Wailuku residents rejoice! There’s a new bar on Market Street that’s breathing fresh air into the ghost town that downtown Wailuku has been known to be.
Wai Bar is a community tavern opened by Amanda Wilson, Johnny Wilson and Michelle Halcomb. Their goal is to serve the Wai Side in ways that previously weren’t available.
“A place for locals, where everybody knows your name and what your drink is,” said Halcomb. “There’s a price point for everybody and a choice of booze from the top shelf to the very bottom.”
Halcomb has been living in Wailuku for some time and met Johnny and Amanda at a barbecue where the three were volunteering for a friend. After cooking up ribs and serving wine all the night, they began chatting about opening their own spot, a place for people such as themselves to go and unwind. Something that was seriously lacking in the downtown Wailuku area.
“Wailuku couldn’t hang out with itself,” said Amanda. “There are so many cool and different people, but after nine it was a ghost town.”
Though Wailuku does have bars open late, they are scattered few and far between and most already have an established niche to them, not that that is a bad thing. But Wai Bar wants to be a little something for everybody.
The bar itself is small but feels homely once you’re inside. It’s the kind of place where everyone at the bar is a friend, even if they don’t even know you yet. It offers a welcoming atmosphere, good music and a “tropical glam” design motif makes it seem like you’re walking into somewhere familiar.
Halcomb said she designed the bar to, “remind people of one of their favorite cities.”
“Wailuku is super diverse, and we wanted to make the décor, menu and prices to fit all walks of life that are here,” she said. “Including sober people. People that just want to enjoy some music and not feel left out.”
Wai bar has an extensive list of products, including fresh juices, root beer and kombucha on tap for non-alcoholic options. The bar’s taps only carry local beers from Maui Brewing and Kohola, and serves every liquor made on the Hawaiian Islands from Ocean Vodka to Koloa Rum–not to mention everything in between. There’s also wine, sake, bubbles, Guinness and a well-rounded list of spirits.
As far as food, the Wai Bar has a bring your own policy, adding to the community feel and creating a picnic-style dining experience. Customers are encouraged to bring in their own dishes, or order in from local places in Wailuku. On busier nights, Wai Bar plans to coordinate with local food trucks and have them posted up on Market Street.
Music is another big aspect of Wai Bar. Inside the small space is a professional stage and sound system, hosting live music and DJs nearly every night of the week.
Johnny talked a good deal about the neighborhood support the bar has received from local spots like the Iao Theater, Mill House and Wailuku Coffee Co.
“Everyone’s been instrumental in getting us built up,” he said. “A community helping and holding us up while we get started.”
And that’s really what the Wai Bar is about. A community. It’s a bar by the people for the people. The name Wai is short for the Wai Side, or Wailuku Side. But it also refers to its Hawaiian definition. A definition that’s posted out front of the bar, for all those who enter to see:
“Liquid or liqor of any kind, other than sea water. Juice, sap, honey, liquids discharged from the body as blood or semen… A thrilling discharge of love.”
Posting that sign was a kind of “social experiment,” the owners said, and they laughed about watching people’s faces turn as they read the bodily liquids section. But it was important to them to keep the whole definition in full as a testament to what the bar stands for.
“I want people to come and meet their neighbors and feel welcome,” said Amanda. “[It’s] something for our people in Wailuku.”
The Wai Bar’s grand opening has been set for Dec. 9. At the official party the bar will release its full craft cocktail list, recipes by Mike Vincent and their secret back patio–a very cool space that will double the bar’s capacity and allow for star-lit parties.
45 N. Market St., Wailuku
Photos: Sean M. Hower