Aloha Spirit

Bob Ware, John and Candice Bass, and Jimmy Ganzer have fun at Duke’s on Friday night.

They were elbow to elbow and pupu to pupu on Friday night as legendary Duke’s Hawaiian restaurant celebrated 20 oceanfront years at Las Flores Canyon and Pacific Coast Highway.

It’s hard to imagine that the old, worn and tired “Sea Lion” restaurant would turn into the hottest ticket in town. Once filled with blue-haired ladies drinking their morning eye-opener and enjoying 120 mm menthol cigarettes, as Duke’s it has become transformed as a go-to place for locals and visitors alike.

It’s just as hard to believe two decades have gone by. The anniversary ocean view party was taken over by a festive mass of party guests with vintage Hawaiian tees and tie dyed mumus.

Head bartender Kameron Robinson has been there almost from the beginning. As for his ocean front office space, he said, “I love it. Everything is awesome. It’s all our family now.” Through it all, they have maintained their specials like Monday’s Aloha hour, Taco Tuesday, Wine Off Wednesday, Thursday’s happy hour and Friday’s Mai Tai Madness. The parking lot is always jammed, especially on Sundays for the elaborate Hawaiian-style all you can eat brunch. You can dine to your hearts content with everything from custom made omelets, eggs benedict, a carving station, bagel, lox and cream cheese and any kind of flaky finger-licking good pastry you can imagine.

Of course, the place comes with a long history. Among all the vintage, Gidget and surf memorabilia you’ll see, there is a great statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamokku who was born in 1890 carefree and with Waikiki as his playground. It’s become one on the most popular selfies of the day. Duke’s has several other outposts including in the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu; Duke’s Canoe Club Kauai in Lihue, Hawaii; and, closer to home, Duke’s Huntington Beach just down the coast. While many admire all the vintage items at Duke’s, not everyone knows why the king of surfing became so famous.

He was born in Honolulu on Aug. 24, 1890, to full-blooded Hawaiians and descendants of royalty. A few years later, he was breaking freestyle race records and in 1912 he won two Olympic medals. He followed up with more Olympic gold and silver in 1920 and 1924. Still, he never forgot his childhood growing up on Waikiki with the ocean, which remained his playground. It gave him a chance to do what he loved best — swimming, surfing and body surfing.

Today his name still carries his legend. What can you say but Hulipau (cheers) and here’s to another 20 years!