HANALEI, Hawaii — Search for the one word in the world that describes Louise Marston, and you always come back to "substantial."
Her generosity, her pride, her smile, her physique, her success and just about everything else about "Auntie Louise" are thoroughly and clearly substantial.
About 25 years ago Auntie Louise left her native Tahiti, spent a couple of years in California, then settled in this tiny town on the rainy north shore of Kauai. She had visited friends here before and, although she didn't know it at the time, she had returned to become a legend in her lifetime.
To become legendary, she bought an old, tiny general store. Then she transformed the tin-roofed building that was not much more than a shack into the town's first bar and restaurant. It was a little place, but she named it Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and let it grow.
Today, Tahiti Nui jumps. It is full of characters, not the least of whom is Auntie Louise Marston.
Doctor of Drinks
Locals and tourists sip beer at the bar, served by a bartender who, when pressed, admits to carrying an "MD" after her name.
Next door, in a kitchen visible from the dining room (the original general store), chef Jeff Bolman puts on shorts, thongs and a blue T-shirt with "Hawaiian Airlines" emblazoned on the front to prepare his favorite ahi, or other delicacies, like squid stuffed with clams and herbs.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday up to 175 patrons are likely to file into Tahiti Nui for a hula show and a luau where one waitress is a former taxicab fleet owner from San Diego and another claims a master's degree in educational psychology from the New School of Social Research in New York.
And everywhere, Louise Marston is watching, directing, singing, talking, bouncing the bad guests, kissing the good guests and bedecking her favorites with leis. She makes Tahiti Nui unusually special.
Words and Music
If you're alone, Auntie Louise is likely to march over to your table, pull up a chair and make herself at home--in the process making you feel at home.
"I like the people," she announces. "I like the stories I hear from the people. I like to sing songs. I have a good time . . . people are happy when somebody talks to them. Sometimes I invite everyone to one table."
It doesn't take much to get Auntie Louise to haul out her Gibson acoustic guitar and start strumming. Her exuberant, untrained alto voice often fills the room with her theme song, "Tahiti Nui."
On a recent warm night she finished the song, stepped from the tiny bandstand in her bar, sat with some guests, ordered coffee (she never drinks alcohol) and explained that, translated from Tahitian, the song essentially means, "If you go away, be sure to come back again. It's a happy song."
It's a happy bar that is the cornerstone of Tahiti Nui. Some nights R. J. Mossman and his Rexall Rangers belt out country music; other nights Larry Asing warbles Hawaiian tunes while accompanying himself on the guitar. Always there are guests sipping beer or stronger drinks and enjoying themselves.
Most of them are tourists or locals you've never heard of. But, attesting to visitors less anonymous, a photo behind the bar pictures a celebrity smiling stiffly, formally clad in a suit and tie and appearing decidedly un-Hawaiian; it's autographed by Jimmy Carter.
Close to Paradise
Beside the former President's portrait hangs a framed proclamation from San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein dated in 1984. It wishes Tahiti Nui a happy 20th anniversary and congratulates Auntie Louise for providing "first-class food, drink and recreation . . . the closest thing to a James Michener tropical paradise spot in the islands."
It is, of course, the expansive good humor and skillful administration of Auntie Louise that bring Tahiti Nui so close to "paradise."
She doesn't do it all with sweetness and light. If you're bad in her bar, she strides over and tells you to settle down and have fun. If you're really bad, she sends you home with the air of a mother banishing an ill-mannered child to his or her room.
Evaluating Auntie Louise's abilities as a bouncer, bartender Tina MacAdam observed, "They argue with us, but not with her." She paused, pondered, and added with emphasis, "Not at all."
Louise tends to keep her own clock, and often is late for appointments. But it irks her when others don't show up on time. She is very much in charge, and her style is benevolent to the point of extreme generosity until someone gets outof line.
"It's our place to run," bartender MacAdam said, speaking for all the employees, "except when things go wrong. Then she lets us know about it."
"You know when you're out of favor if she doesn't give you a peck on the cheek after work," said waiter Micco Godinez. Then, half-joking, he added, "If she doesn't like you, she gives you the stink eye."