Sam's Oceanfront Restaurant and Bar
Kapa'a, Kauai, Hawaii
“What makes for a good bar?” I asked.
“A beautiful ocean view,” Laura responded.
Laura has lived in Hawaii for the past 35 years, so it’s understandable that she would consider the view an important feature. If one is in Nebraska, probably one needs to consider other factors in choosing a drinking establishment, but here in Hawaii, a beautiful ocean view (which, in Kauai, is almost every ocean view) is a darn good factor to consider. It may be the main reason we found ourselves at the bar in Sam’s Ocean View Restaurant.
A frequent answer to our question of what makes for a good bar is the word which stands for a concept that is hard to pin down, “atmosphere.” If that “atmosphere” includes looking out at one of the most breathtaking views in the world, that’s not a bad thing.
It’s funny how there are bars throughout the 48 contiguous states that use a tropical theme, which can be fun but is also just a bit tacky. It is such a different thing to see Blue Hawaii playing on the TV, island decorations on the wall and tropical drinks on the menu when you realize this place isn’t pretending. It really is an “Island Paradise.”
So, Mindy and I went with tropical drinks; I got Sam’s Mai Tai and Mindy went with Two Palms. (Two Palms has coconut water in it, which we had just tried by itself when our host sliced a fresh coconut open for us. It is said to have many health benefits, so, yeah, healthy drinking.) We also ordered parmesan fries (receiving truffle fries, which were quite good). Bonus goodness, they brought us complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Mindy mistakenly sat on the barstool of a man who was in the restroom (he’d left his book to mark his spot, but Mindy assumed the book belonged to the woman next to it). When he returned, he was quite gracious about our seat theft, and we moved down. Fortunately, it also allowed us an opportunity to strike up a conversation, leading (of course) to our bar and church questions. Andreas* admitted he might look at our blog until Tuesday. He doesn’t have a computer or smart phone, but he might get to the library Tuesday. (“I’m a -- what do you call it? A Luddite,” he said.) At the same time we met Laura. Both of them have lived in Hawaii for years.
In answer to what makes for a good bar Andreas said, “Atmosphere” (there’s that word again). “Good, happy people who work there. Inside, they make you comfortable. A good wine or beer list, good employees, good ambience.” He told about the neighborhood bars where he grew up in New Jersey and added, “I want to feel like a regular.”
Laura said, “I love bars that give you bread. Just kidding!” This is when she mentioned the importance of an ocean view. She also talked about the importance of a good wine selection, which is a challenge on Kauai. “Ninety percent of everything is shipped first to Oahu and then to Kauai, which increases the cost.” She also said she looked for friendly bartenders and waitresses, good food, good wine. “I want to be treated special,” she said, “especially if I go there regularly.”
Laura and Andreas talked about how local places treat locals versus how they treat tourists. They both felt it was important for businesses to realize that they need locals to get them through the slow seasons, so locals should be treated well. “That’s the bread and butter of any business,” he said.
As for what makes for a good church, Andreas said, “I like to be embraced by everyone there, but not preached at.” (Laura pooh-poohed the possibility of not being preached at.) “I’m a recovering Catholic,” he said, and he joked about “Sister Mary Sadist and her five pound cross.” He remembered nuns in school forcing left handed children to use their right hands and rapping students’ knuckles with metal edged rulers. “I liked the service in Latin. I liked the answer and response, and it was good to know another language even if it was a dead one. I like a service where they allow me to be a part of the service, and not just be forced to listen to a priest or pastor or yogi. My church is the earth and the sea. I spend at least two hours in the ocean asking blessings on everybody I’ve ever known.”
Laura said, “I don’t go to church but I worship in my head.” She grew up in Utah, but left the Mormon church.
We asked Mikki the bartender if she could answer our questions and she agreed to, but then she needed to interrupt our discussion of what made for a good bar experience by going off and seeing to it that other people had a good bar experience. But eventually, we did get to hear her opinion. “Atmosphere” (again), but she said she liked “bars to be a little dingy; dark with a stout drink.” But she then said that Sam’s was the place she wanted to go to in her off time because of the quality of the drinks. “We have fresh ingredients. I just can’t stand the sweet and sour mixes used in other bars around here.”
She said she’d moved here from Colorado because she always wanted to live on a tropical island. She said she liked working at Sam’s because “I like that I get to be creative and express myself, and they celebrate that.” Mikki isn’t a church goer, but said that community is important. “What’s the point of having a church unless it’s for the community?”
I also had the opportunity to talk to Sam, she of the establishment’s title. She noted that July was the one year anniversary of her getting the keys to the property, but that the restaurant just opened last October. Sam has worked and hung out in bars and restaurants for years, but this is her first management/ownership experience. (She has a business partner who lives in Santa Barbara . The partner has a couple of decades of ownership experience.)
As for what makes for a good bar, Sam said there are three things. 1) A bartender who is friendly and provides quality service. “A bartender has to be willing to go outside what they think a drink should be to make it what the customer wants.” 2) Quality ingredients. 3) Atmosphere (you knew it would be there) which can consist of the lighting, the music, and the people.
Sam admitted that some of the things that make for quality are a special challenge on Kauai. Fresh ingredients are sometimes hard to come by. On one day she was scrambling to get eggs for the breakfast menu. “How can you do breakfast without eggs?” she said. But she is adjusting and learning to plan well ahead and to buy what she can when it’s available.
She also mentioned challenges for hiring in the area. People come to live in the islands for some of the same reasons they vacation in the islands. They like a laid back style of living, which can conflict with their work ethic. But Sam seemed invigorated by meeting the special challenges along with the special advantages of a place on a beautiful beach.
Sam isn’t a church goer. In fact, she’d consider herself an agnostic or atheist. But even so, she said a church should be “100% about acceptance, living that model of love. That’s the huge element that is missing, it should all be about tolerance.” She asked if we had a church we were going to yet and mentioned the Church of the Pacific because of the wonderful music events they hosted. She said it had a good reputation, “even with people who aren’t into church.”
Sam’s is still a young place, but we enjoyed our food and drinks, and the people we met there. With that, and an ocean like the Pacific just outside, the place should do well.
*Andreas told us there's an umlaut over the second "a" in his name -- it's Hungarian -- but I can't remember how to do that. Technical assistance always appreciated.