I love the fact that, after 80-plus years, the Royal Hawaiian, aka the Pink Palace of the Pacific, is still on Waikiki (and looking lovelier than ever following an ambitious case of cosmetic surgery last year which caused her to stay out of the limelight for over nine months).
You look up Waikiki at sunset from the curve at Kuhio Beach Park and there she is—blushing in the twilight, a light that particularly suits her, looking like the hotel version of Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” on a beach full of crass Britney Spears hotels.
photos by David Lansing
Originally built by the Matson cruise ship line in 1927 as an exotic destination hotel for tourists coming over on the SS Lurline from Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s always been kind of a mythical hotel for me, probably because my parents came over on the Lurline on their honeymoon and then stayed at the Royal Hawaiian where, it’s quite possible, I was conceived. Kind of strange to think about.
Speaking of Marilyn and honeymoons, Joe DiMaggio and his new bride did, in fact, stay at the Pink Palace in 1954 on their honeymoon. And John McCain met his second wife, Cindy, here while at a military reception in 1979 (although he was married to someone else at the time, he convinced her to have drinks with him at the hotel’s famous Mai Tai Bar).
Although the Pink Palace officially reopened back in January, everything has been pretty low-key until their big gala party last Saturday. I thought about going to that but the $1,680 price tag seemed a little steep (did I mention that included a “signature take home gift”?).
Instead, I went over yesterday afternoon and got a little tour of the hotel with Taeko Busk, the hotel’s elegant director of guest relations, who’s been at the hotel for 32 years.
“When I was a little girl in school in Japan,” she told me, “my teacher asked me where I would like to live and I said, ‘Oh, a palace!” And I ended up at the Pink Palace. So I am very happy.”
After walking through the hotel (and trying to imagine which of the rooms my parents may have stayed in), Taeko and I ended up at the Mai Tai Bar where I had a mai tai, of course, and Taeko had, of all things, a Shirley Temple.
“Did you know,” Taeko asked, “that the Shirley Temple cocktail was invented here at the Mai Tai Bar for when the little actress visited the hotel with her mother in the 1930s?”
First I had the classic Royal Mai Tai—pineapple juice, rum, Cointreau, and Disaronno Amaretto. Then I tried their updated version, the Garden Mai Tai, made with Alize rose and lychee and orgeat syrup in place of the pineapple juice, and topped with sparkling rose wine.
My recommendation? Always stick with the classics.