Halekulani insiders share what’s new at House Without A Key in Waikiki

This Oahu restaurant, with legendary literary ties, has a new look and menu offerings

Ocean views for everyone at House Without A Key — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Halekulani

In the Hawaiian language, the word “halekulani” means “house befitting Heaven.” As a return guest to this Oahu hotel, I can attest to this sentiment. Overlooking Hawaii’s legendary Waikiki Beach and majestic Diamond Head monument, Halekulani is an elegant and sprawling resort, renowned for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and its swimming pool terrace.

It’s also home to the recently refurbished House Without A Key, an iconic restaurant with impressive literary ties, an island-inspired menu, and live Hawaiian music and world-class hula dancing nightly.

The restaurant’s extensive renovations include a newly designed entrance into the 250-seat dining area and a high-tech, exhibition-style kitchen, with windows that offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of the kitchen staff working their culinary magic.

The restaurant’s sleek, white tables and chairs add a subdued, modern accent, allowing the property’s stately 130-year-old kiawe tree to take center stage.

Table No. 97, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite

Hemingway's preferred table No. 97Hemingway’s preferred table No. 97 — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Joseph W. Diver, director of food and beverage operations, says, “Although we have an updated look, House Without A Key is still the iconic place to listen to Hawaiian entertainment.”

It was certainly a favorite spot for legendary author Ernest Hemingway, who honeymooned at Halekulani in 1940 with his new wife, famed journalist Martha Gellhorn. While dining here, they preferred a specific table near the ocean — table No. 97 — for its view of Diamond Head. It’s available upon request, but even if you can’t score this table, you’ll find plenty of seating with stellar ocean views.

Chefs Testa and Otake’s new take on the menu

Chef Testa working his culinary magicChef Testa working his culinary magic — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Halekulani

In addition to an updated look, executive chef Christian Testa, alongside chef de cuisine Jarrin Otake, has reimagined the menu.

With several new dishes, House Without A Key’s menu is a blend of creative comfort foods from a variety of cultures, styles and backgrounds. Pipikaula Salad Bundles consist of thinly sliced marinated flank steak that’s broiled, wrapped with baby greens and served with papaya vinaigrette. “Pipikaula” means “beef rope,” referring to the meat traditionally enjoyed by island cowboys, or “paniolos.”

Testa, who hails from Genova, Italy, imported a state-of-the-art Italian brick oven that’s used for baking several specialties, including flatbreads with a variety of toppings.

Testa explains the Marra Forni brick oven was created exclusively for their restaurant and shipped more than 8,000 miles to reach Hawaii. “It allows us to provide a new, unique dining experience and greater versatility,” he says.

Dining alfresco at House Without A KeyDining alfresco at House Without A Key — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Halekulani

Other specialties prepared in the brick oven include Hamachi Kama, made with grated chili-daikon, yuzu-kosho and a dollop of ponzu sauce, and the Char Siu Coconut Baby Back Ribs, which are soy-garlic marinated and served in a hoisin Chinese five-spice honey glaze, with coconut syrup, toasted coconut and green onion.

For dessert, their homemade coconut cake is a top seller — and always recommended by this writer. If you prefer to sip your dessert, choose the Coconut Cake Martini. It’s equally delightful.

Introducing Earl’s at House Without A Key

A classic Mai Tai with a view of Diamond Head State MonumentA classic Mai Tai with a view of Diamond Head State Monument — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Halekulani

Earl’s, the new pool bar, is an homage to American novelist Earl Derr Biggars, who penned the first Charlie Chan mystery, “The House Without A Key” in 1925, at Halekulani.

Previously an unassuming service area, Earl’s offers an ideal casual, oceanfront gathering spot for savoring craft cocktails and nibbling on light bites. Steps away is the serene and spacious swimming pool terrace, with the lovely orchid-tiled pool as the centerpiece.

Tuda Grehan, the mixologist behind Earl's cocktail creationsTuda Grehan, the mixologist behind Earl’s cocktail creations — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Halekulani

Lead mixologist Tuda Grehan’s cocktail program showcases handcrafted, tropical inventions, such as the Kawehewehe, made with Kuleana rum, kiawe-smoked pineapple cordial and Tiki bitters. The Coconut Old-Fashioned features toasted coconut-infused bourbon, coconut banana syrup and a dash of chocolate bitters.

“My favorite new cocktail is the Earl’s Daiquiri, which has El Dorado three-year Guyana Demerara rum, lime, yuzu and salted syrup,” says Grehan. “It’s balanced and harmonious, showcasing saline, exotic citrus and a well-rounded traditional rum.”

Grehan adds that the signature Mai Tai is also a longtime bestseller, with more than 3,000 of these rum-infused beverages served each month at the hotel.

“You can never go wrong with a classic,” she says.

That’s a true statement that indeed applies to the iconic House Without A Key.

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