O’Toole’s Irish Pub is a decades-old watering hole in Honolulu’s Chinatown Arts District made famous as a favorite location for the hit television show “Hawaii 5-0.”
The red brick interior makes for rich visuals that evoke days long past, and its graceful brick arch that separates the bar from the music room is unique in Honolulu. The building itself has historical significance in Honolulu.
The T.R. Foster Building was completed in 1891. It was constructed in the Italianate style, with ornate balustrades along the Nuuanu Avenue facing front of the building. T.R. Foster was one of the founders of the long-defunct Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company.
To date, at least three episodes of Hawaii 5-0 have been filmed inside O’Toole’s. Strangely, it has been the scene for funerals. One of the walls inside O’Toole’s serves as a memorial to regular patrons and employees that have passed away. Regulars often joke that there’s no need to “dress the set.”
Any Hollywood production involves a tremendous amount of preparation. When Hawaii 5-0 films inside O’Toole’s, the bar shuts its doors for at least one day, sometimes as many as three or four. A scene lasting just 30 seconds takes 16-24 hours to set up, shoot, and break down. Longer scenes take days to complete.
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Of course, this upsets the daily routines of O’Toole’s regulars. Merchant marines, tugboat workers, aloha-attired retirees, and all manner of quaffers are displaced when HI 5-0 rolls in. It is always taken in good stride, however, each and all taking a small measure of pride in the fact that their ad-hoc living room becomes home to a major Hollywood filming set.
O’Toole’s Irish Pub has also been the set for major motion pictures. “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is the most recent. Filming closed the bar for a few days. Employees who lost shifts and day-drinkers are mildly begrudged. But the fact that their home bar is featured in programming that reaches the world around blunts the grumpiness of a temporary inconvenience. There are plenty of other places to find a drink in Chinatown.
The cast and crew of the ill-fated “North Shore” program became regulars at O’Toole’s. Stories of drinking with major Hollywood stars like Jason Mamoa are bandied regularly when the subject comes up.
It seems that the true atmosphere of O’Toole’s speaks for itself. Producers and crew turn up regularly to enjoy cigars, fine whiskey and proper Irish music. (Full disclosure: my own band, which plays there, was featured in an episode a couple of years ago). I had the unusual pleasure of fist-bumping a famous leading man of a major film from the stage on St. Patrick’s Day just a week ago.
Honolulu’s Chinatown is itself a living movie set. And O’Toole’s is certainly not the only place in the area to have been featured in movie/TV productions. The list is long, but no other establishment has become a go-to set for producers seeking genuine ambience.
There are many reasons for visitors to venture into Chinatown. The food is great, the music is brilliant, and the service is categorically superb. If you are a fan of Hawaii 5-0, O’Toole’s is a not-to-be-missed destination even if it’s only for a pint.