Where Everybody Knows Your Name

by Justin D'Olier on February 2, 2011 | (2) Comments |

I’ve never been a regular at a bar. Not for lack of appreciation of well made cocktails or skilled bartenders, just my overwhelming frugality. If I’m going to knock back six Jack-and-Diets, I’d rather save the money and do it at home. The closest I ever came to “regular” status at a bar was routine trips to Magoo’s during my brief stint at the University of Hawaii, but Magoo’s was more of a social conduit than a bar. You didn’t form a relationship with the bartenders, you just went to drink staggering amounts of cheap beer and/or hit on other people drinking staggering amounts of cheap beer, like a dirty Club Med.

Recently, however, I’ve unintentionally managed to become a regular at bar as a result of my affinity for organic produce. (That, my friends, is going green D’Olier-style.)

Ma’o Organic farms has a CSA (community supported agriculture) program that allows consumers to pay an up front fee – in essence, investing in that season’s harvest – in exchange for a weekly box of seasonal organic vegetables, provided every Monday (see Ma’o’s website for more information). The town pick-up location for the program is the V-Lounge, a pizza lounge/bar located on Kona Street, directly across from Ala Moana. The V-Lounge allows children from 5pm to 10pm, so the trips to pick up our veggies have turned into family pizza dates every Monday.

Essentially, we’re forced to go to the V-Lounge on a weekly basis to drink a Grolsch ($3 on special) and share a wood-fired pizza in support of local organic agriculture, our way of giving back to our community.

Me: “Haley, what do we do on Mondays?”
Haley: “Go to the V-LOUNGE!”
Me: “And what do we pick up?”
Haley: “VEGGIES!!”
Me: “And what do we eat?”
Haley: “PIZZA!!!”
Me: “And what do we drink?”
Haley: “GUAVA JUICE!!!!”

(Pro-tip for parents: You can get your kids excited about anything. If you dance like a maniac, throw your arms in the air, and sing the theme song at the top of your lungs every time The History Channel shows documentaries about the Vietnam War, your kid will want to dress up as Lyndon B. Johnson for Halloween. I have Haley convinced that UH Basketball Games, Bears football, and The V-Lounge are three of life’s most sublime pleasures. We’ll move on to serving breakfast in bed once she learns how to comfortably operate a stove top. Kids are awesome.)

Through our regular, frequent trips to the V-Lounge, we made friends with Kainani, a server there who, coincidentally, only works Mondays. Kainani has two kids of her own and instantly took a liking to Haley. Haley, in turn, loved the attention and started looking forward to visiting, “my friend Kai-na-ni” every Monday. Whenever Haley got a special toy – like her new shoes that light up when she runs (aka the seizure shoes) – she’d insist that she take them to the V-Lounge to show “my friend Kai-na-ni”. And, of course, every trip to the V-Lounge ended with a big Haley hug for her favorite provider of pizza and guava juice.

Kainani made trips to the V-Lounge more friendly and accommodating. When the bar was packed and all the tables were full, Kainani would find a few seats for us at the bar and hold a table for us when someone left. Even if she was juggling a myriad of pizza and drink orders and managing a twenty-person birthday party, she’d always pause to give Haley a smile and listen to what she had to say when Haley invariably ran off from our table because “I have to go say hi to my friend Kai-na-ni”. Kainani turned the V-Lounge into a fun and friendly place for Haley, which in turn turned it into a fun and friendly place for The Wine Pixie and I.

Sadly, when Haley and I went to the V-Lounge this Monday, Kainani let us know that it was her last day. She has two kids of her own and, due to scheduling issues, can’t work Mondays at the V-Lounge anymore. She had tears in her eyes and said it had been a very emotional week. Haley didn’t quite understand why her buddy was crying, but ran up and gave Kainani an extra long hug. Somehow kids always know just what to do.

Kainani handed Haley a piece of paper with her email address on it and said that Haley could reach her any time. If I wasn’t also tearing up, I would have chuckled at the ironic cosmic justice of inadvertently teaching my daughter how to pick up contact information at a bar. I told Kainani she knew where to find us and that we’d make sure that wasn’t her last Haley hug.

The rest of the night was like any other at the V-Lounge. Haley and I shared a pizza and numerous toasts of guava juice and Grolsch (that girl loves to cheers). We played hide-and-go seek, which basically involves me putting a menu over my face and acting surprised when she finds me and her laughing hysterically at how bad her idiot-dad is at hiding. Every five minutes, Haley would jump up and run over to “say hi to my friend Kai-na-ni”. Business as usual.

After we paid, we said one last good-bye to Kainani and headed for the door. But, just before we got there, Haley turned around, sprinted back into the bar, threw herself into a full-body hug of Kainani’s leg and said, “Bye, Kainani. I will miss you.” Then she trotted back to me, grabbed my hand, and we walked out together.

I don’t know how much of the situation Haley understood; I’m sure she’ll wonder why “my friend Kai-na-ni” isn’t there next Monday; And I’ll never know how she knew just what to say. But, two years-old or not, Haley realized something was changing and wished her friend one last perfect good-bye, in a way her father didn’t know how to do.

I’ll always love Mondays at the V-Lounge and I’m sure Haley will still have a blast eating pizza, drinking guava juice, and wondering if her dad will ever figure out how to play hide and seek. But it won’t be the same without “my friend Kai-na-ni”. Because, somewhere along the way “my friend Kai-na-ni” turned in to my friend Kainani and I will miss saying hi to her, talking to her about the joys of parenting and, most of all, watching her smile and listen intently to a two year-old hell bent on interrupting her while she works.

I apologize in advance to the staff of the V-Lounge for pouring out a little bit of Grolsch and guava juice in honor of our friend Kainani. We will remember her… regularly.

2 responses to “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”

  1. Aw dude that blows! Kainani made the V-Lounge fantastic. She would make me the Primo without egg when I was 7 months pregnant, met Max when he was born, exclaimed over how big he was getting every time we saw her, and was generally a giant bundle of smiles. The last time I saw her was about a month ago, I think. Shame on us for not making it to the V-Lounge more regularly – that’s the hardship of being a bar regular – when things change, they’re usually sudden and like a slap to the face. I hope that she’s still at the KCC farmer’s market on Saturdays so we can at least say hi.

    Side story: I used to bartend at a gay karaoke dive bar, and one night one of my regulars asked me to sing “Bette Davis Eyes” because my voice reminded him of that song. I promised him that I’d look it up and sing it for him the next night, but when 2am rolled around, the owners told me that they were closing up shop that night. The next morning Elton and I helped them cardboard the windows, and I never got to sing that song for my regular. That still makes me sad.

    • As I mentioned in the article, she gave us her email so let me know if you want to send her a farewell message.

      BTW, gay karaoke dive bar? That sounds all kinds of awesome.