When most people think of Hawaii, they think of sun-drenched beaches, breathtaking waterfalls, water sports, and swaying palm trees. But Hawaii is also home to a lot of history, including one of the most devastating events to ever occur on American soil. When the forces of Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying mighty ships and killing over 2,400 Americans, the history of the United Stated and the world was forever changed. Every visit to Hawaii should include a visit to Pearl Harbor to truly understand this traumatic event.
Once you’ve felt the weight of history on the spot where it happened, you’ll probably feel a need to decompress, and a walk though one of Honolulu’s most colorful areas is a great way to do it. In the Hotel Street district straddling Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu, you’ll find a business that still has a direct connection to the events of December 7, 1941. This is the story of Smith’s Union Bar, the oldest bar in the entire state of Hawaii.
Starting in the early part of the twentieth century, the area where Smith’s Union bar is located was something of a sailor’s paradise—and not exactly family-friendly. Rowdy sea dogs with pockets full of cash would spill into the slightly unsavory district, ready to unwind after long months at sea. Today, the area still has a few vestiges of a seedier time gone by, but mostly the area is filled with trendy bars and boutique shopping. There’s also a college nearby, which brings a younger crowd out for some night time revelry.
Back when sailors crawled these streets, each battleship had a preferred watering hole. The USS Nevada crewmen laid claim to Shanghai Bill’s Bar, the men of the USS Maryland filled the Four Aces Bar, and the sailors of the USS Arizona made Smith’s Union Bar their home away from home. Today, it’s the only of those establishments left standing, still faithfully serving an eclectic mix of customers, which changes drastically depending on when you show up.
But once a year, on December 4th, a very special patron shows up to have a drink and pay his respects. His name is Lauren Bruner and he was a 20-year-old Fire Controlman serving aboard the USS Arizona on the morning of December 7th, 1941. He sustained burns all over his body on that fateful morning, but he survived his injuries and the war that followed and has been making the pilgrimage to Smith’s each and every year to raise a glass to his fallen shipmates.
Smith’s Union Bar is far from being a trendy, hip bar filled with faux rustic furnishings and electronic music. It’s a dive bar in the most classic sense. If you visit, you’ll find friendly people and lively conversation, all in all not that different from any other local dive bar.
But there is one big difference from your local pub, and that’s the quiet commemoration of the brave men who served on the USS Arizona, giving their lives defending their country. So if you’d like to pay your respects and check out a local landmark, Smith’s Union Bar is open every day from 8 in the morning until last call.