August 22nd, 2013
Honolulu's nightlife scene has undergone a number of changes in recent months, with a combination of new venues opening and ownership changes from Chinatown to Waikiki.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the more noteworthy moves made by local bars and nightclubs:
The Fix Sports Lounge & Nightclub
Chinatown regulars were shocked when SoHo Mixed Media Bar owner Daniel Gray announced plans to finally shut down after a series of "false alarms" in early 2013.
For three and a half years, the nightclub had successfully drawn clubgoers out of their comfort zone on Hotel Street to a space at 80 S. Pauahi Street that was transformed by a lot of DIY work by Gray and his friends. The former dive bar was developed into a multi-room party spot that doubled as an art gallery and performance space.
At first, Gray sought out a new business partner to keep SoHo open when his former partner decided to leave the business. When a deal fell through, however, he was forced to call it quits in March. About a month later, The Fix Sports Lounge & Nightclub quietly opened its doors. The new club officially celebrated its grand opening on June 29.
As The Fix nears its two-month anniversary, it has begun to establish itself as a home for live music and dance parties. Local radio station Power 104.3, which had hosted a weekly party at SoHo before it closed, recently relaunched a Friday night party at the club.
Manifest owner Brandon Reid is one of the most optimistic bar owners in Chinatown. He's been bullish on the neighborhood since opening his doors at 32 N. Hotel Street in 2009 and remains optimistic as he prepares to celebrate four years in business on Friday, Aug. 23.
"I'm thrilled there's a lot of changes," he said earlier this week. "I feel when there are more places open, business will be better. … I'm in a position now where I'm tired of living dangerously. I want Chinatown to start popping again."
For more than three years, Manifest was relegated to a narrow space with barely enough room to accommodate hundreds of party people who come to enjoy some of the best cocktails in town, thanks to award-winning bartender Justin Park. A weekly trivia contest consistently draws a crowd, and those looking for a place to dance know Manifest employs some of the city's top DJs to keep their parties moving.
Some pretty significant changes have taken place in the last two months, following the closure of Lotus Downtown next door. Reid was approached by the property owner shortly thereafter and offered the additional space, but he was slightly intimidated — yet excited — about an opportunity that seemingly materialized out of nowhere.
"I had to think creatively," he said. "If I was going to get more space, I needed to create another entity."
Manifest's expansion has since spawned a new business, Holoholo Bicycles, which is also owned by Reid. During the day, the former Lotus space is home to racks of bikes designed for use as short-term rentals by neighborhood commuters and tourists looking to explore Chinatown.
"We have lots of historic landmarks here," explained Reid. "So we're offering tours and cross-promoting with events at Manifest.
"We have to make using bicycles and getting around this way have some sort of value. … It's really about being flexible. And as we try to build that company, I get to extend Manifest into Holoholo for special events."
During Chinatown's monthly First Friday Art Walk, for example, Reid will move the bikes and open a second room — and satellite bar — to accommodate large crowds. Friday's anniversary party and a fundraiser for a Hawaii-based team preparing to compete in the upcoming Red Bull Flugtag competition on Saturday, Aug. 24, will also take advantage of the extra space.
The expansion also allowed Reid to utilize a kitchen area in the building that was previously unused. More than a year and half after first exploring the idea of creating a food menu at Manifest, he's hired chef Aaron Oliveira to oversee a limited menu of sliders featuring different ingredients.
"Right now, the menu includes bacon cheeseburger sliders and a meatball parmesan slider," said Reid. "This weekend, we'll have a special cheesesteak and grilled pepper slider, and we're also serving Angostura bitters-flavored nuts and crab cakes, too.
"We're going to stick with offering about four to six different items for now. We're also trying to expand into lunch and maybe even delivery."
Before places like JJ Dolan's, theVenue, bambuTwo and Rakuen opened along Bethel Street, it was a long and lonely walk from Chinatown's main drag to the Mercury Bar on Chaplain Lane. For most of its 10 years in business, you had to know where to look in order to find Andrew Bugreyev's cozy bar, nestled in the shadow of Hawaii Pacific University.
Thanks to the ladies of Cherry Blossom Cabaret and bands like Bari Bar 13, however, this spot has become a favorite among the indie rock crowd — and those who love to channel their inner rock star during live karaoke nights with local band The Johnnys.
