“Go ahead and pick up the phone,” my guide says, gesturing to a black telephone handset mounted on the wall, its wires disappearing into a dark brown 1940s-era Bakelite radio box with a flashing red light on top.
Curious, I reach for the phone and marvel at its weight before putting it to my ear. Static crackles, making me jump, and then a voice on the other end speaks to me, as if down through the ages: “Aloha, and welcome to The Brewseum … ”
My guide is The Brewseum’s energetic owner and operator, Glen Tomlinson, and the unassuming little building I’ve just walked into, in the as-yet ungentrified industrial section of Honolulu’s Kakaako district, is a treasure trove of World War II memorabilia.
Every inch of the building is packed with storied artifacts, photographs, letters, posters, uniforms, everything you could think of from the WWII era—even a vintage military jeep you can climb into and a 1942 Army-issue Harley-Davidson that was used in the 2001 film, “Pearl Harbor.” Most of the items in the museum have been donated by WWII veterans and their families who, like me, have passed through these doors and found something inspiring and amazing inside.
Above my head, a small model train trundles on its track along the ceiling past smiling photos of men and women dressed in military uniforms, some in color and some in the sepia of a bygone era.
“What we’re trying to do is engage a younger demographic that didn’t hear the stories of World War II history,” Tomlinson says.
The whole concept of the museum and brewpub started in 1991, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Tomlinson began hosting tours of the island for Pearl Harbor survivors and their families. Inspired by the incredible, moving stories from the people who had been there, and the veterans’ repeated interest in coming back to a place that held so many memories for them, Tomlinson and his wife, Janet, decided to take the next step.
“We had no idea we were going to open up a museum, let alone have a tour program, but we thought, here’s a hobby turned into a full-time job. That’s when we started Home of the Brave Tours.”
The tours lasted for 25 years.
At that time, the future home of The Brewseum was a casual last stop along the route for drinks. The building, a horse stable in the 1920s–’40s, was then being used as a storage facility for the owner of a hotel in Waikīkī. As the collection of donated war memorabilia expanded, the family made more space in whatever way they could. “We just kept knocking down walls,” Tomlinson says.
In 2009, the Tomlinsons expanded their operation to the building next door and, on July 4, opened one of Honolulu’s most unique brewpubs.
Each of the dozen or so custom microbrews made on-site has a WWII story to it; from the signature Pilot Pale Ale to their most popular brew, the 442 Go for Broke IPA, named in honor of the Army infantry regiment composed of Japanese-American nisei (second generation) soldiers, many of them from Hawai‘i.
Tomlinson turns my attention to a worn U.S. flag mounted high on the wall in a beautiful wood and glass case.
“We’re really excited about this flag,” he says, gesturing to several holes torn through the fabric. “That was [from bullets] from the attacking Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941. [The donor’s] uncle jumped in a small skiff to help pull dead and wounded out of the water. When he got back to his ship, the USS Rigel, an admiral (according to family legend, it’s rumored to have been Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time) folded up the flag, gave it to him and said ‘here, you deserve this.’”
The battle-worn flag was supposed to go to the Smithsonian, but the family wanted it to return to Hawai‘i. The money for the frame was donated by the museum’s honorary chairman, Honolulu resident and WWII hero William Paty, who died in August 2018.
Ascend the narrow stairs at the back of The Brewseum, give the “secret knock” (it’s Morse code for V, as in “V for Victory”—three short raps and a single one) and you’ll find an intimate little speakeasy/tiki bar reminiscent of an exclusive WWII officers club. The Wiki Waki Woo bar serves vintage cocktails the way they would have been made in the ’30s and ’40s, as well as the Tomlinson family’s craft beers.
The back walls of the speakeasy are covered with photos of veterans, young and old. The photographs are Tomlinson’s favorite part of the museum, because of the lives and experiences they represent. “It’s not about the artifacts; it’s the stories behind them, the thousands of stories we have here that are going to die unless we share them,” he says.
Tomlinson himself, surprisingly, has never served in the military. His background is in travel industry management, although he does have family in the military, including an uncle who bequeathed the uniform he often wears while slinging drinks at the speakeasy upstairs.
“I’ve never served in the military, but we’ve been serving the military with this for 27 years,” he says. “If we can have people walk through here, enjoy a cold beverage and take in the collection, we’ve done our job.”
Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 11 p.m.,
901 and 909 Waimanu St., Oahu,(808) 799-2976, brewseums.com.