The Hotel Honokaa Club is an example of the small hotels built at the turn of the 19th century by Japanese immigrants to mainly serve their countrymen in towns such as Captain Cook, Waiohinu, Kohala and Honokaa. Opened in 1912 by Kumakichi Morita, the original Honokaa Hotel Club was styled like a modern motor court, with rooms strung together in a row. The hotel did not have a name when it first opened, and was allegedly labeled as the result of a vote by club “members,” who were likely boarders and community members who frequented the hotel. By 1915 it is listed in the local business directory as the “Honokaa Hotel Club - A First Class Hotel and Boarding House, Rates $3.00 per Day and Up.” By 1920 rates had increased to $4.00 per day. The hotel portion served as a residence and lodging for immigrants, unmarried sugar cane workers, and traveling salesmen, while the bar served as a “watering hole” for residents, local paniolos (cowboys) from nearby ranches and Marines (from Camp Tarawa in Waimea who were forbidden to drink in Waimea by Samuel Parker, Parker Ranch owner, and builder of Waimea town). Though today the bar is closed, full bedrooms and hostel accommodations are available.
Kumakichi Morita, the hotel’s first manager/owner, trained as a chef in American cuisine and became chef to Prince Jonah Kūhīo Kalanianaʻole. Unfortunately, the Prince did not appreciate the American cuisine and Kumakichi looked elsewhere for employment, arriving in Honokaa to cook for the manager of the Honokaa Sugar Company. The hotel was built with financing from the local telephone office owner, John Pritchard, and Alexander B. Lindsay, a wealthy businessman who owned a store across the street from the hotel.
In 1948, the hotel expanded, adding a second story containing six bedroom suites. Five new bedrooms were added downstairs and new bathrooms were attached to the original bedrooms. In 1960, the Moritas added a cocktail lounge dubbed the “Waipio Room,” and in the 1970’s they inaugurated a bar named the “Dan McGuire Left-Handed Martini Room," after the well-known sports writer. The bar hosted golfers from the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company’s golf tourney at the Hamakua Country Club, part of the annual Macadamia Nut Harvest Festival. Notable personalities included local newscaster “Joltin’ Joe” Moore, golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr, and Hawaiian music singer Danny Keleikini. Further shenanigans related to the Martini Room included Jim Nabors’ (Gomer Pyle) dedication of the “Jim Nabors Right-handed Pay Toilet.” The hotel was owned and operated by the Morita family until its sale in 1989 to the present owners.