Earlier this month, however, Bugreyev announced via a Facebook post that he would no longer maintain a majority ownership interest in Ground Level LLC, the company that owned the bar.
"Anthony Karl is assuming majority partnership of the LLC," he said. "I am staying on as a minority partner.
"The why as to the change of ownership is for many reasons. But the main reason is that I find myself 10 years later and I've quite simply found myself and my ability to drive business no longer relevant. In short, I've run out of gas."
According to Bugreyev, fans of the bar should be excited about the change, as it will provide an infusion of new ideas — as well as much-needed cash — into the business. The Mercury's stage is scheduled to be replaced and new sound and lighting systems will be installed.
"Pretty much everything is going to change, from the entrance to the bathrooms," he said. "Very excited about this."
Just like he did when he left The Loft to open SoHo Mixed Media Bar, Daniel Gray promised he would be back when SoHo closed in March. Despite his failure to secure additional financing for that venue, he pressed on.
Gray's tenacity and willingness to roll up his sleeves and commit to doing whatever it takes to get a new business off the ground didn't go unnoticed, and he soon found new partners to help him open his next nightclub.
After slowly fading into oblivion earlier this year — reportedly due to lingering paperwork and permitting issues that went unresolved — NextDoor will reopen at 43 N. Hotel St. tomorrow with the launch of “TheHousePartyNextDoor."
Reached last week, Gray would only confirm it was "myself and one major investor, plus three small partners/investors" who were working together to reopen the popular Chinatown hangout.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 21, two events have been announced: Thursday's grand opening party with Los Angeles-based singer Chantelle Truong, and the second installment of "Porn & Chicken," a dance party hosted by local promoters Odin Works, Nephilim Halls Productions and SRTB.
The Crown Bar & Nightclub
After the Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu moved from its old digs at 1837 Kapiolani Blvd. to a new location in 2010, the iconic building at the entrance to Waikiki has had a tough time reinventing itself.
That's not to say people haven't tried — first it was Clubhouse Makino, then The Clubhouse Waikiki, and most recently Coconut Willy's Waikiki. None of the concepts appeared to catch on, despite a relatively central location and additional parking available in a vacant lot adjacent to the property.
This week, the bar will reopen as the Crown Bar and Nightclub with a new focus on live music. Local bands will perform tomorrow, Aug. 22, as well as Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug 24.
Thursday's new weekly showcase, "Rock the Crown Thursdays," kicks off with sets by Ethereal Monkey, Missing Dave and VEJJ. They'll be followed on Friday by local favorites Kapena; Saturday will feature music by Ekolu. Doors open at 8 p.m. all three nights.
Fans of Maui's Da Kitchen will also be happy to learn the restaurant is back on Oahu after closing its location at the St. Louis Clubhouse earlier this year. They have announced a pop-up appearance at the Crown, serving up a menu of bar food that includes prime rib, teriyaki and cheeseburger sliders, pupu-style kalbi ribs, roast pork fried rice, garlic chicken katsu, teriyaki beef and spicy ahi with kimchee.
All the food items are priced at $6 each, making the Crown an affordable option for a night out since the bar is also offering free parking and no cover charge all weekend.
Kapiolani Boulevard pool hall Hawaiian Brian's Billiards has long been a hangout for the the all-ages crowd, but it's slowly transformed into a more adult-friendly establishment since acquiring a liquor license in 2009.
Along with the booze, management decided to focus on live music, too, eventually pulling the trigger on extensive renovations in July to revamp space for live bands to perform. Formerly known as simply the Hawaiian Brian's Showroom, it's now being called Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian's.
According to a post on Hawaiian Brian's Facebook page, the name was chosen for two reasons:
1. In the 1930s, there was a restaurant named the Kau Kau Corner, which was located near Hawaiian Brian's at the intersection of Kapiolani and Kalakaua. Once the Panama Canal was opened in 1914, businessmen referred to Hawaii as the 'Crossroads of the Pacific' bridging Asia to the continental United States and Latin America. The Kau Kau Corner put up a sign that gave a visual interpretation to the 'Crossroads of the Pacific' tagline. Today, Hawaiian Brian's hosts many bands that are either en route to Asia or returning from Asia back to the United States or Canada acting as a musician's Crossroads of the Pacific.
