June 9, 2023

Portal Turist Coecua Toriano

Explore The World

On an island of luxury resorts, this Hawaii hotel is the budget option

Tucked under the canopy of Cook pines, the wood-framed Hotel Lanai is considered the Hawaii island’s budget hotel. But although it may be overshadowed by fancier options like Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Sensei Lanai, it has something that neither of its posher cousins has, a direct connection to the island’s past and its days as the world’s largest pineapple plantation.

Built in 1924, Hotel Lanai was once the Dole Club House, meant to “privately house management employees of Hawaiian Pineapple Company (HAPCO) and James Dole’s associates during visits to the island,” the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center told SFGATE in an email. 

At that time, life on the island was very different than it is today. James Dole, the president of Hawaiian Pineapple Company, bought Lanai for $1.1 million in 1922, and the island became the largest pineapple plantation in the world, responsible for growing 75% of its pineapples.

Lanai City, a small town of approximately 3,000 people, was surrounded by pineapples — and the majority of those who lived there worked on the plantation. It’s a time that is looked back on fondly by Lanai residents, though issues sometimes arose between the managers and the laborers. Many of Lanai City’s buildings still in use today once served a function during that era. One was the housing quarters for single men; another was once a plantation manager’s home. 

The hotel’s building was constructed in the 1920s to be used as the Dole Club House.

Hotel Lanai

The Dole Club House continued to serve as employee housing until the 1950s, when Hawaiian Pineapple Company “determined it should be developed as a hotel for the general public,” the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center noted in the email. 

Hotel Lanai then became the first hotel on the island. It was the only place for visitors to stay until 1991.

Wallace and Ethel Au were the first to operate the hotel under its original name, Lanai Inn. Newspaper articles at the time sometimes described it as more of a boarding house than a hotel.

“When Dole asked us to take over a dozen years ago, we were young and hadn’t too much to lose if we went broke,” Wallace Au told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in a 1964 article.

In the 1950s, Wallace and Ethel Au were the first operators of the hotel, then known as Lanai Inn.

In the 1950s, Wallace and Ethel Au were the first operators of the hotel, then known as Lanai Inn.

Newspapers.com

Back then, the rates were $22 for a double room, including three meals. The Aus did all the cooking, and it wasn’t uncommon for guests to join the couple in the kitchen to socialize.

“Our plantation ways tickle the tourists who come to Lanai,” Ethel Au said in a 1966 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article. “But they get used to them after a while, because most of them are repeaters. They even get used to the 4:30 whistle. That’s 4:30 A.M.” The whistle told the plantation workers of the town that they needed to work that day.

“I tell the tourists, ‘When you hear the whistle, roll over and go back to sleep,’” she added. The Aus ran the hotel for 15 years.

“Since then, the hotel has changed its name a couple of times, from Lanai Inn to Lanai Lodge, and finally to Hotel Lanai with a number of different operators along the way,” the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center said in the email. The restaurant has had different names as well and has been helmed by different chefs.

Hotel Lanai's guest rooms were modernized and upgraded when Larry Ellison bought the hotel in 2014. 

Hotel Lanai’s guest rooms were modernized and upgraded when Larry Ellison bought the hotel in 2014. 

Hotel Lanai

Hotel Lanai has modernized quite a bit since its early days. Larry Ellison bought the hotel in 2014 after acquiring the majority of the island and its two resorts, Four Seasons Lanai and Sensei Lanai.

Prices for Hotel Lanai now run in the mid-$300s per night, compared to the $1,000 to $2,000 per night rates at Four Seasons and Sensei. The lower rate brings together visitors with residents of Lanai and its neighboring islands. There are only 10 guest rooms and one large restaurant. That gives the hotel less of a resort feel and more of a casual and friendly atmosphere.

Located at the heart of the island, “Hotel Lanai, and its dining options throughout the years, have been a mainstay and a gathering place in the community,” said Erin Atacador, manager of Hotel Lanai, in an email. “Families come to celebrate special occasions and residents come to unwind throughout the week.”

Lanai Bar & City Grill offers a menu of new American dishes featuring local ingredients. 

Lanai Bar & City Grill offers a menu of new American dishes featuring local ingredients. 

Hotel Lanai

Today, Hotel Lanai’s restaurant is called Lanai City Bar & Grill. The menu, created by chef Christian Page, is new American with salads, burgers, pasta, chicken and steak, along with specialties like Lanai axis deer and Parker Ranch beef. The restaurant aims to stay local, using only Hawaii-caught fish, while some of its greens are sourced from Ellison’s Sensei Farms.

Dessert includes a number of delicious options, but the pineapple upside-down cake with vanilla ice cream is a delicious nod to the island’s history — and the hotel’s link to that past.