An enclave of 19th- and 20th-century facades near downtown Honolulu, Chinatown turned gritty in the 1960s. But the markets, herbalists, and lei shops never lost their bustle, and a new wave of hot spots is bringing in a fashionable crowd. “After dark,” says local artist Cheyne Gallarde, “the lounges, dance clubs, and art venues come alive.”
Here are some of the highlights in this hip Hawaiian enclave:
- Kuan Yin Temple: Incense perfumes this 1880 shrine, the oldest known Buddhist temple in the islands. Followers chant, pray, and place orchids at the golden idol of Kuan Yin. Nuns welcome guests but discourage photography inside.
Legend Seafood: Families head to this old-style dim sum favorite for taro puffs and ha gau (shrimp dumplings).
- Florencia Arias: This tiny shop is stocked with Hawaii-made, cloud-soft knit tunics designed by Florencia Arias, who often works the counter.
- Arts at Marks Garage: This center’s First Friday gallery walks helped launch Chinatown’s renaissance. Art exhibits, poetry slams, burlesque, and improv comedy rev up the ground floor of a square-block parking garage.
- Hawaii Theatre Center: On weekly tours of this 1922 vaudeville theater known as the “Pride of the Pacific,” visitors hear a mini-concert on a classic pipe organ and see trompe l’oeil mosaics and gilded Corinthian pilasters.
- Tin Can Mailman: The bounty here is pure “Hawaiiana,” from vintage postcards and Bakelite bracelets to a 1940s Dorothy Lamour doll with shell lei.
- Bar 35: A pau hana (post-work) scene convenes at indoor and outdoor bars for some 200 beers, DJ nights, and fruit cocktails like the Cherry Blossom Princess.
- Lucky Belly: Honolulans flock to this new industrial-chic noodle bar for egg-roll-like lumpia filled with duck confit, steamed pork-belly buns, and spicy ramen with kimchi. A weekend window serves post-club takeout until 2:30 a.m.
This piece, written by Christopher Hall, appeared in the May 2013 issue of Traveler magazine. There’s a lot you can’t get online. Subscribe to have the print edition delivered to your door.