2. As fans of the blues, we wanted the venue name to pay tribute to classic blues and rock and roll. One of our favorite musicians, Eric Clapton, was inspired by a musician named Robert Johnson, who was a young man that turned to music as a way to avoid working a laborious job in the cotton fields. … In his song, 'Cross Road Blues,' Robert Johnson talks about trying to hitch a ride at the crossroads at midnight. This story was turned into a blues legend as many believed Robert Johnson went to the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil in order to become the world's greatest guitarist.
To complement the new performance space, Hawaiian Brian's also revamped its food offerings, striking a deal with chefs Eddie Mafnas and Jeff Sampson of Firehouse Food Truck to run their kitchen.
BREW'd Craft Pub
Following the successful opening of REAL a Gastropub at Ward Centers, owner Troy Terorotua announced last week that he will open a second location, BREW'd craft pub, in late October 2013.
"We're creating a relaxing pub for friends and colleagues to have an enjoyable time while having great beer and food," Terorotua said in a statement. "I view this new adventure as an extension of what we started at REAL a Gastropub."
BREW'd will serve craft beers from 16 taps and offer more than 100 different bottled beers, with food by Terorotua and chef de cuisine Don Takeya. The new gastropub will be located at 3441 Waialae Avenue, across the street from Champa Thai and town.
Pearl Ultra Lounge
When Pearl Ultra Lounge opened seven years ago at Ala Moana Center, it marked a significant change in Honolulu's nightclub scene. Larger, standalone venues like World Cafe and Pipeline Cafe were becoming a thing of the past as Hawaii's economy slowed and owners looked to smaller, more lounge-like spaces when opening new spots.
Former Pearl owner Beau Mohr had made a name for himself as general manager at the Ocean Club and wanted to show he could step out and elevate the nightlife experience.
"Nightlife has become a bigger part of pop culture," he told me in 2006. "People are looking for a new destination."
Mohr was right, although Pearl underwent more than six months of construction delays before finally opening its doors in September of that year. More than $2 million was spent to create the space, which was introduced as "Nightlife Reimagined" and featured state-of-the-art sound and lighting, plus cocktails developed by master mixologist Francesco Lafranconi.
Unfortunately, the party ended for Mohr in 2009 after a group of investors sued to take control of the nightclub. Despite the rocky start on the business side, Pearl quickly became a favorite of the mature club crowd, packing in legions of 30- and 40-somethings looking for somewhere new to party. It also served as home base for photographer and party promoter Russell Tanoue, as well as countless fundraisers and bartending competitions over the years.
Nearly seven years after opening its doors, Pearl announced it would close for renovations at the end of July (ironically, following Tanoue's final birthday celebration in Honolulu). When it reopens in late 2013, expect an "updated and modern environment … including a fresh menu, programming and music platform" that will create a "modern boutique restaurant, lounge and nightclub concept aimed at offering high quality, moderately-priced food and beverage options."
According to Pearl creative director Cydney Chu, it was simply time for a change.
"It's just time to reinvent the brand," she said earlier this week. "When Pearl first opened, it was the first real ultra lounge concept in Honolulu. Since then, a lot of different places have opened.
"We want to bring Pearl up to what's current in today's market and refresh for the next generation of Honolulu party people."
Chu made an excellent point about the "aging out" of Pearl's clientele. If their target demographic in 2006 was females in their early to mid-30's, most of those customers have since celebrated their 40th birthdays and, in many cases, started families. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as a new generation of customers have transitioned from their 20's and have moved on from other venues around town.
"We're going to make Pearl more friendly to the 30-year-old woman of today, as compared to what was important seven years ago," Chu said. "A lot of the updating will be through the branding as well as with the entertainment and music."
One of the most eagerly anticipated openings of 2014 will be Skybar Waikiki at the Waikiki Business Plaza.
Plans call for a 9,000 square-foot lounge on the shopping center's 19th floor, replacing an underutilized space with two bars and a 3,000 square-foot open-air lanai area to take advantage of the building's spectacular Waikiki and Diamond Head views.
The new Skybar will be owned and operated by Leighton Mau, nephew Alika Mau, Darren Seu and Kainoa Akina, who also own and operate the Waikiki Business Plaza, Top of Waikiki, Waikiki Shopping Plaza and Ambassador Hotel Waikiki.
Construction was set to begin this summer, with a grand opening celebration in spring 2014.
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 and follow him on Twitter and Google+.