Dripping wet, wearing only a swimsuit and a smile, I pull a sodden twenty-dollar bill out of that secret place in my swimsuit and plop myself down at a table beneath a rustling palm tree. I may be at the perfectly swank Lava Lava Beach Club at Waikoloa Resort on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, but I’m not underdressed. After a week exploring some of the island’s more rustic charms, I’m surprised at how famished I am for an authentic Hawaiian beachfront destination as tasteful and relaxing as this. Happy Hour has yet to begin, and the vibe is mellow. As I look out across the blue, blue water, I’m imagining an equally swank and underdressed Elvis Presley crooning his way through the movie Blue Hawaii, and I have to admit, I get the charms of this island paradise.
The menu comes. I order a Blue Hawaii. Of course, I do. Sure, it’s a classic cocktail of the tiki era and the subject of my post today, but as I’ve learned in my brief time on the island, it’s also a way of life.
If you know the Big Island of Hawaii, you know it’s a blue skies meet blue seas lifestyle. The town of Kona epitomizes the casual hang ten surf-now-party-later attitude. It’s a town of sidewalks crowded with tourists cruising souvenir shops or enjoying raucous happy hour beers on second story verandahs overlooking Kailua Bay. The locals seem to be an odd mix of retired folks who ignore the hullabaloo and college kids who may have given up on college permanently.
Don’t come expecting all of the urban niceties of say, Honolulu, as this is a mostly rural island that sustains most of its stunning natural grandeur. Get outside of town, and you’ll find a culture all its own that includes working farms, tropical rain forests, and black sand beaches. It features lush mountains, waterfalls, and vast expanses of lava fields stretching from the base of two active volcanoes all the way to the ocean. It’s an other-worldly moonscape that makes it easy to leave the ‘real’ world behind. Yet another reason for me to order a Blue Hawaii.
If you know this classic cocktail, then you may realize that it has become a mixture of good intentions ruined by bad luaus. In fact, it can be one of the ugliest, crassest, most overwrought drinks I’ve ever gulped down my gullet. That’s because they’ve become victims of their own success. Lately, this mystical aggregate of quality and parity has been reduced to a bottled mix of whatnot and a catchall for vagrant grocery store juice sloshed together with blue food dye and a grade of rum that could gag a pirate. Grossly overdone, they’ve become sad jokes from a tiki culture long past.
Lava Lava Beach Club:
But nothing at Lava Lava is gross or overdone. Keeping it simple is what makes this place work. Some of the tables, like the one I chose, are right on the beach, allowing a stylish “toes-in-the-sand contemporary” vibe. And that is exactly how life partners and owners of the bar Eric von Platen Luder and Scott Dodd describe this bit of paradise they’ve carved out on the sand. Set on ten acres of jaw-droppingly beautiful beachfront property, Lava Lava is more than just a beach bar. It’s also a 120-seat open-air restaurant that serves lunch and dinner, as well as the backdrop for four contemporary Hawaiian guest cottages that were individually designed to give guests all the comforts of a well-appointed private home. It’s just the sort of laid-back barefoot luxury I was looking for. I have to admit, everything about this place hit the sweet spot for me.
As did their simple version of a Blue Hawaii. They call it Out of the Blue, and it’s closely patterned after the original 1957 version invented by Harry Yee, the legendary bartender of Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. It presents itself in the palest shade of sky blue with a restrained complement of blue Curaçao, rum, vodka, and pineapple juice, made all the more delicious by a bartender who mixed my drink with a shake, rattle, and roll– as only Elvis himself could. Aloha, indeed. GREG