Rockin’ Paradise

October 1, 2012 | By Jason Black

When the sun goes down, Waikiki serves up plenty of musical sizzle.

Beyond the world-famous beach, there’s plenty to do and see in Waikiki at night. Actually, it has a rhythm all its own. Down on Kalakaua Avenue between Diamond Head on one side and Ala Wai Yacht Harbor on the other, residents and visitors meander down the sidewalk and cross in clusters with the changing of the streetlights. Tonight’s collection of street performers paints portraits and break-dance near a black boombox and play music. There’s always plenty of music (amidst the ambient noise), which permeates the air like the scent of fresh plumeria. And, when you’re done outside, you can always head indoors to enjoy some live entertainment.

Over the past 25 years, the Hard Rock Cafe has been rockin’ paradise, so it’s always a great place to catch some late-night, live music. Recently, it moved locations from the edge of Waikiki (near Kapi‘olani Boulevard) to its brand-new home in the center of the Kalakaua strip, making it easier for all to walk over and enjoy. As you stroll through the ground-floor retail space and make your way upstairs, the first thing you’ll notice is the arching “rainbow” of classic electric guitars that start on the far wall and spray across the exposed-beam ceiling. Climbing upstairs, the deck is split into two main sections—a bustling bar to the left featuring a frosted glass panel wave, and a large dining area with a live music stage to the right. The video screens and house sound system pump classic rock and party jams from artists like Credence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, The Killers, House of Pain, The Beastie Boys and more. Beyond the dining room and bar area, there’s also a spacious outdoor lanai so you can enjoy a relaxing, romantic evening under the swaying palms and stars.

When you’re done with cocktails and dinner, be sure to check out the Hard Rock’s nightly live entertainment starting after 9 p.m. On Monday evenings, alt-rock quartet Mantra plays a well-oiled mix of classic rock, grunge and alternative from notable bands like the Foo Fighters, Incubus and Tool. On Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., you can catch 20 Degrees North featuring singer/guitarist Danny Wasserman and crew playing a ’60s-tinged freestyle mix of Hawaiian and various other musical styles. And, if you’re looking for good vibes, drop in on rotating Friday nights to check out local duo Sing the Body featuring guitarist Zack Shimizu and drummer/keyboardist Elijah Oguma.

“I think that the best thing about playing in Waikiki at the Hard Rock Cafe is hands-down the built-in crowds of visitors and locals,” says Mantra’s 24-year-old vocalist/guitarist Jason Nomura.

“Every week is new and exciting, and the fact that we get different people coming to see our show week after week who tell us that we have something good, really keeps us motivated to play.”

So what’s a typical night like for the band? “The outstanding feature for our weekly Monday night show is the versatility that we demonstrate throughout the course of the evening,” he says. “From 9 to 10 p.m., we’re still a dinner band, so we have to sit down and play more mellow, acoustic songs. But then, as the night progresses, we can turn it up a bit and play out on electric instruments and a full drum kit. It really keeps us on our toes as both musicians and performers.”

Next up, across the street and down the block on Lewers Street, you can grab a nightcap at Kelley O’Neil’s, an Irish brew pub (directly opposite Moose McGillycuddy’s) that gets a busy and steady mix of clientele including Waikiki residents, visitors and even some military folks. On any given night, you can also catch a slew of off-duty service industry folks—blowing off steam, smoking at the bar—and enjoy the lively music scene. On the Friday night that I stopped in, the house band was banging out classic rock covers of Rolling Stones, Bad Company and the like. Other nights, I’ve seen hard rock cover band Masters of OZ doing Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice in Chains and more. Check out their handy online calendar for the latest band lineup info.

Finally, down Lewers and over on Kuhio Avenue, there’s the Waikiki Sand-box, a friendly neighborhood hole-inthe-wall dive bar that offers nightly live music. On Sunday nights, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., be sure to catch up-and-coming local band Mano Kane (“Shark Man” in Hawaiian) that play classic ’50s and ’60s pop, rock and surf rock under their secondary guise, Kalani & the Cruzers (

It’s always a good time because they only tackle songs recorded before 1969 and they thrive on audience participation.

As front man Chris Chorney describes the scene, “Waikiki is a great place to meet a wide audience—we get people from all over the world who are out on the town and looking for some quality entertainment. We offer something unique for Waikiki—surf rock and oldies—in an energetic and fun environment. Not many bands around are covering the classics and we can’t believe that we’ve never heard of a surf rock band here in Hawai‘i until we started one in 2011.”

So what can you expect from their Sunday night show? “It’s a high-energy rock ‘n’ roll dance party!” he says. “The more energy the audience brings, the crazier it gets.


Hard Rock Cafe
280 Beachwalk St. [C:6 Waikiki Map]
(808) 955-7383

Kelley O’Neil’s
311 Lewers St. [B:7 Waikiki Map]
(808) 926-1777

The Waikiki Sandbox
2260 Kuhio Ave. [B:8 Waikiki Map]
(808) 931-6102