Good times keep rolling in friendly ‘Homolulu’

The Aloha State’s big city of Honolulu remains a laid-back gay travel fixture into the 21st century.
BY MATTHEW LINK, Special to The Miami Herald

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Good times keep rolling in friendly ‘Homolulu’
The Aloha State’s big city of Honolulu remains a laid-back gay travel fixture into the 21st century.
BY MATTHEW LINK, Special to The Miami Herald
Racially mixed and socially tolerant, mellow Hawaii has always been a soft spot for gays and lesbians. Honolulu, also affectionately called “Homolulu,” may have a smaller and more low-key gay scene compared to other U.S. cities its size, but what it lacks in heft it makes up for in friendliness.
Compared to other more closeted Asia/Pacific destinations, it’s pretty openly gay. Although Hawaii has taken a somewhat politically conservative bent in recent years, it’s still a live-and-let-live “hang loose” kind of place. Honolulu acted as ground zero for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States, when in 1990 three gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses at Honolulu City Hall — years before liberal Vermont or Massachusetts got in on the act. Gay marriage ultimately did not pass in the Aloha State, but the islands still appear regularly at the top of the list of favorite gay destinations worldwide.
Hawaii’s ancient history is rife with kings who proudly kept gay lovers and cross-dressing “mahu” who can still be frequently spotted in the islands today. In fact, drag queens are so accepted in local society that the glitzy Universal Show Queen pageant every September has been held at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
Since about 80 percent of the state’s population of 1 million lives in or near Honolulu, nearly all of Hawaii’s gay life occurs in this clean, high-rise, culturally-fused tropical city on the south shore of Oahu. Most of the action revolves around touristy Waikiki, and to a lesser extent in the historic Chinese-flavored downtown. Honolulu is home to open-air gay bars, homo-popular beaches, queer sports clubs, an all-gay hotel and a rocking Gay & Lesbian Film and Cultural Festival in May.
Waikiki’s once dated and tacky hotel scene has gone through a major face lift in the past decade, with more chic and hip offerings than ever before. The best gay stay in Honolulu is The Cabana at Waikiki, on the western edge of verdant Kapiolani Park. The three-story hotel is bright and central, with a whirlpool, wooden floors, ceiling fans, tropical furniture, and some rooms with balconies. And you’re within spitting distance of both the gay bar Hula’s and the gay beach of Queen’s Surf.
Just steps from Waikiki Beach, the 70-room hotel renew by acclaimed designer Jiun Ho has an elegant Zen-like quality, with the use of Shoji screens, natural rock, and earthy hues. The spacious rooms are decked out with dark wood accents, 500-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, sliding wall panels, mini bars with organic products, flat-screen plasma TVs, dimmable lighting and iPod docks.
The hip and gay-friendly Waikiki Beach Hotel boasts 800-plus rooms in a fun retro Technicolor Hawaiian style, with colorful surfboards adorning the lobby, canopy beds with bright tropical prints, a huge heated pool, and oversized tiki torches everywhere. Be sure to check out the ’50s-style Tiki Grill with its 30-foot manmade volcano. A nice touch is the free to-go breakfast picnic baskets for the beach.
Chef Glenn Chu at the Indigo restaurant has helped revitalize downtown’s once-dismal dining scene. Chow down on incredibly creative dishes like Ten Thousand Chili Chicken and grilled Mongolian grilled Australian lamb chops. The historic brick building has a back patio that looks on to the Hawaii Theatre, a 1922 landmark that often hosts gay films.
For the most stunning views of Honolulu’s skyline and the Pacific, ride the glass elevator up to the 30th floor of the Sheraton Waikiki to the panoramic and spacious Twist at Hanohano. Sample fresh seafood over live swing music in this unique supper club setting.
The hole-in-the-wall eatery Irifune in Waikiki is a real find: a funky Japanese eatery full of fishing nets, glow-in-the-dark stars, Kabuki masks, and snapshots of friends adorning the walls. It serves the best garlic ahi on Earth. Residents pile in here for lunch while chatting away in local Creole English accents.
The most famous gay bar in all the Pacific is Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, with its large open windows overlooking Diamond Head from its second-story perch. Guys and gals with sand still on their feet shuffle in from nearby gay beach Queen’s Surf to watch the sunset, and Hula’s has an array of events from strip nights to yoga to gay catamaran cruises. There’s a glassed-in dance floor, and an amicable crowd of both locals and tourists.
Everyone eventually stumbles into Fusion Waikiki, the only real gay dance club in Hawaii, with a stainless steel dance floor pumping until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights see strippers and drag shows, while the rest of the week has karaoke and pool tables.
The very definition of cozy, In-Between is a tiny, overwhelmingly friendly bar that feels like someone’s living room. You can’t help but join the conversation with everyone sitting on couches or leaning up against the walls. It’s a bit hard to find down an alleyway.
The first thing you’ll want to do is grab a Speedo and sunscreen and head to Queen’s Surf Beach, also called Sans Souci, which is the gay-popular layout area in front of lush Kapiolani Park.
Waikiki is one of the best places in the world to learn to surf. Check into the gay-friendly Hans Hedemann Surf School, a little further west of Queen’s Surf at the Park Shores Hotel. On the tip of Diamond Head, far from the crowds of Waikiki, hunky surf pros give private lessons. Alternatively, you can try to hook up with the Oahu Gay Surf Club, whose members meet every Saturday morning in front of the Duke Kahanamoku Statue in Waikiki (right across from the Hyatt Regency). If you’ve never surfed before, the friendly guys can coach beginners and help you rent a board.
If you haven’t had your fill of ogling surfer flesh, ask for a private studio showing of the works of renowned gay artist Douglas Simonson. His dazzling and diverse homoerotic paintings of gorgeous island men are world-class, just like the city itself.
Caption: Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand is the most famous gay bar in the
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