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A Pā‘ina Fit For a Queen

The new lūʻau in International Market Place’s Queens Courtyard is an excellent introduction to this celebrated Hawaiian experience.



誰もが楽しめるパイナ インターナショナルマーケットプレイスのクイーンズ・コートヤードに、ハワイならではの体験ができるルアウが誕生しました。

There are few places more unexpected for a lūʻau than the middle of a shopping complex. But for the popular Queens Waikīkī Lūʻau, held three nights weekly at International Market Place, the semi-public arena is an opportunity to wow visitors and locals in an especially intimate setting.

Touted as “the most intimate lūʻau in Waikīkī,” this locally owned and operated lūʻau has all the ingredients of any traditional Hawaiian pāʻina, or feast: food, music, and dance. The authenticity and polish of the entertainment, which includes a full show featuring the music and dance of Hawaiʻi, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tahiti, holds all eyes on the center stage.

“We are honored to bring life back into International Market Place’s entertainment scene by sharing Polynesian culture,” says Devon Tsai, Sales & Marketing Coordinator for the lūʻau. 

Turns out the public spectacle is a brilliant way to spread the word, too. My table companions, a family from New Mexico, comment that they watched part of the show from the balcony the previous night but wanted a closer look. Others are drawn to the convenience of a show near where they are staying, or emphasized the reasonable price point, as compared to some of the larger productions. 

From the start, International Market Place has been rooted in the concept of an entertainment and shopping mecca. In the 1950s, under the direction of founder and tiki legend Donn Beach, also known as Don the Beachcomber, generations of notable musicians like singer Don Ho, “father of exotica” Martin Denny, Auntie Genoa Keawe, and many others performed at the Market Place’s nightclubs. Some even serenaded crowds under the iconic banyan tree—the very same one still rooted in the Market Place today. On Sundays, Beach hosted a lū‘au, which became just as much a ritual for visitors as having a Mai Tai at the famed Don the Beachcomber tiki bar or riding in a rickshaw around the Market Place on a warm tropical evening. 

Far from the kitsch of the ’50s and ’60s tiki craze but no less enjoyable, this modern show balances authentic hula kahiko (ancient hula) and the sweet harmonies of a classic Hawaiian music ensemble with the timeless hospitality and fun of an “everybody is ‘ohana” backyard gathering. The outgoing staff assist in this impression, circulating among the crowd, chatting comfortably and bestowing temporary tattoos in simple Polynesian designs or crafting banana leaf haku (head) lei, which every audience member is soon wearing as a crown. 

As dusk falls and the festive lights cascading from the trees cast a magical ambiance over the Queens Courtyard, a space dedicated to Queen Emma, our tables are released one by one to the food line, where the friendly staff serves up mac salad, barbecue chicken, chicken long rice noodles, kalua pork, and vegetables. The food is more local than traditional Hawaiian, but no one seems to mind. 

It’s after everyone is comfortably seated to eat that the fun really begins, as talented dancers take the stage to demonstrate the dances of Polynesia. 

The highlight of the night is a series of Samoan fire knife demonstrations by “Chief Tui” Tuileta, who is joined by a pair of talented dancers. Renowned for its daring and skill, the traditional fire knife dance, or Siva Afi, is unashamedly dramatic, involving the artful twirling, throwing, and catching of a double-ended weapon with both ends ablaze.

Tearing my eyes away from the fiery, whirling spectacle, I see watchers lining all levels of the International Market Place, attracted by the shouts and drumming. Their shadowy figures spectating from the floors above, though, look far away; down in the courtyard, we can feel the heat of the fire, the vibrations of the drumming in our feet. 

Tonight, these watchers are getting a taste of what we are experiencing at the ground level. Tomorrow night, some of them may be sitting in the audience. 

After the professional show is over, it’s the audience’s turn. Calling for volunteers, the charismatic host coaxes people from each table up to the stage, where they’re briefed in Tahitian hip-shaking before strutting their stuff to the seated crowd. The night is full of cheers and laughter, and as I glance over to one of my table companions, who is bobbing her head to the music, her eyes shining with joy, I realize what it is that has attracted celebrants from all over the world to the Hawaiian lūʻau for so many generations – put simply, it’s fun.   

Queens Waikīkī Lūʻau | Tuesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 5-8 p.m., Level 1, Queen’s Court, queensWaikīkīlūʻ