Barstool Gourmet at Lahaina Grill, Roy's, Duke's & Merriman's
Dining at a gourmet restaurant without the benefit of back support was considered unacceptable when I lived on the mainland. But after moving to Maui, I learned that the coveted corner stool at the bar is considered prime real estate by locals in the know.
Dining at the bar suits Maui’s laid-back atmosphere, encouraging casual conversation while offering great food in some of the most convivial (and beautiful) settings imaginable. A few of my West Maui favorites:
Lahaina Grill Owner Jurg Munch imparts a classy, cosmopolitan flair to this Lahaina hot spot, which tops my list as the pinnacle of gourmet barstool dining. His dedication to five-star service is reflected by the entire staff, especially by the pretty bartenders, Mary and Annabelle, who deliver multicourse gourmet meals from behind the bar as nimbly as the seasoned waiters in the dining room.
The appetizer portion of uber-rich ahi with Hudson Valley foie gras and Dalmatia fig typically stands in for my entree, while my BFF is only getting started with Oliver Gray oysters. Everything on the menu is exceptionally well prepared, including the signature Kona coffee-roasted rack of lamb. Save room for an unbelievable selection of desserts.
127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina | (808) 667-5117 | Bar & Dinner Hours: 6 – 10 p.m. daily
Roy’s Ka'anapali Bar & Grill Roy’s Kahana was a classic hangout for devotees who prefer the intimacy of dining at the bar. No wonder — bartender Sean Rudesill and his coworkers attended to guests’ every whim. They’ve followed Roy’s to its new location above the pro shop at Kaanapali Golf Resort.
The new space was completely renovated to accommodate twice as many barstools and Roy’s signature observation kitchen. Also new is the specialty drink menu, awash with of-the-moment ingredients. Throw back a cucumber lychee martini, a mango honey mojito, or caipirinha de acai before diving into Roy’s Aipono Award-winning Pacific Rim cuisine. Dinner options range from Szechuan ribs with a hint of plum sauce to lemongrass-crusted ono, and often feature specials from Chef Joey Macadangdang that you’ve likely never tried at any other Roy’s outlet. (Roy gives local chefs significant latitude.)
As it was in Kahana, is now and hopefully ever shall be, Roy’s bar staff excels, refilling glasses before you need to ask, making menu suggestions, and reminding you that the decadent molten chocolate souffle requires a thirty-minute lead time. Order it with your entree, even if you aren’t positive you want it. Once they deliver it to the guy next to you, you’ll wish it was yours.
2290 Kaanapali Pkwy., Kaanapali | (808) 669-6999 | Lunch: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Happy Hour/Bar Menu: 2 – 5:30 p.m. Dinner: 5:30 – 10 p.m.
Duke’s Beach House Like most TS Restaurants, Duke’s enjoys prime oceanfront real estate, which adds panache to this island-style restaurant. Sit at the bar and never lose sight of the waves while you enjoy quality fare under the stars. During Aloha Hour (3 to 5 p.m.), kahuna sliders and imu-fired ribs are only $5.25; views and live entertainment are free. Linger for the dinner entertainment presented most nights from 6 to 8:30 p.m., with Henry Kapono on the bill the last Friday of every month. Come as you are, direct from the neighboring beach, or dolled up for a night on the town — most any attire is welcome here.
The Ohia Bar menu highlights pub favorites — fish and chips, ribs and chicken, and grilled fish tacos — while the main dining menu rouses gourmet palates with arugula and farro salad, mac-nut herb-crusted island fish, and scampi Kealoha. For a light, late-night repast, order the lobster coconut soup or rocket salad graced with Surfing Goat cheese and roasted local beets.
Of course, nothing suits a seat at Duke’s bar better than a tropical elixir. I recommend the cane field cosmo or luscious lilikoi, made with Ocean vodka and passionfruit, shaken not stirred.
Honua Kai Resort & Spa | 130 Kai Malina Pkwy., Kaanapali | (808) 662-2900 | Breakfast: 7:30 – 11 a.m. Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Ohia Bar: 3 – 9:30 p.m. Dining Room: 4:45 – 9:30 p.m.
Merriman’s Kapalua The location — on the picturesque point between Kapalua and Napili Bay — is a wonder in itself, and dining at the bar is a thing of beauty. During the day, ocean views pierced by Kapalua’s signature lava-rock jetties and the islands of Lanai and Molokai beckon pau hana patrons onto the deck. Once stars twinkle overhead, the hungry mosey back into the gorgeous dining room as sounds of live jazz floats in the salty air. Clever diners take a seat at the onyx bar and ready their forks for a feast.
Start the night with a “from scratch” cocktail or locavore specialty drinks enhanced with lilikoi, pineapple, mango or cucumbers and herbs from local farms. Then whet your appetite with bar-menu exclusives, including taro hummus, ahi sashimi with pohole fern, or my favorite, Keahole lobster with avocado and local tomato salad.
The dinner menu features selections from moana (the ocean), such as succulent diver scallops and wok-charred ahi, while options from the aina (land) include locally raised beef and jidori chicken. Merriman’s offers entrees in full or half portions, and to the delight of the indecisive, encourages diners to create a duo plate by choosing any two entrees on the menu.
1 Bay Dr., Kapalua | (808) 669-6400 | Happy Hour: 3 – 5 p.m. Oceanfront Bar: 3 – 9 p.m. Dinner: 5:30 – 9 p.m.
The next time you’re up for a delicious night out that includes world-cass people watching, networking and socializing, hop up on a barstool at one of these restaurants. You may be surprised who saddles up beside you.