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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 22, 2002

Alakea Bar & Grill closes, but owners reopen nearby

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey

Say goodbye to another old friend: Alakea Bar & Grill is no more. The restaurant, a downtown institution for decades, closed quietly a couple of weeks ago.

Its owners have reopened a block mauka of the familiar Alakea and South Beretania landmark location, minus the moniker.

The Alakea Bar & Grill charmed legions of friends over the years with food, drink and conviviality, but recent customers were mostly into karaoke and darts, loud music and sports.

It was time to move on, general manager Gary Dickman gently suggested to old-time regulars.

The bar was just old, Dickman said. "Everything was either falling apart — or off.

"We had so many regulars — the same people, seven days a week. 'Cheers!' — that's what we called (it)."

Downstairs, where it was quieter, Alakea Bar & Grill had an older crowd, often businessmen after work.

Upstairs, it was a more boisterous group in the Players Sports Bar. Sometimes sports crowds would spill over to the quieter environs below.

One of the bar's most popular activities was "The Jeopardy Crowd," which would start meandering in about 4 p.m. weekdays for the daily TV game show. "They were good!" Dickman said.

The place had a colorful past — from fast food to the English-style Royalgate Court, Grace's Inn and Alakea Grill. For a time, there were even attorney and real estate offices upstairs — anything to stay afloat financially. Near the end, the property shared the names Alakea and Players.

Nearing the end of their lease, the owners knew it was time to move on. So Alakea Bar & Grill exists mostly in name, Dickman said — and memory. "We (the Players Bar parent company) own the name."

The first person to express sadness was the 42-year-old New York native himself. "I've been here 11 1/2 years," Dickman said. "This was my home. I can do (the routine) in my sleep. I'm not comfortable with change. It took awhile to convince (even) me to accept this."t was a matter of keeping up with the times. At the new location, about a block mauka in the Queen Emma Building, the kitchen is new, as are the carpeting and paint.

"It's pretty much a new bar, new tables," he said. And it has about 25 percent more seating.

Old-timers took more than their memories with them to the new location. "We pretty much carried everything up the street," Dickman said. Even the roof dish antenna was unhooked and carried across South Beretania.

Reminders of the Alakea Bar & Grill remain: familiar old sports pennants, University of Hawai'i volleyball memorabilia, boxing posters, NFL mugs and pictures of sports greats — as well as the framed collection of sports ticket stubs, to which customers have added over the years.

"We'll be hanging that here (too)," he said of the new location.

For days after the move, Dickman stood duty in the old parking lot, gently breaking the news to surprised regulars and welcoming them to the new place.

The old Alakea Bar & Grill still wears the "blink on, flicker off" neon sign, along with a new one: For Sale.

A few days after the move, Dickman returned to his old stomping grounds to retrieve a belonging, and the emptiness produced just one thought: "It shouldn't be like this."