If you are a fan of TV’s Hawaii 5-0, or of other shows like LOST, or The River, then you’re likely to be at least a little familiar with O’Toole’s Irish Pub in Honolulu’s Chinatown Arts District. It’s been featured in multiple episodes of those fan favorites. Its two-story ceiling, red brick walls, and overall ambience have caught the eye of Hollywood producers for years now, and sure, ‘tis no wonder.
O’Toole’s is located in the T.R. Foster Building, constructed in 1891 in the Italianate style of architecture. The building is famous in its own right, a historic edifice built in memory of T.R. Forester, a shipbuilder from Rhode Island who came to Hawaii at 22 years old. He married the daughter of the successful shipbuilder James Robinson, and went on to found an interisland steamship company that would become, many years later, Hawaiian Airlines. Foster also bequeathed to the city of Honolulu a large parcel of land that is now home to Foster Botanical Gardens, just a few blocks mauka of the T.R. Foster Building up Nuuanu Avenue.
Once the headquarters of the Lovejoy Shipping Company, the building was converted to warehouse space after 1918. It was largely neglected and fell somewhat into disrepair during the mid-1900s. Developers rehabilitated the T.R. Foster building in 1979. The building (and O’Toole’s) has changed ownership since then. The office of O’Toole’s’ owners and their staff now occupy the upper floor (they own three other Irish pubs).
Aside from its star turns on wildly popular network dramas, O’Toole’s otherwise functions as working Irish pub, with its own cast of characters. Regulars there include aloha-clad businessmen, merchant marines, sea captains, university students, construction workers, and writer-musicians who live just up the street and perform music there regularly.
The bar and service staff at O’Toole’s are friendly and knowledgeable about the many fine Irish whiskeys on offer. O’Toole’s doesn’t serve food, but it’s a safe bet that if a big game is on, there’ll be a decent spread of complementary meatballs, sausages, hot dogs and chips put out for paying customers. O’Toole’s features live music every night of the week, and always without a cover charge.
O’Toole’s Irish Pub is a fine spot to begin or end a walking tour of Chinatown’s many artistic, historic, cultural, and gastronomical attractions. Just one block from central Honolulu bus routes, it’s easy to find. But once you get to talking to the staff and regulars, you may find it hard to leave.
Comprising Honolulu’s “Irish corner” with Murphy’s Bar & Grill across the street, the two bars are ground-zero for the annual Murphy’s St. Patrick’s Day Block Party, where 25,000+ people gather to celebrate their inner Irish.
Fans of Hawaii 5-0 and the other Hawaii-filmed dramas will no doubt recognize O’Toole’s Irish Pub’s red-brick walls, high ceilings, and the towering red-brick arch that dominates the space. Go in, take a selfie, and have pint. The bartenders are always happy to see you. Unless they’re closed for filming, that is.