…and wandered down to Hanks Café. A wedge of a bar on lower Nu'uanu, Hank's in many ways serves as the missing link between urban Honolulu's more raucous frontier days and its somewhat tamer 21st century persona. Namesake Hank Taufa'asau's art -- portraits of Hawaiian royalty along with more modern Island scenes -- is featured on the walls, and you'll usually find Hank himself there: delivering drinks to those unwilling (or unable) to negotiate the crowd squeezed into the narrow space; and also simply making the rounds to ensure everyone knows everyone else.
As is often the case at Hank's, half the crowd on this night consisted of musicians, and things soon evolved into a high-spirited game of musical chairs, with instruments changing hands so often that it was soon unclear who'd actually been hired to play in the first place. Guitarist moved to drum kit, bassist went to bar stool, drummer picked up bass, and a barfly that at first glance seemed too sauced to stand was suddenly punching out a perfect tempo on the communal congas … and on and on.
Somewhere late in the evening, at just the moment when I'd all but given up on making sense of anything and was contemplating my own potentially tragic debut in the rhythm system , the band went through another rotation.
Suddenly, squeezed into the corner that at Hank's passes for a stage, were representatives of virtually every ethnicity to be found in Hawaii: Samoan on bass, Maori on guitar, Hawaiian on drums … putting the "poly" in Polynesia, as it were. Three notes in, the crowd was with them word for word: Neil Diamond's I Am, I Said.
It occurred to me that this band playing this song could never have happened anywhere but right here. It was Honolulu's own Downtown Sound. At last I knew I had truly arrived at the sweet core of the Big Pineapple.