Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

The 1920 to 1933 nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages — the period commonly known as Prohibition — was intended to reduce family violence, political corruption and alcoholism. It also, however, reduced tax revenues and spurred gang violence, as organized crime took over the illegal alcohol trade. Alcohol consumption fell by about half during Prohibition and beyond, but it also drove the drinkers underground, primarily to speakeasies, those illicit establishments where alcohol was sold behind closed doors. At one point, there were an estimated 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone. Many of them were fronted by legitimate-looking businesses with hidden doorways where only patrons who knew the password were allowed to enter.

The ratification of the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933, ended Prohibition. There are still a few “dry” counties in some parts of the United States, but for the most part, we can now enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail out in the open.

Return of the Speakeasy

Legal or illegal, there’s something mysterious and enticing about an illicit drinking establishment that requires a secret password in order for patrons to enter.

In the past three months, two speakeasies quietly opened on O‘ahu. Maybe they opened quietly because speakeasies were meant to be hidden from law enforcement and the general public.

It could also be that local mixologist Dave Newman saw his project being pushed back month after month after month. His speakeasy, Harry’s Hardware Emporium, was supposed to have opened in March 2017. After numerous delays, Newman’s place finally opened in late December. True to the speakeasy concept, the exterior of Harry’s looks like an old hardware store with the entrance actually inside sister establishment, Pint + Jigger.

Gaslamp, Kailua’s first speakeasy, opened in what was once a sleepy community. I say what was “once a sleepy community” because Kailua isn’t “sleepy” anymore — at least not since Japanese tourists discovered it, doubling the town’s population during the day.

Kailua’s Gaslamp is named after San Diego’s Gaslamp district, where the Kailua creator, Josh VanEmmerik, attended college. It is located inside Kailua Town Pub & Grill. Patrons enter Gaslamp through an old telephone booth at the end of the bar in Kailua Town Pub & Grill. There’s a second telephone booth adjacent to the restrooms that actually leads nowhere. We realized this after knocking on the door several times. The entrance to the real telephone booth is usually staffed by a young woman dressed to the nines, sometimes even in a flapper costume! That should be a giveaway, as most of the Pub & Grill customers are dressed in shorts, T-shirts, baseball caps and rubber slippers.

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Inside the Kailua Town Bar & Grill
26 Ho‘olai St. in Kailua
(808) 483-0564
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 6 p.m.–“late”

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”


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