50+ Year Old Bar, Hawaii West, Being Evicted by New Building Owner
Word just came in from multiple sources that Hawaii West, a North Beach tiki dive bar with a great kitchen is being evicted by its new building owner.
But YOU might be able to help save it! Read below:
Bar owner Nolan Kellet, whose grandmother started the place in the 1960s, sent a message to a friend, which was forwarded on to me. It explained that, while Kellet tried to buy the building himself, he was unable to because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Then a dentist bough the building and wanted to move his business into where Hawaii West is. The dentist’s permit was rejected due to North Beach’s business restrictions, but now the dentist is appealing it.
Kellet is asking the community’s support to help save this fourth generation San Francisco business. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know that you’d like Hawaii West to stay where it is.
To understand the kind of bar Hawaii West is, read this article I wrote about it for the SF Bay Guardian a number of years back:
It was nighttime in North Beach and that series of New York Magazine articles had come out earlier in the day. You know the ones: they were saying how San Francisco was more New York than New York, and then demonstrated it by needling us on how tech was ruining our wonderful town. I was bummed. It was like reading about the reasons they closed Tu-Lan awhile back – you knew terrible things were happening, but up until then you were able to suspend your disbelief. I’d finished a vodka soda at Mr. Bing’s with a friend and then decided to see what else I could drink my way into. I imagine it’s that same sentiment that lands most people in Hawaii West.
Even though I’d miraculously never been there before, this divey North Beach tiki bar felt like home as soon as I walked in. A guy was facetiming with his girlfriend while playing himself at pool, soul and funk emanated from the Music Choice channel on the TV, and a legless foosball table sat abandoned on a side table. It was my kind of rundown, my kind of weird. The bartender asked my name and then introduced me to the six or seven other patrons sitting at the bar. Their friendliness was overwhelming. “How the fuck have I never been in here before?” I asked myself as I looked at the scores of pool trophies, tiny drink umbrellas, and the laminated poster suggesting a slew of different tropical cocktails. Hawaii West had been around for roughly 50 years, the bartender told me, but she didn’t know much about its history. I gave her my info and asked her to have the owner contact me so I could find out.
A few days later I got a text from Nolan Kellet, Hawaii West’s owner, a union roofer who’s been a building inspector on military bases throughout the US for the past decade. In our conversation he told me how his grandmother moved from Hawaii to SF in the early 60s and opened the Aloha Café. His father, one time president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 1225, reopened the place in 1969 naming it Hawaii West, while his mother worked there serving longshoremen in the 70s and 80s and Academy of Art students in the 90s. “I remember as young boy in early seventies,” Kellet tells me, “Hells Angels frequented the bar until the police station moved in across the street. I remember motorcycles lined up and down both sides of Vallejo St. Wish I had some pics. They gave me rides through the Broadway tunnel and around Fisherman’s Warf at a young age.”
Old bars are like the rings inside a tree trunk, they’re witnesses to history and become a record of it simply by existing. Hawaii West exemplifies this brilliantly. Walking in, you know great stories live there, you just have to dig a little deeper to get them.
“You guys get busy?” I asked the bartender as I was leaving. “Not really,” she told me. “You can pretty much come here with a group of friends anytime and take over the place.” I walked out of there drunk and smiling because I realized New York Magazine had missed a crucial point: we still have Hawaii West.
Wanna help save this place? Email email@example.com to let them know that you’d like Hawaii West to stay where it is.