Annette Nahinu, legendary restaurateur
|Photo gallery: La Mariana|
By Leanne Ta
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leanne Ta
It was business as usual yesterday at La Mariana, one of Hawai'i's last remaining tiki bars.
Tucked away in the Sand Island industrial district on a small dirt road, dozens of regulars shared some laughs and drinks beneath puffer-fish lanterns, fishing nets and Christmas lights dangling from the ceiling.
Annette L. Nahinu, owner of the restaurant and bar for 53 years, would have wanted it that way.
Nahinu died on July 19 of natural causes. She was 93.
"We continue to go on, but there's definitely a void because she's not sitting in her chair every day like she used to," said Rachel Higa, vice president of La Mariana Sailing Club.
"She was here all day and all night to greet her customers and talk story with everybody," Higa said.
A bouquet of tropical flowers and a photo of Nahinu sat on the table where she and her dog, Bombay, had their lunch every day. It is a small tribute to the woman who built "the Hideaway," a popular spot for sailors, tourists, and those who simply want to enjoy a slice of Hawai'i history.
"Annette tried to keep some traditions of old Hawai'i going. This is the Hawai'i of the 1940s and '50s," said Eleanor Bonner, who has visited the place at least once a week since it opened.
Nahinu lived in a two-bedroom apartment above the bar, and spent many of her days wandering the premises, according to those who knew her.
She married three times but never had children.
"The restaurant was her life. She lived, ate and breathed the restaurant," said Toddlyn Aurelio, a La Mariana waitress for nearly 20 years.
Nahinu was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., as Annette La Mariana, which means "little sea" in Italian. Always fond of adventure, she sailed to Hawai'i from New Zealand in the 1950s with her then-husband and started La Mariana Sailing Club.
The club is a private marina, but it is also the home of the public restaurant to which Nahinu devoted her time and energy in the final years of her life.
"Her mind was still on the business until the day she passed," said Judith Calma, now president of the La Mariana Sailing Club.
"She was a spirited businesswoman up until the very end," Calma said.
Nahinu's health deteriorated in her final years, and arthritis kept her from making her usual rounds.
But those who frequented La Mariana never forgot the kindness with which she greeted each and every customer who came through her tiki-inspired doors.
"She was very gracious, and she just kind of floated through the room greeting everyone. Her customers were really important to her," said Karen Trueblood from Orange County, Calif., a regular visitor to Hawai'i. Trueblood and her husband, Tom, are tiki enthusiasts who described La Mariana as "one of the best" tiki bars they've ever visited.
"This is the best. This is the old, and the others are modern. Places like this are few and far between," Tom Trueblood said.
Throughout her life, Nahinu accumulated an impressive collection of Polynesian-themed pieces, which decorate every corner of her beloved restaurant. Giant clam shells and lauhala leaves cover the restaurant's walls, which glow from the light of colorful buoys salvaged from the sea.
"This place is definitely Annette," said Helena Mang, a La Mariana waitress.
Nahinu, knowing the end of her life was near, tried to sell the restaurant for $3 million in 2006. She never closed a deal. All the stock in the La Mariana Sailing Club corporation is in the Annette L. Nahinu Trust, according to Nahinu's lawyer Ed Sampay. Calma is Nahinu's named trustee.
Memorial services for Nahinu will be held Aug. 6 at Mililani Mortuary. Doors open to the public at 10:15 a.m. and services begin at 11:15 a.m.