Characters of Kona: Huggo’s
Chugging beer out of pink plastic flamingos, Ponchoman on the ukulele, and the hallowed (drinking) grounds of the Hawaii Ironman World Championships—Huggo’s.
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There aren’t many businesses along Ali’i Drive that predate the arrival of Ironman. It’s not that there wasn’t anything on Ali’i before 1978; it’s just that there’s a lot of turnover in a town that’s beholden to the ebb and flow of tourism—especially the restaurants. One pillar of Kailua-Kona that has stood the test of time is Huggo’s, which opened its doors in 1969 and has been feeding—and boozing—triathletes for the past 44 years.
There are restaurants and bars with a view, and then there is Huggo’s (the bar) and Huggo’s on the Rocks (the restaurant), which is aptly named because it is literally built into lava rocks protruding out into Kailua Bay. It’s unique in that if there’s a big enough swell and the tide is rushing in, it can be hard to carry a conversation over the sound of the crashing waves; and every so often some stray water can even make its way into the open-air bar.
It’s this idyllic location that has made Huggo’s the most legendary, traditional watering hole for the Ironman crowd. It’s long been the site of some of the biggest parties of race week—especially after the awards ceremony on Sunday. Some of the greatest athletes to ever compete in Kona have also chugged beer out of a pink plastic flamingo on Huggo’s hallowed ground, cut up the dance floor, and closed out the bar.
Even those who have never been to Kona will recognize Huggo’s as the location of the popular “Breakfast with Bob” show, which Bob Babbitt has been doing at Huggo’s for the past 11 years. Babbitt does interviews with elite and inspiring athletes both before and after the race, giving people from all over the world a glimpse of the Big Island on race week. The show began as a recording session on the deck in front of the restaurant, but now it’s a live event, with a spectator gallery that’s allowed to watch and listen to the interviews inside the restaurant. For tri nerds, it doesn’t get better than this.
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“Right from the beginning we had this great chemistry with me, Ponchoman on the ukulele, and the amazing ocean backdrop that made the home audience feel that they were with us in Kona,” says Babbitt, who has been coming to Kona for more than 40 years. “Huggo’s was always our favorite race-week spot, even before the show. Back then we’d pretty much hang out on the deck overlooking the ocean pretty much every night.”
The deck overlooking the ocean is the place to be on the night before the race for those who aren’t competing, hosting the TGINR (Thank God I’m Not Racing) party for as long as people have been coming to Kona to do something other than racing. Even a fabled few have attended the TGINR party, gotten a bit sauced, and gone on to finish the race the following day. (Most of them are from New Zealand and are just built differently.) Legend has it their names are etched somewhere in the lava rocks outside Huggo’s, inscribed by Lono-i-ka-makahiki, the ancient Hawaiian god of grain—and presumably beer.
Whether you’re looking to get a bit buzzed pre or post race, or you need a poke bowl with a view you won’t forget, Huggo’s shouldn’t be missed for triathletes visiting the Big Island for the first time or 40th. They also have happy hour from 3-5 pm every day, because happy hour comes earlier in Hawaii, and it happens seven days a week. Don’t miss out on a Kona gem that also happens to be a perfect spot to catch athletes at miles 1 and 8 of the marathon.
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