The Waikiki Cocktail Scavenger Hunt Experience

by Justin D'Olier on March 24, 2011 | (7) Comments |

As I wrote about last week, the Hawaii Chapter of the Bartenders Guild of America organized a Waikiki cocktail scavenger hunt this past Sunday evening to benefit the Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation. The Wine Pixie and I love Waikiki and cocktails and don’t particularly care for cancer, so we entered the event with our friends and Jenn and Mickey.

The event led us on an adventure that included a myriad of incredible cocktails, male go-go dancers, existential discussion about the proper contextualization of Johnny Cash, and the discovery of the greatest escalator railing in the world.

This is our story.

8:01 PM: The Wine Pixie and I arrive at Nobu by cab. We enter and are directed to a room in the back of the restaurant for check-in.

8:03 PM: I run into Dave Power, the bartender from Town and member of the Bartenders Guild. We discuss his recent experimentation with minimalist cocktails, particularly bourbon and bitters. He informs me that bourbon, by definition, must contain 51% corn, but the other fermentation is up to the distilleries. Even more interesting, he says Markers Mark uses the highest percentage of wheat of all commercially available bourbons and that Bulleit uses the highest percentage of rye, meaning every other Bourbon falls somewhere between Makers and Bulleit on the flavor spectrum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this knowledge will help me impress a hot bartender later in the night. I am reminded again of why Dave Power is awesome.

8:05 PM: I am offered a rose colored cocktail with what looks like the world’s smallest lychee sitting on top. I am told the mini-lychee is a mountain peach.

8:07 PM: I take a bite of the mini-lychee peach and marvel that it tastes nothing like a lychee or a peach. This thought is instantly lost in the deliciousness of the rose colored cocktail.

8:15 PM: The Wine Pixie and I take a seat at a table and run into one of her elementary school classmates. The classmate says she was always jealous of the Wine Pixie’s beloved lunch of cream cheese sandwiches and a slice of pomegranate.

8:16 PM: I try to think of a lunch worse than a cream cheese sandwich while I finish my drink. I fail to do so.

8:20 PM: I check in for our team and notice that we have been assigned the team name “DrinkWithAloha”. I did not know our teams would have names. I immediately lament not thinking of a cool team name and making team shirts. Anything is possible when you’re wearing matching shirts. You could pee in the middle of Kalakaua if you’re wearing matching shirts. “Don’t worry officer, this is official business. Did you see our shirts?”

8:25 PM: A significant number of the Bartenders Guild are wearing hats. Not an overwhelming number, but a notable percentage. I wonder whether this suggests something about the underlying psychology of bartenders. I decide it suggests I haven’t had enough to drink and grab a Manhattan from one of the floating cocktail trays.

8:30 PM: Trays appear with roasted peppers in a tangy sauce and edamame.

8:35 PM: More trays arrive with butter clams.

8:40 PM: The trays of food don’t stop coming, this time arriving with rock shrimp tempura and mini yaki onigiri (fried shoyu glazed rice balls) with an ahi spread.

8:41 PM: I grab another drink, this time a sparkling magical high-ball filled with a savory, sweet ambrosia described as Makers Mark, honey, and lemon. I make a mental note to increase the amount of Makers, honey, and lemon in my life. Life is good.

8:45 PM: Mickey and Jenn arrive. We direct them to the never-ending stream of food and drinks. We agree that if heaven is 75% as good as the pre-scavenger hunt portion of the event it must be a pretty sweet place.

8:47 PM: It is clear from the outset that we are approaching this event different from other teams. Most people are talking strategy. Running shoes abound. Meanwhile, The Wine Pixie is wearing knee high, 6-inch heel boots. She looks awesome. That, my friends, is winning.

8:50 PM: In 50 minutes, I have had four incredible cocktails and an embarrassing amount of Chef Nobu’s appetizers. Group consensus is that the $25 per person entry fee was a bargain even for the pre-scanvenger hunt drinks and pupus.

8:55 PM: The Bartenders Guild calls over the team captains to explain the rules of the event. They hand everyone a list of eight drinks and twenty bars as well as eight coupons for free drinks, one for each drink on the list. Teams have exactly two hours to find each of the eight drinks, take a team picture drinking each one, and arrive back at Nobu. Teams that arrive late will be disqualified.

8:59 PM: They finish the explanation of the event saying, “remember to tip your bartenders”. Apparently, bartenders strongly support the tipping of bartenders. Fancy that.

