Story by David Thompson
Photo by Jack Wolford
Any seafood restaurant can claim to serve fresh fish. Very few can actually hoist the mahimahi for tonight’s tacos out of the sea with a crane. Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill in Kona is one of them. Perched at the edge of Honoköhau Small Boat Harbor, home of Kailua-Kona’s charter fishing fleet, Bite Me Fish Market has a big blue crane on the back länai that carries fish straight from the boats that caught them into the restaurant that will serve them. “Part of the whole experience of eating here is that you never know when you’re going to see a big fish pulled in,” says Brian Wargo, the six-foot-three-inch proprietor who looks like he could fill in if the crane that hauls in the day’s catch ever broke down.
Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill is where Kailua-Kona’s sun-beaten sportfishing culture meets the landlubbing general public. It’s a bona fide fisherman’s lair, with an outdoor bar festooned with the beer koozies of the salt-encrusted regulars. The billfishing vibe kicks into overdrive on the first Saturday of every month, when the restaurant becomes headquarters of the Queen K Tesoro Dirty Dozen, the most regular of the Kona game-fishing tournaments. But there’s always room for people who simply want to eat fresh fish, with seating on the länai beneath broad canvas shade umbrellas or indoors among the life-size trophy fish molds and endlessly looping fishing video.
The restaurant is a spinoff of Wargo’s thriving sport-fishing operation, which includes five boats, all named Bite Me (Bite Me 1, Bite Me 2, etc.). When his customers return from successful fishing trips out at sea, they can have their catch cleaned and cooked at the restaurant. In addition, Wargo runs the Bite Me clothing store. “The Bite Me booty shorts are big,” he says. “They’re our best seller.” In fact the booty shorts, hats, T-shirts, thong underwear and other Bite Me attire have now become more high profile than the out-of-the-way Bite Me restaurant. Or as Wargo puts it matter-of-factly, “The apparel gets more attention than the fish.”