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House Without a Key (Oahu)

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House Without a Key at the Halekulani Hotel is my favorite place in Honolulu for sunset drinks. It has the best mai tais (very strong), onion chips, and beautiful Waikiki sunsets.

This is the famous Halekulani Hotel tree before the fall.

The tree fell on a Sunday (August 21, 2016) and it was all over the news. It was a kiawe tree that had stood there for over a century. Coincidently, kiawe means "to sway" in Hawaiian. The tree was iconic symbol of the Halekulani and faithful provider of shade on many a sunny day. 

"This tree was planted in 1887," Halekulani general manager, Ulrich Krauer said. "129 years this tree was here and it was very quietly planted as a family affair."

Guess what? It's still there!

The tree fell but didn't completely break. Because the roots are still intact, the tree is alive (an arborist checks on it monthly). It now seems more beautiful than ever. 

Welcome to House Without a Key

At House Without a Key at Halekulani, the best seats face the ocean and the famous kiawe tree. House Without a Key is one of my favorite spots on Oahu so when we heard about the fall...ahhhhh. Was it the end of an era? Thankfully no.

HWAK back in the days (can anyone figure out the year?), photo courtesy Halekulani

It's just as serene and inviting, and I try to visit often as possible. Sunset drinks (specifically mai tais) and live music/hula are longstanding traditions at At House Without a Key. 

Three key things to know about House Without a Key: Halekulani mai tais, onion chips, and Waikiki sunsets.

Do It Right

You want to come an hour before sunset. If you don't know when sunset is, 5pm is always a safe time to arrive. Make reservations if you're staying for dinner, but walk-in is fine for drinks (I prefer having just drinks/snacks here). There's usually a short five minute wait around 5pm, but if you come at 6pm the wait could be up to 30 minutes.

Ask for an outdoor table and make sure it's not too far or too close to the stage. Too far and everyone blocks your view of the musicians and dancer. Too close and the music is too loud to enjoy.

Get settled and dive into the Maui onion chips they bring to the table. They are so good and not surprisingly, very addictive. The servers keep refilling them so know your limits (hard!) and say thank you, no thank you when you've had your fill. Sometimes we order appetizers to share (ahi poke pictured above, the coconut shrimp is also fun).

You can browse the drinks menu but really, we all know there's only one drink to get. Halekulani's signature mai tai! Three types of rum, orgeat, orange curaçao, and a bit of lime juice. It's boozy and balanced, an absolute delight. Also stronger than most. This drink is so popular they've even shared the mai tai recipe here.

If you arrived around 5pm, live music should start when you're taking the first sip of that mai tai (years of visiting means we have the timing down to a science). The live local music/hula is a big part of the draw. Check the musician/dancer schedule here (scroll to the bottom of the page). One of my favorite hula dancers there is Kanoe Miller, she's been performing at Halekulani since she was 13!

Eventually, all many of your worries and stress melt away and it's like yeah, I get it. The drinks are great, music and dancing is magical, and wow that sunset. It's slightly touristy, yes. It's where I take all my friends that visit, yes. But it's also where I go with my parents before dinner in Waikiki. It's where I like to meet local friends for drinks, and when a bunch of us who live on the mainland come back to Honolulu at the same time...House Without a Key is where we meet (either here or Kahala Mall ^-^).

I'm there at 5pm and usually leave at 7pm, soon after the sun sets. Then it's off to dinner somewhere in Waikiki!

House Without a Key: Insider Tips

  • I try to avoid Fridays and Saturdays at House Without a Key because it gets too crowded. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my favorite.
  • Live entertainment begins at 5:30pm. You want to get there at 5pm to: 1) avoid a long wait and 2) get good seats.
  • Free 4-hour parking (valet or self-parking) with validation, so make sure to get your parking ticket validated.
  • For those who don't drink, they have a non-alcoholic section with good slushies (think mint-lemonade).

Info: House Without A Key (inside the Halekulani Hotel) | 2199 Kalia Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96815| 808-923-2311 | halekulani.com/dining/house-without-a-key

Price: Most drinks are $12-18

Hours: 7am-9pm. Live nightly entertainment begins at 5:30pm. My preferred House Without A Key visits take place between 5-7pm.

 

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Nancy M

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

We always go to HWAK when we are in town - can’t beat that sunset view with live Hawaiian music and hula! I think next time maybe we’ll do the afternoon tea at Orchid’s, then some shopping and a beach stroll, then check in at HWAK at 5pm. 😁

Kathy Chan

Monday 4th of May 2020

Hi Nancy! Agreed! Afternoon tea at Orchids plus HWAK sounds like the perfect combination :) - Kathy