On the sidewalk outside Hula Hula, a man expertly hula-hoops, one hoop rhythmically rotating around his waist as he balances two more, intertwined, aloft on one finger. Bystanders cheer slurrily. It seems impossible that he's unaffiliated with the bar, yet his outfit—dark pants, a jacket, a newsboy cap—clashes mightily with Hula Hula's otherwise extremely thorough theme. A grass skirt, Hawaiian-print shorts, or at least a lei wouldn't be amiss; as it is, the performance seems a little random.
Hula Hula is a bar with intent. The owners of adjacent Tini Bigs have transformed the former Watertown (before that, Romper Room) into a tiki drinking paradise by way of bamboo wainscoting, a woven ceiling, indoor thatched roofing, real pufferfish made into hanging lamps, and many things stuck to the walls (e.g., surfboards, a marlin, LP covers of luau hits, big wooden utensils, a collection of carved trays shaped like pineapples). On Saturday near midnight, an early-20s crowd drinks purposefully, demonstrating a bracing lack of concern for the future (and, it would seem, the past and even the present). At the bar, two patrons vacuuming a large, carved vessel with 18-inch straws (possibly a Volcano Bowl, $22, served to two guests only and limited to two per guest, ominously composed of "bartender's choice") deride a companion who's elected, for the moment, to have water.
It's true: A glass of water is a very boring choice at Hula Hula. Pina coladas are served blended in ceramic coconut shells with paper umbrellas, fruity garnishes, and tiny plastic monkeys. A "Crazy Sleeping Monkey"—dark rum, cola, and "coco cream" that clots disturbingly on the surface—occupies a cylindrical cup with a girl in a grass skirt playing the ukulele in relief on the side. (Her skin is pale with an uneven orange glaze. The Monkey tastes unavoidably like a drink made in adolescence from a forbidden liquor cabinet, served out-of-doors in a Mason jar.) Sangria, of a virulent magenta color and flavor, is presented in a footed bowl depicting more odd-colored native lovelies amongst palm trees.
As the coercion to drink more continues at the bar, "Message in a Bottle" by the Police plays. The sound of breaking glass comes from Hula Hula's lower area, home to a magnificent black-light tropical panorama that may be admired from seating on poolside-style chaises longues. Shots are being done, with chanted encouragement.
The late-night $4 happy hour menu goes mainly ignored, and the kitchen seems to sense its efforts are wasted, issuing rubbery calamari with jalapeno/mayo dip and big, blistered triangles of crab Rangoon with bland, scant filling. A drippy North Shore burger with pineapple, Swiss, and teriyaki sauce is the best option, served with fried plantain chips and guacamole with a weird whipped texture. As alcohol absorption continues unfettered all around, half a tray of shots carried by a customer is lost to the floor in a spectacular crash.
Hula Hula, 106 First Ave N, 284-5003