Ko`a Kea: Long Awaited Boutique Resort for Kaua`i

Something Different For Kauai Visitors: An Urban-styled Hotel With More Comforts Than Home

Ko`a Kea: Long Awaited Boutique Resort for Kaua`i

It isn't every day that a swanky new boutique hotel opens on the islands. Heck, it isn't often that anything new opens in this economic climate. But it certainly isn't every day both these occur on the sleepy and reclusive isle of Kaua`i. We were eager to visit the Ko'a Kea Hotel & Resort in Poipu since writing about its architect last winter. Anita Brooks took a break from designing glitzy, upscale casino resorts in Las Vegas to add some shimmer (along with designer Peter Vincent from O`ahu) to the former Poipu Beach Hotel—which closed after a barrage of 8 foot swells from Hurricane Iniki power-washed the coastline in September, 1992.

Upon entering the hotel's driveway, you pass by another resort, skirt a condo-hotel tower, and spill onto the quiet cove where Ko`a Kea resides. Whisked in to the lobby, it's easy to tell that Brooks wanted you to realize— this isn't your grandfather's Hawaiiana resort. Sure, there are design elements that evoke the spirit of the tropics. Hibiscus flowers are scattered around the various cocktail tables; there are accents of volcanic stone tile work here and there; and the color scheme is emblematic of what the hotel's name translates to from Hawaiian (Ko`a Kea means "white coral"). But white was chosen as the dominant tone throughout the lobby simply because it makes subtle accents pop. Namely, the mid-century modern furniture, the waving palm trees in the courtyard and the cerulean blue ocean beyond. The trade winds that whip through the lobby lounge almost become a part of the decor. Breezy is a design theme, no? Well, it works here. The soundtrack of this room is more Morcheeba than Makaha Sons. Refreshing, anywhere in Hawaii.

The lobby is connected to the newest culinary hot spot on the South Shore, Red Salt, which features Ronnie Sanchez as executive chef.

"I had very specific criteria in mind for the chef of this restaurant," said Ko`a Kea general manager Chris Steuri. "I wanted someone who knew how to cook. There are all sorts of chef personalities who want to manage all the restaurant aspects and control all the minutiae. That' not what I needed."

Steuri explains that after Sanchez left Spain's most famous restaurant, El Bulli, he transformed the fare at a mid-sized hotel in his home state of New Mexico.

"Of course I didn't hire him to cook southwestern cuisine here on Kaua`i," added Steuri. "But when I saw what he started with and where he took that menu [in New Mexico], I knew he could find his way to crafting a unique menu with the best fish and produce available here in the tropics." 

Swiss-born Steuri is no stranger to Kaua`i; he was the GM during the hotel's last stand, pre-hurricane, before transferring to the Stanford Court in San Francisco's Nob Hill district, where he spent 13 years.

Steuri is no mystic when talking about the operations of a successful hotel.

"A large portion of what we do is give people a good nights sleep," he said, adding that incredible amounts of research went in to the custom designing of the beds. Equal time was spent on where they would be positioned, the colors in the rooms, window treatments, angles of furniture, etc. For example, the designer was adamant that there were no acrylics used in anything that touches your skin on the bed; only natural fibers.

The 121-room, U-shape hotel has a fitness center bigger than most hotels with twice its room capacity. There's also a spa with five treatment rooms, and a boardroom for private meetings or events. These three amenities took up space that would otherwise have meant rooms with no ocean view. Steuri is as proud of the fact that there are only 14 rooms without ocean views, as he is citing they are each his favorite within the hotel, with their semi-private, outdoor sitting gardens.

Rooms feature 42-inch HD televisions, complementary wireless internet, a refrigerator, lanai, rainfall showers, L'Occitane bath products and iPod docking station alarm clocks. For those who can't put a slipper on without a shot of caffeine in the morning, a dresser drawer revealed your own in-suite espresso maker, complete with creamers.

Ko`a Kea has a very chic ambiance, like that of a W or small, urban hotel that couples might escape to for a romantic weekend. A dark-tiled pool and lava rock jacuzzi tub are both the perfect location for posting up with a cocktail, easily acquired from the outdoor cabana bar that sits next to both. There's even an activity desk neatly tucked underneath a staircase for all your snorkel and surf needs.

Having just opened it's doors in April, the Koa Kea seems to have polished up any spots that might not have shone as brightly as Stueri commands. With an introductory rate of $299 per night, it's the most stylish steal on the Garden Isle. 

The trade winds that whip through the lobby lounge almost become a part of the decor. Breezy is a design theme, no? Well, it works here.