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The Surfjack Hotel + Swim Club, Honolulu

This locally designed, '60s-themed hotel in Waikiki is a glimpse into the future of Hawaiian hospitality

by Kevin Serai
on 01 August 2016

It’s not easy to stand out in the sea of hotels crowding Waikiki but, within just a few months of opening, the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club has made quite a splash. While its distinguished neighbors (like the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider) rely on luxury amenities, proximity to the shore and sheer size, the Surfjack leans on a distinct 1960s charm and an art-filled interior to impress visitors. But what's more remarkable is the faithful following it's developed locally. Artists, fashion designers, DJs and more have adopted the new space as their unofficial gathering place, sparking a creative energy not commonly associated with Waikiki.

This community co-sign is largely due to the fact that so many locals actually had a hand in building the Surfjack's vintage vibe. Honolulu-based design studio The Vanguard Theory—who took the lead on the hotel's public spaces—called in over a dozen island artists to help gut-renovate and redesign Hokele Suites: a budget hotel originally built in the '60s. Inspired by the existing structure's mid-century modern architecture, their objective was to reimagine old Waikiki (think slack key guitars, Duke Kahanamoku, and a pastel-hued VW Bus hoisting a longboard) through the lens of modern creatives. "We wanted to share with visitors an authentic story about Honolulu. Our story of Honolulu was not our own to tell and we felt it was important to involve our local community," reveals Michelle Jaime, The Vanguard Theory's Design Director.

This mix of past and present is felt in all the details. Matthew Tapia's "Wish you were here!" mosaic gracing the swimming pool floor is reminiscent of old postcard messages. The shaka wallpaper in the downstairs restaurant Mahina and Sun's is a tropical, art deco-like design by Andrew Mau. For the guest rooms, Los Angeles-based interior designers Studio Collective went for a laid-back beach house feel. Wooden art panels and framed vintage postcards line the walls while archival prints from O'ahu-based aloha wear company Tori Richards dress the bedroom headboards. Roberta Oaks, known for her '60s inspired aloha shirts, has designed the women's staff uniform.

But not everything in the hotel is a throwback. Several artists, whose works you might recognize from POW! WOW! Hawai'i, have lent their hand in decorating the lobby. The rippling black-and-white artwork seen on the back wall was created by muralist Brendan Munroe. The Wooden Wave, a local husband-and-wife duo, painted a whimsical treehouse by the elevators. Restaurant diners sit on a set of picnic tables hand-painted by lettering expert Jeff Gress while a portrait by muralist Kamea Hadar hangs nearby.

Beyond local artwork and retro flare, the Surfjack immerses guests in Hawai'i's growing creative scene through dining, shopping and regular events. At restaurant Mahina and Sun's, chef Ed Kenney offers his “local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always” ethos through a menu of fresh seafood, fruits and veggies mixed in with island favorites like Portuguese Bean Soup. Olive + Oliver, a cafe-cum-boutique joining two of Hawai'i's best stores (Olive for womenswear and Oliver for menswear), stocks beach-ready apparel and accessories from international and local designers.

What keeps many people coming back to the Surfjack, though, is its wide-ranging calendar of events and experiences. So far the hotel has played host to everything from fashion shows to live music, "talk story sessions" and even a pop-up shop for local brands. "Honolulu, as the only urban hub in Hawai'i, has the opportunity to bridge the gap between creative movements in Oceania, Asia, and mainland USA," Casea Collins-Wright, the Surfjack's Director of Experience, tells CH. "The goal of developing these offerings and experiences is to elevate our local creative community, support important movements, and also to bring in creators from around the world to experience Hawai'i," she goes on to say. Expect lei-making workshops, mid-century modern architecture walking tours and an artist residency program to be added later this year.

Book a stay at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club online, where rates for a one room bungalow start at $185. For a closer look inside the space, browse our slideshow above.

Swimming pool image courtesy of the Surfjack, all others by Kevin Serai

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