From Moose to Monkey in Lahaina Town
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“There’s a lot of good stuff happening in Maui, but I think there’s always room for a little bit more.”
By “more,” Ryan Sweeney might be referring to 180 different bottles of whiskeys in one bar. Namely, The Dirty Monkey Bar, which just opened today at 844 Front Street in the building that housed Moose McGillicuddy’s for more than 30 years. Renovations took many months, and involved a complete overhaul of the plumbing, electrical and decor.
The owners, who comprise The Goat Group, have eight other bars in Los Angeles, most named for animals, like The Surly Goat, The Blind Donkey, The Little Bear and The Phoenix. Lahaina’s Dirty Monkey, also the nickname of a co-owner, is the group’s first venture outside of California, after wanting to branch out and make Maui a second home.
Co-owner Matthew Robb calls the build-out a “labor of love, ” and says he wants to honor the authentic, good-time vibe of Moose’s while adding some modern twists, like new food and bar selections.
“We had a vision to make it a bar that was going to keep the ‘ohana, where people came when they get off work, where they knew they could come to have fun, as well as create a new buzz with some good whiskeys,” he says.
Co-owner/bar manager Sweeney says they’re aiming to have 300 whiskeys in stock by this time next year. That includes the notorious, 144-proof Octomore, but there are also tamer selections.
“We range from nice classics like Old Overholt and Fighting Cock to really rare stuff like Pappy, William Larue and George T. Stagg,” explains Sweeney. “That’s the gamut from entry level, very affordable, to extremely rare and I-can’t-even-get-in-L.A. stuff.”
Sweeney appreciates the liquor’s sense of tradition; for instance, he explains how bourbon can only be made in the United States, using some of the strictest guidelines for whiskey. He was “bit by the bug” of whiskey after tapping in to a passion for beer many years ago.
“I started with beer, and this was the easy transition over, because whiskey is beer; it’s distilled down,” he explains. “It’s just the history of it and the nuanced taste and the whole story of taking a grain, sitting in wood, the process of it being in the barrel and changing the flavor of the whiskey.”
The group, which started one of the first craft beer bars in Los Angeles, will also have 16 unique brews on tap in Lāhainā.
“10 years ago, we started doing that in L.A., we actually started L.A. Beer Week,” Sweeney says. “What we have right now is a lot of stuff we’re getting from California and Colorado and Hawai’i that might not be seen in most of the other bars.”
Along with the craft beers, specialty liquor and unique cocktails, the Dirty Monkey offers a small but quality food menu with options like ceviche, chicken wings, grass-fed beef and taro burgers, fish tacos and salads, made with as many local products as possible.
Sweeney says he hopes to help create memories for customers, whether locals or visitors.
“I want them to go away feeling that they had a very fun time but that they also had a place that was knowledgeable,” he explains, “and they maybe tried something they’d never even had over on the mainland, something to bring back with them.”
The Dirty Monkey is open seven days a week between 11 a.m. and 2 a.m., with happy hour spanning from 3 to 6 p.m. There are also plans for live music on Fridays and deejays with dancing on Saturdays. In fact, on New Year’s Eve, the bar will feature three deejays and no cover charge. The owners invite the public to come experience something new and vibrant on Front Street.
“With the Hard Rock closing, Koa’s just sold, and Cheeseburgers remodeling, Lulu’s just shut down, there’s a lack of some kind of nightlife, fun things for young people, new and old, to do,” says Robb. “So we’re going to try to bring that back; try to keep the town hoppin’!”