West Side Stories

On Dec. 8, 1901, Pioneer Inn opened for business. At the time, it was only one of two modern hotels on Maui’s west side. It was and still is where the history of old Hawaii met the oncoming 20th century. Over the past 111 years, it has hosted some of the most famous pop culture icons in American history. Chronologically, they are Mark Twain, Jack London, Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Peter Lawford and Jackie Kennedy. Even Queen Lili’uokalani visited the illustrious hotel.

Last week, I enjoyed a 24-hour staycation on the west side and chatted with fellow journalist, Sarah Ruppenthal, and west side actor, Rick Scheideman, (“Sam Clemens and the Real Mark Twain”) at the hotel watering hole to discuss history. Scheideman, who has portrayed Twain for the past 15 years, shared a Twain quote about the bar: “They open at 7 and the trouble starts at 8.” According to Scheideman, Twain even surfed naked while on Maui.

The table that we shared was in close proximity to the original wooden booths where Sinatra, Tracy and Hepburn would gather daily after shooting “The Devil at 4 O’Clock” had concluded. Six years later, Kennedy (not yet Onassis), Lawford, the mother of a Hawaii Senator and guests reportedly had a “raucous brunch.” Curiosity led me to research their favorite drinks of choice. Twain, Old Crow with a little ice. London, a double Dewar’s White Label, neat. Tracy, Jameson’s with a Primo on the side. Sinatra, Jack Daniels on the rocks, no fruit. Hepburn, a well whiskey sour. Lawford preferred not to drink in public, and Kennedy, a glass of Moet-Chandon or Mumm’s if no French champagne was available.

I found a quote from the Nov. 30, 1901 Maui News: “There is a plethora of saloons in Lahaina and now that a man can get a drink whenever and almost wherever he wants it, the people seem to care less about getting drunk judging from the fact that there have been fewer arrests for drunkenness in Lahaina in the past year than any of recent memory.”

The same issue featured an advertisement for Chung-Chong, a Chinese takeout restaurant that also carried homemade ice cream and Cuban cigars. Perhaps Twain popped in for a cigar? Then there was Ka Maile, a Front Street Bar which “never closed” and boasted “the genial and popular Bob Carlile as chief mixologist.” Possibly code for the original hot Maui bartender? I think someone on Front Street needs to invent a “Carlile.”

The original Pioneer Hotel was also described in the 1901 Maui News: “For many years Lahaina has been sadly in need of a modern hotel. Today, erect and quivering with life, Lahaina stands proudly by her golden sea sands, her brow begemmed with the tiara of progress and her children exultant with the growth that marks her history. Geo. Freeland, formerly of Portland, Ore., will be manager of the hotel scheduled to open at or around December 1.”

I mentioned to my guests that both Hepburn and Kennedy remarked that Maui was the only place they could be left alone, and Kennedy even pondered moving to Hawaii. Ruppenthal suggested, “Yes, but is that true today? I recently saw Owen Wilson cross a street in Paia and 50 people grabbed their cell phones, it was like something out of a cartoon.”

In addition to appearing in film, the historic inn once sported a movie theater from the 1930s through the early ’60s. Freeland’s grandson, Keoki, even worked on the set of “The Devil at 4 O’Clock.” Seventy years ago this week, the bill included “Women in Prison,” “Zorro’s Legion,” “The Bank Dick,” and opening on June 1, 1943, “Flying Tigers” starring John Wayne. Advance tickets were available for purchase to the Wayne flick due to popular demand.


We finished our happy hour listening to Greg DiPiazza of Maui Underground perform. DiPiazza and wife Alana Cini (Mana’o Radio) perform regularly from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays at Pioneer Inn, and there is no cover charge. Ironically, Cini’s father, the late Al Martino, played the character based on Sinatra in all three “Godfather” films.

