Kilauea, on the northern tip of the garden isle of Kaua‘i, has a long been known as a historic plantation town, popular for its red-and-white colored lighthouse monument and abundance of farms, rolling hills and close-knit community. As a child, I would ride my bicycle every day to the Kilauea Market, which was located next door to the movie theater. This theater was home to the largest projection screen on the tropical island and was originally built during the 19th century. With a candy bar, a stick of gum and a temporary stick-on tattoo in hand, I would cycle straight over to the lush neighborhood park.
As time went on and businesses would come and go, the theater shuttered its doors in 2005, and the market was sold as the owners eventually retired. To my surprise, this dinky, old market had been transformed into a fine wine, sake and craft beer tasting room. Granted it has been close to two-decades since I whizzed through the park on my bicycle, but a wine bar in the sleepy town of Kilauea? “It’s about having the senses explored, for people who don’t get to travel as much because they are working so hard, they come here,” Drew Thoeny, General Manager of Palate Wine Bar and Restaurant chuckled. The bustling bar with its modern, industrial de?cor offers high tops, bar seating and fine wines in a charming, yet contemporary setting.
I began to wonder what the story is here—who would think to create something so progressive and so modern in a quaint country community? “Our original owner was traveling through Europe and fell in love with the chateaus and wineries there, being born on Kaua‘i, he wanted to expose island residents to the wines and foods he enjoyed.” Thus the concept and vision for Palate was born. “He wanted to create something that bespoke for the island itself—great food, great wine and great conversation,” he adds.
This cozy tasting room opened its doors three years ago and aims to offer sought after, and the most unique, wine selection in the state. “We offer a wine that is so exclusive our distributor is only allowed six bottles for the entire Hawaiian Islands, we get two of them a year, and at $1,000 a bottle we don’t do a regular mark-up on it.” The tasting room also features a specialty off-menu wine wall, cellar list and server select options. These unique and rare finds are completely excluded from the menu, except some of the bottles that make it onto the wine wall display. Noted bottles on the wall include Cardinale from Napa Valley for $480, Kathryn Hall Cabernet for $428 and Angela Estate from Willamette Valley, Oregon for $100. “I always like to make sure there are different wines that are not on the list that you can actually see are there. So if you are having a really special occasion that bottle of 2014 Cardinale—it’s that good. I like to show off a little bit of something without showing off.”
But as the wine buyer and in-house acting sommelier Thoeny wants wine to be approachable and affordable. Wines by the glass range from $8 and up, and they also offer wine flights to tickle your fancy. A standard flight or premium flight includes three glasses showcasing two-ounce pours. “I like to bring in great wine that is accessible to everybody, and you can actually enjoy it without over extending yourself.”
I began to ask myself what type of guests would imbibe such a beverage from a community with no stop lights, an abundance of fruit stands and famous for frequent unleashed neighborhood dogs. Interestingly, visitors from out of state aside, residents near and far will venture to the north shore just to whet their palate. “We have regular clientele who come in once a month from Kekaha.” Please note Kekaha is more than 50 miles away and takes about 3 hours round trip (if you don’t hit any traffic). “They come up once a month, and every time they drop-in, I always make sure they have something they haven’t had before.”
Additionally, after the heavy flood- ing from Hanalei to Ha‘ena this past
April, residents in Princeville who would frequent the shops and eateries in Hanalei town started to change their usual culinary course. “So after the rains, we started to get Princeville people coming to Kilauea. Everyone used to make a right-hand turn out of Princeville; they didn’t often make a left-hand turn. We are the same distance away but their tendency was the other direction and now they make that left-hand turn and come to Kilauea. So as a result, we are starting to expand a little bit. We are also now having Kapa‘a people coming up for some wine and food as well.”
Whether by the bottle, or by the glass, you can un-wined in the charming setting with your favorite bites, too. Specialty imported creamy cheeses, cured charcuterie and oven roasted flatbreads are exceptional, while their famous chicken and beef pot pie warrants a highly sought after waiting list of eager consumers. The dinner tapas menu items change with the seasons and they always offer farm fresh ingredients crafted and prepared a? la minute.
“I am the wine buyer, and I pick wines based upon outdoor temperature. If it is hot and muggy, I am going to serve fresher lighter wines, and I have no problem putting something in storage for months—wine only gets better in time, it’s like money in the bank.” And like a fine wine, my tiny hometown of Kilauea seems to get better with age, too.
Palate Wine Bar & Restaurant, 2474 Keneke St., Kilauea, 96754, (808) 212-1974 or palatewinebar.net