It's hard to imagine what Chinatown would be like without the many contributions of Daniel Gray.
The 32-year-old Kauai native has been part of the food and beverage industry on Oahu for more than a decade, including stints at Bedroq Bar and Grill (now Rock Bottom Sports Bar and Grill) near UH-Manoa and Detox Lounge (the former Players Alakea near the corner of Alakea and South Beretania streets).
Daniel Gray. (Star-Advertiser File)
When Detox reopened as Sound|House in 2007, Gray helped owner Titan Burns establish the bar as a haven for local indie, punk and hip-hop acts who couldn't (or didn't want to) get stage time at the more mainstream venues that were flourishing a few blocks away on Hotel Street.
Within a few months, however, the two ended up closing that club and partnering on what would become LOFT Gallery and Lounge in the former Wo Fat restaurant space on Hotel. Two years after that, Gray made the leap into club ownership by working with investors to open SoHo Mixed Media Bar on Pauahi Street, where Mall Cafe had previously operated.
Following nearly four years at SoHo, he was forced to vacate the club in March when an original investor left the club and Gray's attempt to secure a new financial backer fell through. As always, he persevered and eventually reopened Chinatown favorite NextDoor in August with partners Kanoa Bristol, Mark Robinson, Marty Simjian and Kenneth May.
But before he could settle into his new job, Gray began to suffer from painful headaches. A little more than a month ago, he posted a Facebook update to break the bad news to his friends and "attempt to set the story straight" after rumors had begun to circulate among Chinatown regulars.
"It started as a bad headache a few weeks ago, and it has since become something much more serious," he wrote. "I have something growing in my brain that shouldn't be there."
After additional visits to the doctor, it was determined a golf ball-sized mass in his head was indeed cancerous. Gray went back into the hospital this week for additional scans to determine if the cancer has spread, and is scheduled to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment on Monday, Jan. 13.
Daniel Gray, right, and Mark Becker at SoHo Mixed Media Bar's closing party in March 2013. (Star-Advertiser File)
"If it hasn't spread, we're in good shape to beat this," said Mark Becker, Gray's close friend and former business partner at SoHo. "He's on a lot of medication to numb the pain (from the headaches) … it's hard for someone as vibrant as him to feel so crappy."
Becker and a small crew have stepped in to help care for Gray in his time of need, establishing a website to collect donations and setting into motion the first of what are expected to be multiple fundraisers to help offset the bills associated with his upcoming medical treatment.
"We're going in the right direction," Becker said on Wednesday, Jan. 8. "The fund is up to (about) $5,000 already, and we just got some good news that his insurance will be covering more than we thought."
At first, supporters estimated Gray would need upwards of $100,000 to pay for his treatment, since he was underinsured while working at SoHo and NextDoor; instead of paying for benefits for himself, Gray would regularly put his profits back into the business. Becker credited the recent enactment of the Affordable Care Act for securing Gray the coverage he needed at a much lower cost. If everything goes smoothly and the cancer is eradicated quickly, he said Gray's medical bills could be cut in half — or even more.
"I was going to put my house down, but now I don't have to," said Becker. "Daniel's going to be out of work for a year though, and someone is going to have to help pay for his food."
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the general public will have an opportunity to gather in support of Gray's battle against cancer as the "Rage 4 Daniel" campaign officially kicks off at NextDoor. Doors will open at 7 p.m. that night, followed by a presentation by friends and loved ones at 8 p.m. In addition, organizers will reveal additional future fundraisers and discuss how Gray's peers can crowd source even more opportunities to raise money.
And because Daniel himself would urge his friends to party on, "Rage 4 Daniel" will include DJs and dancing until 2 a.m. once all the formal presentations are finished.
Tickets for the "Rage 4 Daniel" kickoff event are $25 in advance, with $500 and $1,000 VIP packages also available. According to Becker, the goal is to generate enough interest and support that other bars and nightclubs will independently host their own fundraiser events in the weeks and months to come.
Daniel Gray celebrates his 30th birthday at SoHo Mixed Media Bar in 2011. (Star-Advertiser File)
"We've gotten tons of great feedback already," he said. "There are people who want to donate the cover charge from their events and do fundraisers of their own. We wanted to get this first one done, then hand off the planning for others to those who want to step up and help.
"There's nothing concrete yet, but everybody wants to get involved. There's been a great response so far. People love Daniel."
Yes, we do. And anyone who has ever spent a late night at Detox, Sound|House, LOFT, SoHo or NextDoor owes a debt of gratitude to Gray for his contributions to the Chinatown scene we've all come to know and enjoy.
Please consider donating a few bucks to this worthy cause and help motivate Gray to stay positive and keep fighting so we can rage with him once again.
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+.