Guests enjoy one of the outdoor seating areas at the Sunset Room during the Aloha Tower Marketplace nightclub's grand opening party on Friday, Jan. 18. (Star-Advertiser File)
With its time in Clubland potentially limited, the team behind the new Sunset Room at Aloha Tower Marketplace isn't wasting any time getting down to business.
Following a number of soft opening events over the last month, the second floor nightclub opened its doors to the general public with a pair of grand opening parties on Friday, Jan. 18, and Saturday, Jan. 19. However, efforts by Hawaii Pacific University to redevelop the area into student housing and other amenities may hamper any long-term plans to turn the 7,000 square-foot, indoor-outdoor space into much more than it already is.
Pillowtalk and 'High Society: Pro Bowl Edition'
» Where: The Sunset Room, Aloha Tower Marketplace, Second Floor
» When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25 (Pillowtalk), and Saturday, Jan. 26 ('High Society')
» Cost: $20 general admission ($10 pre-sale tickets available)
» Info: store.amnights.com
Sunset Room co-owner Andreas Counnas made no attempt to avoid talking about the situation during an interview earlier this month.
"This is a short-term project," he said. "It's not really about money. It's about creating a space. It's a test to see what this market can handle and how a spot like this could work."
Counnas speaks from experience. The Denver native spent 11 years in Los Angeles promoting events at various nightclubs after getting his start working with Jason Mewes (of "Jay and Silent Bob" fame). Throwing parties with a movie star attracted other celebrities, which ended up getting him a job at the original Sunset Room in Hollywood.
"I started at the top," said Counnas. "We were making a killing and just chilling. And then it became a rat race. … The bubble burst."
After a short stint working as a personal assistant for MTV co-founder Les Garland, he found himself in Honolulu in Dec. 2011, promoting a pair of New Year's Eve parties in Chinatown. The Artist Movement then moved on to other parties in Waikiki and at the Waterfront at Aloha Tower.
"I stayed and did another event at RumFire with Taryn Manning, and then I did 'Passport' at Aloha Tower," Counnas said. "I really saw the potential out here. This is like L.A. about 10 years ago."
Trips to Canada and Mexico early last year only helped reinforce his interest in putting something together in Honolulu. Additional parties in Honolulu with DJ Colette at RumFire and Dash Berlin at the Waterfront confirmed there was a market here for the style of events he wanted to produce.
It also helped that Counnas discovered local afterhours spot The Asylum almost immediately after his arrival. What started as a friendship with Willis Haltom and Darren Zane turned into a working partnership that benefits from the pair's established track record of drawing big names in the electronic dance music scene. Co-owner Patrick Lam and Creative Director Tammy Shaffer round out the management team at the new club.
"Probably within two weeks of being out here … we kind of just became friends," said Counnas of Haltom and Zane. "And I'm a frequent visitor over there.
"I was looking for a scene in Miami. I was looking for a scene in Denver. Go-go dancers, bartenders, I was just looking for that scene. I couldn't find it in Miami. Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough.
"When I got here, some friends said, 'let's go to an afterhours.' And I almost didn't go. But I went, and I was like, 'here's the scene.'"
Counnas also credited Rick Schneider and Events International for their operational support of the business, along with a number of other local staff hired to help get things started. While he probably could have brought in a number of former employees from Hollywood, Counnas expressed support for hiring local talent and a willingness to help train a new generation of nightlife industry employees.
"I'm a guest," he said. "I understand that and appreciate it and I love this place. This is going to be a predominantly local club."
Sunset Room creative director Tammy Shaffer, right, with co-owners, from left, Willis Haltom, Darren Zane and Andreas Counnas. (Star-Advertiser photo by Jamm Aquino)
THE BEST PART about the Sunset Room has to be its location, with both an indoor and outdoor experience available to the 21-and-over crowd. Overlooking Gordon Biesrch and the Honolulu Harbor waterfront, party people can head inside for a taste of the powerful Dynacord sound system and custom lighting installed by Haltom and Zane with the help of a few friends. The former restaurant space retains essentially the same layout, which actually works out just fine for a club setting as well.
What I like is the flow of the room — you're encouraged to walk inside and check out what's going on. If it's not your speed, just continue out another door, loop back around and a separate, open-air space is waiting with a completely different style of music. More importantly, there's another bar out there, too.
On Fridays, expect electronic music indoors and hip-hop beats outside. The format flips on Saturdays, with hip-hop in the main room and EDM on the lanai. Doors open at 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a $20 cover in effect most nights; bottle service starts at $250.
"The goal of this space is to get the location, the music and the people all in the same place," said Counnas. "The biggest high you'll ever feel (as a promoter) is when you get that match of location, music and people.
"It sounds really simple, but it's almost impossible to do."
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.