For details about Pioneer Inn, call 661-3636 or visit www.pioneerinnmaui.com


Another piece of west side history can be found a few blocks down Front Street. I attended ‘Ulalena, a production that has been performed more than 3,500 times since its opening in 1999. I had not seen this awe-inspiring show for about 10 years, but unlike many ongoing Las Vegas productions, ‘Ulalena has not lost any of its luster over the years.

For those that have never seen the show, it is the creation of Cirque du Soleil architects Michel Cusson and Luc Boivin. It tells the tale of Maui’s history from its ancient untouched past to the arrival of European settlers. One of the most powerful moments in the production comes when a sail is turned to reveal a masked ship captain dressed in 18th century attire offering gifts, as “Shadows” is sung in Portuguese. The inevitable result is that the old kapu system is eventually overthrown, bringing conflict between the old and new ways.

Equally as entertaining as the aerial performances, is the choreography and beautiful music of percussionist Nicola Spezzacatena. Although one is surrounded by hypnotic eye candy, I would invite all to glance over your right shoulder to witness the equally dramatic and compelling feats of Spezzacatena, who performs with what seemed like 25 or 30 percussive instruments ranging from chains, sheet metal and traditional Hawaiian drums.

‘Ulalena has recently added two additions to its already spectacular production team: Sebastien and Sujana Laurendeau. Both have worked on multiple Cirque du Soleil shows. Sujana will make a limited special guest appearance as lead vocalist through June 14, and Sebastien will stay onboard permanently as music director. ‘Ulalena is a quintessential cultural experience for visitors, and touching homage to Hawaiian people that Lahaina and all Hawaii residents can truly take pride in.

* Performances are 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Maui Theatre in Lahaina. Ticket prices range from $79.99 to $39.99; and $14.99 for children. For more details, call 856-7900 or visit www.mauitheatre.com.


I concluded my west side staycation at Fleetwood’s on Front St., the latest pop icon to be drawn to Front Street. In performance that night was Randall Rospond (Mana’o Radio). The acoustics and sound in general at Fleetwood’s is the finest on the island. Rospond’s set was clear, pleasant and easily audible without the need to shout in conversation. The comfortable ambience and quality service made it the perfect place to wrap up a night out.

Rospond and many of his fellow Mana’o Radio friends will perform during a benefit concert for the nonprofit radio station and Maui OnStage, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. June 8 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $10 at the door.

As for the future of west side entertainment, Theatre Theatre Maui will present “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa’s Haleakala Ballroom July 19 through 21. The longtime youth theater group crowns its six-week Westside Youth Summer Theatre Camp with three performances open to the public.

“We’re looking forward to an awesome summer with ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr.,’ and are so excited to welcome the return of a very talented and creative director, Kristi Scott,” says TTM board president, Penny Wakida.

TTM also welcomes a new executive director this season, Angie Thompson. Registration is still open for enrollment and the performing arts camp will begin on June 10. For more information about registration, show times or tickets, call 661-1168.


Also this weekend

Power Up Comedy is bringing stand up comedy to the west side, featuring Chino LaForge and his motley crew of Maui comedians. Catch them at 10 p.m. Saturday, and every first Saturday of the month at Paradise Grill, 2291 Kaanapali Parkway. Paradise Grill serves food until 1 a.m., and offers $3 draft beer specials during the show. Cost is $10 at the door.

Go Gatsby with Kit Kat Club Cabaret this weekend for a Roaring ’20s ball. Pull out your fringe, feathers, fedoras and shimmy on down to Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli in Makawao on Saturday for a night of prohibition-inspired indulgence. Arrive in style and prepare to be entertained by sultry song birds, red hot dance acts, body decor services, cigarette girls, plus costume and dance contests. Performances by Kit Kat Club, Trevor Arnholt, Rachel Deboer, and Sasanna Babashoff, with vintage music by Scott Provansha and visuals by Douglas DeBoer.

* Tickets are $10 at the door for those in costume; or $15 without. For advance tickets or more information, visit gatsbypartytix.eventbrite.com.