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50+ Year Old Bar, Hawaii West, Being Evicted by New Building Owner

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Photo from Critiki

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 boardofappeals@sfgov.org to let them know that you’d like Hawaii West to stay where it is.

The text message Nolan Kellet sent out to friends and supporters.

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.

Photo from NiceLocal

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 boardofappeals@sfgov.org to let them know that you’d like Hawaii West to stay where it is.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website BrokeAssStuart.com is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, Geek.com and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.

4 Comments

  1. RalphN
    April 7, 2022 at 1:27 pm — Reply

    Fucking dentist.

  2. Cadence
    April 7, 2022 at 5:18 pm — Reply

    It seems to me that both business could coexist. The dental office going in upstairs. And the bar remaining downstairs, where it makes the most sense, because a bar has to appeal to people walking down the street. But dental works aren’t taken on spontaneously, like ordering a drink.

  3. Teague
    April 10, 2022 at 6:06 pm — Reply

    Hi everyone,

    Nolan contacted me about a week ago with the bad news. Below is the letter I sent to the board of appeals – I’m not 100% sure on the specific details involving planning/zoning in North Beach, but I know from experience that ours is not a neighborhood that necessarily embraces change. As much as that may often be frustrating, it is kind of what makes North Beach well, North Beach. If you care about Hawaii West and it’s continued operation, the preservationist nature of this little community may be our best hope of saving this little gem of a bar. . Anyway, here’s what I wrote – please excuse the long winded nature of the letter, but I friggin’ love Hawaii West.

    Dear San Francisco Board of Appeals,

    I am writing to show support for the continued operation of a long standing business in the North Beach district called Hawaii West. It has come to my attention that the building has been sold and the new owner has applied for a change of use to open a dentist office where Hawaii West is currently operating. It is my understanding that this change of use application was denied by the Planning Dept, as North Beach has very strict guidelines against opening health care facilities in the commercial corridor. The new owner of the building, located at 729 Vallejo street, has appealed that decision, so I believe the fate of the restaurant now rests with you.

    To be fair, I am not excessively familiar with the specific guidelines of North bEach planning codes, but I feel very fortunate that those guidelines exist.

    As an owner/operator of two restaurants in North Beach, I certainly attest to it being a very trying two years. For him to have weathered that storm, only to now lose his family restaurant is tragic.

    I believe Nolan has begun the application process to attain legacy business status, as the restaurant has been continuously operated in the same family for over 50 years, and under the name Hawaii West since 1969. It is my hope that the Board of Appeals respects the tenets of our community. There are reasons why North Beach has maintained its character over the years where other neighborhoods have been bought and sold by the highest bidder and lost their personality. . We are inherently a largely preservationist community, and while that may not be great for large chain retail and giant restaurant groups (and can at times make it difficult for independent small businesses to open), most of us here in North Beach believe it is a better solution for long term sustainability.

    In short, on the matter of Hawaii West, I would ask the board to consider the potential precedent that could be set by overturning the decision of the Planning Department and to allow Nolan a reasonable amount of time to gain legacy business status and put together a plan that works for the building owner, the community and him and his staff.

    Thank you for considering my thoughts on this matter.

    Sincerely, Teague Kernan
    Owner of Belle Cora and Tupelo in North Beach, S.F.

  4. Brad
    April 16, 2022 at 4:43 am — Reply

    I agree with Cadence. Who the heck wants to see a dentists work while walking by the roadside anyhow? Best advertising in this neighborhood for a dentist is a sign above the ground level bar showing “Dentist” with an arrow pointing up toward the second floor. North beach has lost a lot of its Italian heritage over the years most of us locals know. It’s nice to hear that the permit for a medical/dental/non enjoyment type of business taking over our our scenery was denied.
    Please don’t misunderstand me. We want our dentist, we want our dermatologist, we want each and every one of our specialists with us in our neighborhoods who we bump into at the bakery and address one another on a first name basis. C’mon man… we already got the proctologists directly across from HW now you gonna jam us some more?! No offense to our friends in uniform just a joke and we really do cherish and are grateful of our north beach officers.
    Nolan…. Gosh how can I put in words what an honerable human being/friend he is? I leave it at that.
    My dentist. While living in Russian hill for 13 years I had seen the entire time while residing there. Danny Wong; owner of Nob Hill Dentistry. He wasn’t just the best dentist I’ve ever had but he was a buddy. He loved Giants baseball and just baseball in fact. We would shoot the shit about sports and before I knew it was time to go and he’s the only dentist who never drew blood on me. (50 years and only one cavity and I swear the dentist who did it when I was 14 was in the wrong) now that’s what I like in my neighborhood , my barber, my bartender, my hardware store who knows what make and model my motorcycle is… my homeless friend Curtis who has a heart the size of the moon… I cherish the fact that I hear a hello or say a hello within a block from home stepping out the door.That’s how places like Hawaii West keep us united. It’s “where everybody knows your name” it’s where stories are told and memories are had. We can’t lose this.
    Back to ddr. Wong. Brain anurism out of nowhere. Of course I made it to his memorial service at the top of the hill Grace Cathedral. Talk about neighborhood?! It was elbow to elbow with Kleenex boxes flying around like you would believe while his three teenage daughters and now widowed wife spoke such kind words of “our dentist “ their father and husband.
    Now… that to me is a neighborhood. Friends,family,good times, bad times…. Let’s keep it here.
    Can we please keep Hawaii West? Please?
    I’m going to see if the dentist who purchased the building is accepting new patients because I’m due for a teeth cleaning and I’m looking for a new dentist. Hopefully I’ll be chatting with him or her and adding to the list of neighborhood friends and businesses.
    Let’s keep our communities together please. Let’s keep or “mom and pop” shops afloat. Let’s continue to support and cherish our local businesses. And let’s all consider this new dentist to add onto our essentials. I am. We are all in this life together. Let’s stay united. xoxoxo.

    Ciao, B~rad.

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