Anna Bannana's is a bar at 2440 S. Beretania Street in Honolulu, a short walk from the main campus of the University of Hawaii, and across the street from the Star Market. ("Beretania" is the old Hawaii mispronunciation of "Britannia.") It was started in 1969 by a guy named Gary Budlong (a notorious poor speller). At various times people have told me that it was named after one of Gary's girl friends, but the truth is that Anna (who had a tendancy to go bananas sometimes) was his godchild.
In the beginning, it was primarily a student/hippie bar and pizza joint, with a beer and wine license. As time went on, the same bunch of regulars kept coming, but they were no longer students. They were no longer hippies either, although it took some of them longer than others to acknowledge that fact. The jukebox, in any case, is still loaded with lots of music from the Sixties and Seventies, although one will also find Guns and Roses, Bruce Springsteen, and Alanis Morissette.
In 1979, Anna Bannana's got a hard liquor license and changed from pizzas to rudimentary Mexican food, microwave variety. The upstairs part of the bar had originally been a pool hall, but since 1980 it has been a venue for live music, usually blues or reggae, open mainly on the weekends. Downstairs there's still just the jukebox, booze, and rudimentary Mexican food.
In a place like San Francisco, Anna Bannana's would be just another bar. But in Honolulu, it's almost one of a kind: no hostesses (just one waitress, who's too busy to sit down and talk with you, and sometimes too surly as well), no karaoke, no nude dancers. Just a place where people can go to drink, talk, and get loud and obnoxious. A less sanitized version of Cheers, almost.
I first started going there regularly about 1985. At that time, a large group of bikers used to hang out there. They never bothered anybody else (well, almost never), but a number of my friends would not go in Anna's because they were intimidated by all the motorcycles parked outside.
Like most bars, it's incredibly boring a whole lot of the time, as far as I'm concerned. (I don't necessarily count that as a minus. A lot of the time what I'm looking for is just someplace where I can sit quietly, watch people, and brood.) But every once in a while, something incredibly crazy will happen. For me, that's what makes it all worth while.
Addendum, 2001: In the fall of 2001, Anna's was sold to new owners: Tommy Noble and Tommy Piranha. According to an article by Jamie Winpenny in the Honolulu Weekly, Noble is a veteran restauranteur and an award-winner bartender. I wouldn't know about that. All I know is that he had been coming into Anna's as a customer for or year or so (as best I can remember) before buying the bar and was (and is) very well liked and obviously knows the bar business.
The Weekly identified Piranha as the leader of a local band (the Piranha Brothers) and otherwise very active in the local music scene. He seems like a fairly okay guy, although I had him pegged for a businessman rather than a musician.
Apparently the basic mystique of Anna's is to remain the same, but some substantial remodeling is scheduled. For one thing, the bar will have to be brought up to ``Code.'' Since it's over thirty years old, this will mean substantial new plumbing and electrical work. One nice thing is that the bathrooms will become a lot less grungy.
There will be a new kitchen (i.e. a real kitchen as opposed to the current microwave oven and toaster oven), moving beyond simple bar food (I'm quoting from the Weekly article) to a more upscale menu. The hope is to establish Anna's as more than just a place to drink and go for music. From my point of view, this doesn't sound like a completely good thing, but we'll see.
The geometry of the bar downstairs is also going to be changed, which may also be something that won't please me. If I can't sit at the bar and watch the people (i.e. women) sitting at tables, then a lot of the point of going to Anna's will be lost for me. I'm certainly not interested in one of those bars where all the customers are lined up side by side facing the bartender and the only real social contact is with the two people sitting on either side of you.
Further addendum: Sometime during 2002, the two new owners had a falling out, and Tom Piranha was left as the sole owner of Anna Bannana's. One of the consequences of this is that most of the planned remodeling was never done, which is all to the good as far as I'm concerned. The bad thing, though, is that Anna's no longer benefits from the energy that Tommy Noble had brought to it. For the time being, it is managing to get by due to the efforts of the staff left over from the Gary Budlong days, but it's hard to believe that Tom Piranha will be able to keep it afloat many more years. My guess is that he'd be happy to sell if he got a good offer.
Note Added January, 2008: Well, it's been four years since I left Honolulu. By the time I left, the Tommy Noble-Tommy Piarana parternship had already come asunder, due to irreconcible differences threatening imminent financial disaster. Tommy Noble was a fantastic personality, who could have made a success of any bar, as long as he could have been prevented from having any hand in the financial side of things. And Tommy Piranha was, as far as I could tell, a very capable businessman who had essentially zero personality until you put a microphone in his hand, at which point he came alive. It could have been a great partnership, but it wasn't. So Tommy Piranha wound up a sole owner (until he after a while he found another partner), receiving --- to say the least --- minimal help from the hard core of long-term regular customers. Then there was essentially a Saturday Night Massacre, in which almost all the regular staff were fired. (According to what I heard, Tommy had little choice.)
I don't know why it occurred to me this morning to see if Anna's still exists. Yelp doesn't have it on their radar. But Google turns up an active website for it. Undoubtedly not the same place it once was, but still a lively venue for music.
Next door to the south is the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, and to the north is another lot owned by the Japanese. I've been told that the Japanese have had big plans for that whole block of Beretenia Street for quite some time, but the Annas lot is owned by Chinese, who are apparently not about to sell anytime in the near future. (In Hawaii, everything is ethnic, even when it comes to a bar run by haoles and catering primarily to haoles.)