cake seems to float.

As suggested by its name, sprays of orchids are placed throughout the restaurant. Looking beyond Orchid’s dining room, guests can also see the restaurant’s signature flower at a grander scale, as a shimmering 82-foot mosaic at the bottom of the hotel’s pool. Created during Halekulani’s renovation in the 1980s, the mosaic was an intricate artistic endeavor, and no easy feat. More than one million South African glass tiles were imported—each tile numbered—and then painstakingly installed piece by piece. Showcasing a white cattleya orchid in an ever-changing prism of blues, the mosaic mirrors the restaurant’s aesthetic, a tableau of beauty and light.

wood plate with gourmet salad and fruit
gourmet fish in dish of broth
Chang Apana cocktail and Hemingway Old Fashioned with bartender

The Chang Apana cocktail, shown left, is named after the real life Honolulu detective who inspired the fictional character, Charlie Chan, and is made with fresh watermelon and a teaspoon of olive oil. The Hemingway Old Fashioned, shown right, is named after the famed author who stayed at the Halekulani in the 1940s.

three cocktails on a table with a rose in the sunlight
plate with Kahuku prawns scallops and avocado

The cuisine at Orchids, prepared by chef de cuisine Christian Testa, celebrates the sophisticated flavors of the coastal Mediterranean regions. Shown here is the homemade lasagnette featuring freshly made pasta, local Kahuku prawns, scallops, and avocado.

gourmet salad with kona maine lobster

The cuisine at Orchids is artfully prepared, including the lobster salad, which is made with succulent Kona Maine lobster.

majestic kiawe tree near ocean

In the 1920s, Earl Derr Biggers found inspiration under the property’s majestic kiawe tree for his novel The House Without a Key.

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