9:00 PM: Teams immediately clear out of Nobu. We take a picture.

9:01 PM: We take another picture.

9:02 PM: The Wine Pixie and Jenn use the bathroom.

9:03 PM: We realize Jenn has not had a drink. The Wine Pixie and Jenn return to the initial cocktail room to remedy this situation.

9:07 PM: We head out the door of Nobu, calm, rested, and with a fresh cocktail for Jenn. We agree that we are clearly winning this contest.

9:08 PM: The list of bars spans from The Edition to Hula’s. We decide to start at the furthest extremity and hop a cab to Hula’s. During the ride, we ask the bartender if he’s heard of any of the drinks. He peruses the list while driving down Kalakaua. At least we weren’t drinking and driving.

9:13 PM: We stroll in to the bar. A few gentleman are playing pool. The bartenders are shirtless. A tan male go-go dancer rocking a mankini and a set of rippling abs is getting down to the Scissor Sisters. We are definitely at Hula’s.

9:14 PM: We can’t find a drink list so Jenn goes to flag down the bartender. The bartender is genuinely surprised about the cocktail scavenger hunt. That strikes me as odd. I ask Mickey to see the list and locate “Hula’s Grill”.

Me: “Tori, is this Hula’s Grill.”
The Wine Pixie (cracking a huge grin): “Nope. That’s above Duke’s. This is Hula’s Lei Stand.”
Me: “That’s awesome.”

9:15 PM: We order a round of drinks to celebrate our hilarious first misstep. The bartender asks us if we want them sweet, straight, or interesting. We say “interesting.” He sets down four frothy shorts with red sprinkles on top and calls them “Pineapple Upside Down Cakes”. I knock back what has to be the sweetest shot I’ve ever taken in my life. I am thankful we said interesting. Sweet might have landed us four shots of raspberry simple syrup.

Scavenger Hunt - Hulas

This photo should have earned us a prize.

9:18 PM: We take a group photo with the male go-go dancer before we leave. After the photo he says, “Can I see the picture? I want to make sure my abs look good”. They do. I stuff three dollars into his mankini. The night is off to a great start.

9:20 PM: Our team searches for the drinks on our list using our phones as we head to the next bar. I’m reasonably sure Sergey Brin and Larry Page did not envision me walking down Kalakaua searching for Waikiki Cocktail menus on my phone for a cocktail scavenger hunt when they started Google. They must be so proud.

9:23 PM: Our search results generate a couple hits – Rangpur Refresh at Sansei and Le Geisha at The Edition – but not much else. We walk up the stairs at Lulu’s to see if we can find our first sanctioned cocktail of the night.

9:25 PM: No luck. We contemplate ordering another round, but exercise our restraint and head for Tiki’s.

9:30 PM: We ride the escalator up to Tiki’s. Our conversation leads us to the discovery that Mickey teaches a self defense class. I ask him the best peice of self-defense of advice he can teach me during an escalator ride. He says to practice sprinting so you can run away from fights. I find this incredibly practical, but mostly disappointing.

9:32 PM: Success. Tiki’s serves the Leileihua Mule. We hand the bartender our drink ticket and ask him to make a second one as well. He gives us a strange look and reminds us that we’ll have to pay for the second one. We assure him it’s not a problem and proceed to enjoy both Mules – ginger infused highball drinks, vaguely reminiscent of a gin buck, at a hasty, but enjoyable pace.

Scavenger Hunt - Tikis

You mean this isn't what Johnny Cash had in mind when he wrote Folsom Prison Blues


9:35 PM: A lone guitarrist is playing “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. Mickey and I discuss the proper contextualization of the song and a tiki bar is proper venue to enjoy a song written about Cash’s feeling of disenfranchisement while stationed in West Germany in the US Air Force. We fail to reach consensus before finishing the Mules.

9:36 PM: We venture across the street to Sansei.

9:38 PM: The bar area of Sansei is quiet. We are not quiet. We get a few looks that suggest people are either extremely amused or unhappy at our presence. Possibly both.

9:39 PM: Mickey locates the Rangpur Refresh on the menu. We order two from the bartender, which again garners us a look of confusion. We assure the bartender that we’re aware we need to pay for the second drink – something that is quickly becoming the theme of the night – and he smiles and tells us it looks like we’re having more fun than any other team. We smile and agree.

