Tahiti Nui – Hanalei, Kauai, HI

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Tahiti Nui Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge in Hanalei has the distinction of being, to my knowledge, the only tiki bar on the North Shore of Kauai. (Although, that’s about to change with the opening of Tiki Iniki in Princeville… Sounds like I need to book another trip!)

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Tahiti Nui was opened in 1964 by Louise and Bruce T. Marston, who met in Tahiti while Bruce was serving in the U.S. Air Force. A native of the French Polynesian island Tubuai, “Auntie Louise” could trace her lineage back to Tahitian royalty. Their son, Christian, now owns “da Nui.”

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Patrons can choose to sit outside on the shaded lanai or inside where the space is divided between tables and the bar. (Check out those tiki bar stools!) Colorful round lights, reminiscent of fish floats, give off a nice glow and the walls are covered with lauhala matting, tapa cloth and bamboo, plus many photographs of the founding matriarch.

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Tahiti Nui has long been a popular local spot, but it has recently gained lots of tourist attention when it appeared in the movie “The Descendants” along with other Kauai filming locations like the St. Regis Princeville and Hanalei Bay.

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It’s featured in the scene where George Clooney’s character meets up at a bar with one of his cousins (played by Beau Bridges). If you want to follow in his silver fox footsteps, snag a seat at the bar behind the beer taps or head to the corner of the dining room with this black-and-white-photo of Louise above, which is where his character went to join his daughters for lunch.

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The restaurant hosts a luau on Wednesday nights ($75 for adults) in a separate building with food, musicians, hula dancers and free Mai Tais for the first hour. The Mai Tai ($7.50) is pretty much the only tiki drink the Tahiti Nui serves — it’s made from their 50-year-old recipe with pineapple juice, rum and a dash of guava, lilikoi and other tropical fruits.

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My dining companions hadn’t been expecting much from the food, judging by the humble surroundings. But everyone was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the macadamia nut- and panko-crusted ono with coconut-lime sauce.

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Another great dish was the ginger, garlic and cilantro baby back ribs. The meat was tender and fell off the bone, and the thick sauce had a little kick to it.

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The pizzas listed on the menu are prepared at neighboring Tiki Man Pizza. We were warned that since our orders were going to two different kitchens that our food would not arrive together. The pies were the last to make it to the table, but they were definitely worth the wait — the toppings were fresh and flavorful, and the buttery crust put it over the top. It was difficult to decide which to get, so I was glad to hear they could do half and half. Our server said a popular choice was the #3 Huli Huli Chicken with red onions and cilantro, and it was much better than your average barbecue chicken pizza. I was also crazy about the combination of pineapple and kalua pork on #5 Da Hui.

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Traditional Hawaiian music is usually performed during dinner every night starting at 6:30, and then around 9 p.m. the kitchen closes, the lights are turned way down, and local bands take the small stage to play classic rock.

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I had wanted to buy one of the Tahiti Nui tank tops ($20) they have tacked up on the wall, but at the time they only had the men’s style black t-shirts (the kind the servers wear). They said they’d be getting more in a day or two, but that hadn’t happened by the end of the week when we left Kauai. Chalk it up to “island time,” I guess.

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There are other restaurants on Kauai that play up the tropical setting, like Keoki’s and Duke’s, but Tahiti Nui truly offers the experience of a cozy tiki bar, and with good food and drinks, too. If you have more time in Hanalei, be sure to check out Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art.

Tahiti Nui
5-5134 Kuhio Hwy.
Hanalei, Kauai, HI 96714
808-826-6277

Related Posts:
Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art, Hanalei
Aloha from Hanalei, Ching Young Village Shops, Hanalei
Tiki Carver at the Westin Princeville, Kauai

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art – Hanalei, HI

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In Hawaii, where cheap souvenir tikis can be found everywhere, Havaiki is a diamond in the rough. This Hanalei gallery, named after the legendary homeland of Polynesians, specializes in traditional art from the Oceania region and points beyond.

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In 2002, Jim Punter and his wife, Vicki, left their home on the Virgin Islands and for five years sailed around the South Pacific, buying and trading for art directly with villagers. Their goal was to open a gallery on Kauai, which is overseen by Dylan Thomas, a native of South Africa who was first mate on that epic voyage. He’s a delight to talk with (especially with that accent!) and a wealth of information about the collection.

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Some visitors compare browsing in the store to like being in a museum. I especially like the little room decorated like a hut with a bamboo and thatch entrance.

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A wide array of items are for sale, including carved tikis of various sizes, war clubs, shields, masks, paddles, walking sticks and tapa cloth, plus handcrafted jewelry. They also have an online store and a Facebook page where they post photos of the latest acquisitions.

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Dylan continues to make trips to the South Pacific to stock up on artifacts, but a growing part of the gallery’s wares come from local artists in Hawaii. In fact I’m quite sure that these tikis were made by the carver I saw over at the Westin Princeville.

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A lot of work and care has been put into curating the selection, which is something to account for when looking at the prices. There are some budget buys among the big-ticket items, though.

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If you find the island weather too humid and your shorts too constricting, you can purchase your own koteka, hand-woven from natural fibers by the Asmat people in Papua New Guinea. Just tie one of these “penis gourds” around your waist and you’re ready to go…or you could just display it in your house.

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One of my favorite pieces was this modern reproduction of a Dayak Kliau (shield) from East Kalimantan, Borneo. The description says it would have been used against blowpipe attacks and the “curvilinear designs convey fierceness and preservation of vital energies.”

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art is located among the stores in the Hanalei Center, conveniently just down the street from the Tahiti Nui tiki bar. The shop is not immediately visible from the highway — it’s in a cottage-like building behind Bubba’s Burgers. You should see a couple tikis mounted on tall poles signaling you’re headed in the right direction.

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy. (Hanalei Center)
Hanalei, Kauai, HI 96714
808-826-7606

Related Posts:
Aloha from Hanalei, Ching Young Village Shops, Hanalei
Tiki Carver at the Westin Princeville, Kauai
Tahiti Nui Tiki Bar, Hanalei

Enchanted Tiki Drawings – Disneyland Park Icons Sketches

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I’ve mentioned a few times before how much I like the Disney Gallery on Disneyland’s Main Street. There’s always something neat there, from special merchandise by Shag or Kevin Kidney & Jody Daily to artist showcases from Mary Blair. (Rumor has it the next exhibition will feature The Enchanted Tiki Room!)

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Sometimes there are artists working on-site in a little studio as part of the Artist Sketch Program. Guests can peek over their shoulders as they draw at the drafting desk, which is located on the right once you pass through the gift shop.

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I was told that they had recently started offering a new set of designs featuring “Park Icons,” including this colorful one of Jose from The Enchanted Tiki Room. On the ledge there is a sketch program catalog where you can see examples of the other dozens of images the artists can draw for you. The Jose cartoon is listed at $35, and the prices go up from there depending on the design.