Outrigger Wakiki-Las Vegas’ Escape to Paradise by Nancy Daniels

Outrigger Wakiki- Las Vegas’ Escape to Paradise

There really is a job title of “Ambassador of Aloha” and Luana Maitland holds it at Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki.  Recently, we chatted with Luana about the nightly musical entertainment offered at this popular Waikiki hotel’s poolside restaurant, Kani Ka Pila Grille:

When Kani Ka Pila Grille opened five years ago, why was it important to offer live Hawaiian music every night of the week?

Kani Ka Pila Grille grew out of the renovation of our little corner of Waikiki–with the shopping center now known as Waikiki Beach Walk® and, of course, the hotel, Outrigger Reef on the Beach.  We wanted to stick with Outrigger’s concept of sharing the Hawaiian culture and felt Hawaiian music in an open-air, dining setting met that objective.

Who are some of the Hawaiian musicians who have performed at Kani Ka Pila Grille?

Before we opened, we asked Uncle Cyril Pahinui what he thought of the idea; he’s a legend in the Hawaiian music scene.  He said he’d never played Waikiki before and wanted to headline our efforts because it was important to him to share Hawaiian music with as many people as possible.  He even helped name the restaurant.  Now, no matter where he travels for concerts around the world, he won’t sign the contract unless they promise to bring him home by Wednesday.  Wednesday is his night here at Kani Ka Pila Grille.  He’s given up some good concerts because of that!

The rest of our musicians are all Na Hoku Hanohano Award winners:  Hawaii’s Grammy’s.  Artists like Sean Naauao, Weldon Kekauoha, Nathan Aweau, Hoku Zuttermeister, and Kuana Torres-Kahele are just a sampling of the greats who play here.

So, what is the story behind the name of the restaurant?  What does “kani ka pila” mean?

Basically, “let’s play music.”  But it’s more than that.  For me, growing up, whenever there was a family gathering, we’d say, “we gonna go kani ka pila at grandma’s or auntie so-and-so’s house.”  There was always music involved in any gathering.

During the Hawaiian cultural renaissance in the 1970s, Uncle Cyril’s father’s house in Waimanalo was the place for Hawaiian musicians to hang out and play.  They’d just jam with whoever showed up to the house.  So, in the final stages of planning the restaurant, Uncle Cyril said the name Kani Ka Pila Grille was perfect.  And, now, if there are musicians in the audience, they’re invited to play.  It all just works.

How does the open-air venue in a garden-like setting (and adjacent to the pool, no less) contribute to the whole experience?

This setting is what kani ka pila is all about!  Music is played everywhere in Hawaii:  on the beach, backyard, school hall, someone’s garage… Here, you can lounge on pool chairs, walk through the lobby or open the door to your lanai and enjoy Hawaiian music.

How has the local community responded to the nightly Hawaiian music offerings at Kani Ka Pila Grille?

Once we opened, it didn’t take too long before the locals found out who was playing here, and they started showing up.  Kani Ka Pila Grille has turned into a gathering place.  The performers have their following too, some who fly in from neighbor islands.  And it’s not uncommon for someone to stand up and dance hula to their favorite song!  Sometimes, an entire hula halau (troop) shows up to perform with their favorite Hawaiian musician.

One of our bartenders, Chris, recently told me he was invited to a luau for a customer’s baby’s first birthday.  They’ve become family and friends.  That’s what we call, “The Outrigger Way,” or Ke Ano Waa, doing for people from the heart.

Do you have any particular (known in Hawaii as “chicken-skin”) moments about a certain performance?

Gosh, you’re right.  There are so many “chicken skin” memories.  But one stands out, and I think about it almost every day.  When we first opened, this gentleman came with his walker every night.  He was retired, and he loved all Hawaiian music.  He made friends with our staff, the musicians and visitors.  If all the other tables were full, he’d welcome guests to sit with him.  He recently passed at 95 years of age, and we all believe he went with angels singing all his favorite Hawaiian songs.

Well, Kani Ka Pila Grille is a restaurant, first and foremost, so what are some of the restaurant’s specialties that a guest would want to try?

To start, there’s our “pupus”, or appetizers.  Ahi katsu is thinly sliced ahi rimmed in a light tempura batter.  Ahi poke is Hawaii’s raw fish dish.  And we add a tropical flair to breaded shrimp with our mango dipping sauce.  All these are local favorites.  We have a wide menu, from children’s offerings all the way to daily fish specials, prepared a variety of ways.

We understand Kani Ka Pila Grille conducts an annual Talent Contest for up-and-coming Hawaiian musicians?

Every year, our entries grow and it gets harder to pick the finalists and winners.  But that’s a good thing! We believe in giving up–and-coming groups the opportunity to play in Waikiki.  What’s surprising is we’ve also discovered some old-timers.  They played music when they were young and, maybe, went to college and moved away.  Life got busy.  Now, they’re retired and still find they have the Hawaiian music in their hearts.  They’re bringing back the old time Hawaiian songs too.  It’s great fun.

Tell us about this year’s winner?

This year’s winner is Na Pali Trio, made up of three young men, who grew up surrounded by Hawaiian music.  Two are brothers and one is Albert Makanani, who’s played back up with many other groups. Now, he now has a group he can call his own.  They play a mix of music from the past, which they love, and some of their own original numbers—a fresh interpretation on Hawaiian music.

About the Outrigger Reef on the Beach

Hawaii bound?  Whether you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time or are a “kama`aina” returning home for a visit with family and friends, the oceanfront Outrigger Reef on the Beach is an ideal accommodation choice.  One of only seven hotels located directly on the sands of world-famous Waikiki Beach, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach is a haven of elegance, gracious hospitality and unparalleled commitment to Hawaiian culture.  You can enjoy complimentary cultural activities daily like learning to dance the hula, create your own flower lei, or fall in love all over again at the beachside vow renewal ceremony.  Indulge in a treatment at Serenity Spa, or for the adventurous ones ride the waves of Waikiki on a surfboard or in an outrigger canoe.  Dine on local cuisine either poolside at the Kani Ka Pila Grille, where you can enjoy live Hawaiian entertainment nightly, or oceanfront at the Ocean House or Shore Bird Restaurant & Bar, where gorgeous sunsets are pretty much guaranteed.  The hotel’s prime oceanfront location makes it ideal for sunbathing, swimming and surfing, and it’s just steps to fashionable Waikiki Beach Walk® for fun, shopping and fine dining.  Book your next Hawaii visit at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach.  Find out more online at www.outriggerreef.com.