9:41 PM: Two ladies from another team sprint into the bar, completely out of breath and sweating profusely.

9:43 PM: Their other two team members arrive, equally sweaty and exhausted. The team eyes us with the wary look of competitors. We quickly disavow them of this idea and, after three minutes, they are completely surprised that we weren’t running, bought more than one drink, actually sipped and enjoyed the drinks, and happily shared what little drink location information we had with them. They exclaim that they thought we were having more fun than anyone they’d encountered. Again, we smile and agree.

9:44 PM: We wish the team good luck as they sprint out the door.

9:45 PM: One of their teammates comes sprinting out of the bathroom, swearing, “Oh shit. They left me.” She takes off in search of her teammates. We make team rules to never leave each other and never break a sweat. The rules are approved unanimously.

9:47 PM: Jenn has the line of the night. After a sip of the Rangpur Refresh she says, “This tastes like colonialism. And colonialism tastes awesome.” Tori finds this so funny she writes it on her hand. We bid adieu to Sansei and continue our cocktail adventure.

9:51 PM: We saunter down Kalakaua, googling the location of various bars and plotting our next step. It is the definitive saunter. Slightly faster than a mosey, but a step slower than a stroll.

9:54 PM: Tori stops to take a look at some jewelry and paintings for sale along Kalakaua. We are definitely winning this scavenger hunt.

Scavenger Hunt - Beachhouse

Two mai tais that we did not pour down our pants.

9:59 PM: We stop in to the Moana Surfrider to check out the Beachhouse Restaurant bar, which is on the list. The restaurant looks empty, but the lone barman offers us a drink menu. We locate the Sugarmill Mai Tai, exchange a few high fives, and order a couple. We do the same song and dance with bartender where we ask him to make us a second drink and he looks at us like we asked him to pour a Mai Tai down our pants. After we explain our rationale he gives us a big smile and tells us we have the right idea.

10:02 PM: While we sip our Mai Tais, the bartender tells us most other groups are running, sweating, and pounding drinks. Meanwhile, we have maintained our goal of not breaking a sweat. We are winning.

10:05 PM: A 25 person Japanese wedding party rolls by. We invite them for drinks. They thanks us, laugh, smile, and bow, but do not take us up on our offer.

10:07 PM: The girls use the restroom, which makes me wonder if other groups took the time to go. I’m 50/50 on whether at least one group decided to wear Depends.

10:10 PM: We stroll through the lobby of the Outrigger Waikiki. The Wine Pixie makes us stop to admire the beautiful detail of the ocean in the Hotel murals. We stop. We admire. We keep moving.

10:13 PM: We scan the Hula’s Grill drink menu, but do not find any of the cocktails on the list so we decided to keep moving. The group agrees that the other Hula’s was much more fun.

Scavenger Hunt - Hula Grill

It's a shame that teams weren't judged on the quality of their pictures...

10:15 PM: I notice a couple luggage carts outside the hotel. I suggest loading up on the team and rolling them down Kalakaua. We decide the three minutes of fun is not worth the incredibly likely trip to jail. I argue we could have gotten away with it if we wore matching shirts. We keep moving, but not before The Wine Pixie took an incredible picture of her luggage cart surfing abilities.

10:20 PM: We take a quick detour into Margaritaville (not on the list) to see if our friend Paul is working. He is not. We debate ordering another round, but decide against it. We are competing, after all.

10:22 PM: The side trip does not prove without merit. The escalator rail from Margaritaville, on the second floor of the Beachcomber Waikiki, to Kalakaua is the Mecca of escalator rails, 100 feet long of uninterrupted rail with enough angle to provide ample speed, but not enough to launch you out of control. No one is in front of us on the escalator. I run, jump, and slide. And slide. And slide. I am incredibly pleased with myself. The Wine Pixie is not as pleased.

10:23 PM: I ask if I can slide down one more time. The Wine Pixie asks if I want her to draft divorce papers. We keep moving.

10:28 PM: We cross the street and head to Doraku in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Only two people are still sitting at the bar. The servers are sweeping. They tell us they already called last call. They look like they’ve been waiting tables for ten hours and want to punch anyone who’d ask them for a drink. We leave.

10:37 PM: On our way out of the shopping center we stumble accross Wolfgang’s Steakhouse. The hot bartender with black rimmed glasses says they also had last call, but agrees to serve us anyway. I convince myself it is because of my good looks and charm.

