Spy editor Ricardo Simich discovers the LGBTQI+ scene in Honolulu and makes an appearance at the Pride Parade.
Hawaii with pride
I have seen the annual parades in Los Angeles, New York, Sydney and home in Auckland, but the Honolulu Pride Parade has the most beautiful route in the world.
Home base for the floats — and the parade's starting point — is Magic Island, part of the Ala Moana Beach Park. It offers a stunning vista, with yachts moored to the left and the sea glistening against a swathe of rainbow colour. The parade travels along Kalakaua Avenue through the heart of Waikīkī and wraps up by joining the Festival celebration at Diamond Head Greens.
I had woken up slightly worse for wear, after a big night at Scarlet, the hottest gay club in town, and had to rush to make it for the 9.30am call time. For this parade, I wasn't simply a spectator — I was going to be joining the fun and taking part. If you want to ride on a float in the next Honolulu Pride Parade, just ask. New Zealand has a float there too and there's plenty of room for extras. The parade is free and open to everyone who wants to take part . . . Auckland Pride Parade take note, the military and the police were invited to participate in the parade, but they did not.
As I arrived, families were already lined up to check out the floats, which were a visual feast spanning the different facets of the Oahu gay community and its supporters.
Our float, although not as bright as others, was decorated in local fauna, with plenty of mai tais on board and I think we had the best tunes blaring along the route.
It may surprise you to learn I'm actually a very shy man, and not used to dancing on a float. As the others boogied to ABBA's Dancing Queen, I was happy to sit and take it all in, politely waving my flag at the supporters packing the streets.
By the time we got to the main drag I felt very special indeed — a sense of pride mixed with the joy of riding down the centre of the street set in the midst the iconic Waikiki skyline. Tourists from all over the world flooded out on to the street.
But the best was yet to come. Diamond Head Greens was a revelation, all set up for an afternoon party . . . and party we did. Among the bars and dance floors that traversed the winding green, I met locals from all walks of life — lesbians, bisexuals, gay, trans, queer and more. It was a real learning experience for me; after a fascinating conversation with a group of millennials I came away with a better understanding of what being gender-neutral and gender-fluid can mean. A marine biologist, who was a pole dancer the night before at Scarlet, taught me to not judge books by their covers. People from all over the world partied together, but the best were locals making sure everyone had the time of their lives.
But wait, there's more . . . After six-hours in the sunshine, it was time to go to the afterparty at Hula's Bar and Lei Stand. And in Honolulu, the party continues all year round.
The best gay and gay-friendly bars
After a fun day at the beach, poolside or hiking Diamond Head, there are ample choices for a good night in and around Waikiki.
Hula's Bar and Lei Stand
Known across the gay globe as The Gathering Place for more than 40 years, Hula's is at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki beach. The outside decks are the perfect place to watch the sun go down. Inside, a four-sided bar is well set up for chatting, playing pool, people-watching or dancing. This place is a gem and was my favourite hang-out of the trip. Hula's also have a catamaran that goes out on Saturdays and had the best-looking float in the Pride Parade.
Off the main drag of designer shops on Kalakaua Avenue is an interesting neighbourhood, reminiscent of West Hollywood mixed in with 1950s and 60s-style buildings. Two blocks back from The Royal Hawaiian centre on Lewers St, is the super gay-friendly boutique hotel
. This fantastic place highlights the best design of Hawaii's past and has a great set-up, with poolside night-time movies on a big screen, and live music on varying nights at the Mahina Lounge. This poolside bar's vibe makes it well worth a visit.
Next door to the SurfJack is Bacchus, dubbed Honolulu's friendliest neighbourhood gay bar. It has plenty of theme nights and its smaller size makes it perfect for meeting people.
Those who like to be too cool for school should head to Addiction, the Modern hotel's onsite gay-friendly bars and nightclub. This boutique modernist spot is perched at the marina end of Waikiki, another great neighbourhood with an emerging nightlife scene.
Chinatown is a must for an intrepid traveller looking to bust out of the mainstream commercialism of Waikiki and experience the downtown style and old Honolulu culture.
The neighbourhood has a rich and varied history — a fire in 1900 and the area becoming a red-light district after World War II, just some its storied past. After 1900, wooden architecture turned to masonry, creating a quintessential American city look, dotted with some archetypal Chinese-inspired facades.
By day, the Oahu Market attracts locals who love it for its fresh produce, along with tourists taking in the buzz of the new and old.
By night, its best comparison is Ponsonby Rd, where the gay and straight communities have established myriad excellent hospitality offerings, including great cafes with excellent coffee.
There are fantastic restaurants all over the place. Don't miss Little Village Noodle House for authentic Chinese cuisine; Lee Ho Fook for Asian fusion; Grondin for classic French and South American cuisine; and, my No. 1 pick, Duc's Bistro, which combines French and Vietnamese in a classy setting.
After dinner comes bar-hopping and you should make sure you have time to enjoy the wine on the rooftop at The Tchin Tchin! Bar. The Manifest is great for lovers of art; Bar 35 has great happy-hour bargains on mai tais and pizza; Smith's Union Bar is the oldest bar in Hawaii; and The Dragon Upstairs is a popular spot for its roof-top deck and chilled-out atmosphere for meeting people.
As for the gay club in Chinatown — and actually in Honolulu full stop — make your way to Scarlet. You enter through two bars, which lead to an outside space where suddenly you find yourself around a catwalk. Here it's all action — on our visit, a surfer was suspended above us, and on stage there were excellent strip and drag acts, some who had appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race. Their thunderous floor drops were jaw-dropping.
WHERE TO STAY
I experienced three hotels proud to fly the rainbow flag.
The new Ritz-Carlton Residences on Waikiki are aesthetically pleasing and perfect for a holiday fling.
The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club is a few blocks back from Waikiki in a swinging neighbourhood full of fun.
The Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina, north of Honolulu, has a wedding chapel situated in the most spectacular of beachside surrounds. My name is pencilled in, should a miracle occur.
Rainbows on horizon
Hawaii's rainbow calendar for the year ahead includes:
Saturday, June 1: Pride Community Picnic
Celebrate the start of National Pride Month with a family-friendly picnic at Queen's Surf Beach Park.
Sunday, July 21: Splash 2019
This annual Day of LGBTQ+ Pride at waterpark Wet 'n' Wild Hawaii raises money for Honolulu Pride Parade and Festival (see below).
October 5-19: Rainbows over Waikiki
Dozens of Pride banners line Kalakaua Avenue for two weeks leading up to Honolulu Pride.
October 19: Honolulu Pride
Hawaii's most colourful parade and largest LGBTQ+ community event. The parade is a free event for all who want to participate or attend.