10:38 PM: As luck would have it, they have another of the cocktails on the list, Bite the Bulleit, a rye cocktail served with a piece of bacon. I ask the bartender if the drink uses Bulleit Bourbon. When she replies affirmatively, I casually drop that Bulleit contains more rye than any other bourbon. She smiles and says she’s never heard that before. I make a mental note to give Dave a hug.

10:39 PM: The cocktails arrive. They do not contain a piece of bacon. They contain an entire bacon. It is thickest, most glorious hunk of cured pork I’ve ever laid eyes on. Furthermore, it adds the perfect smoky, heavenly balance to the drink. This cements my belief that bacon makes everything better. I tell the bartender that I love the drink and that she has really nice glasses. I’m on a roll.

10:42 PM: Clearly smitten by my charms at this point, the bartender peruses the list and tells us that we can find the “Paradise Lost” at the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar. We thank her again for the drinks and the help and continue on our way.

10:49 PM: We arrive at the Mai Tai bar, but it does not, in fact, contain a “Paradise Lost” or any other drink from the list. Either the bartender got flustered by my abundance of magnetic sex appeal or does not appreciate smug guys with bizarre bourbon knowledge as much as I thought. I decide it must be the former.

10:50 PM: In the true spirit of the evening, we say screw it and order a round of drinks anyway. I consider having a beer, but that feels like cheating on the spirit of the contest even if beer is about the only type of alcohol I haven’t already consumed that night. Mickey decides to have a Washington Apple. We all follow suit.

10:55 PM: We stroll up to Rum Fire as the time approaches eleven o’clock. We consciously agree that we’re going to miss the deadline. No one cares. We have already won.

Scavenger Hunt - Rum Fire

This cocktail was worth getting disqualified for.

10:59 PM: I get one final confused look from a bartender when I order two Rum Fuegos, a sweet and spicy concoction that includes a hint of Tabasco. He tells me that the coupon only gets us one free drink. I tell him I want to buy the second one. He finds this so strange that he refuses to charge me. I tip him handsomely.

11:04 PM: We stroll back to Nobu. When we arrive, they are already handing out the awards. Everyone is in good spirits.

11:09 PM: The Bartenders Guild thanks everyone for coming down and supporting them and the fight against children’s cancer. Everyone agrees that the event was a rousing success.

11:10 I thank Kyle Reutner, one of the event organizers for putting on such an epic event. We talk about the Bartenders Guild and I explain the concept of Drink with Aloha. After three hours of running around Waikiki drinking cocktails, I give a very animated description. I’m vaguely sure that I said part of our mission is to stop world hunger and end child prostitution in India. Hey, you never know.

11:15 PM: We finish the evening in style with couple more cocktails at Nobu, before catching a cab home. Life is good.

8:00 AM (the next morning): I feel weird. Not hungover, which, frankly, is a small miracle considering the sheer volume and staggering number of alcoholic fluids I consumed last night, just weird. My body has no idea how to process the 47 different types of cocktail ingredients coursing through my system.

I don’t think the haphazard combination of an untold number of liquors, liqueurs, cordials, and juices is a sound strategy for avoiding a hangover, but I’ll take it.

I consider it a victory, in the most Charlie Sheen sense of the word. I am a winner.


A big mahalo to Kyle Reutner, Chandra Lam, Dave Power, and the rest of the Hawaii Chapter of the Bartender’s Guild of America for organizing such an incredible event. You guys rock.

April 20th (the date of the Downtown Cocktail Scavenger Hunt) can’t come soon enough.

7 responses to “The Waikiki Cocktail Scavenger Hunt Experience”

  1. Kyle says:

    you, my friend, were winning. I knew there would be two types of teams, but I thought there would be a few more of your style. Who knew people would drink so competitively?
    Cheers and thanks again.

    • Perhaps the best part, and a testament to the hard work and preparation you guys spent to organize, is how well every group got along and how much fun everyone had before, during, and after the competition. Everyone was laughing, smiling, and having an incredible time. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

      April 20th can’t some soon enough.

  2. This makes me so proud to call you guys our friends. Sniff. So proud. I love you guys.

  3. Erin says:

    Mmmm this has brought back fond memories of bar golf…or at least what I remember of it. Jed and I are SO in next time….

  4. Steve Phillips says:

    Best. Story. Ever.
    I gotta get a team together for the next one or maybe jsut tag along with you guys.

  5. JOCELYN says:

    We will be coming with next time. = )