PHOTOS BY JASON GENEGABUS / JASON@STARADVERTISER.COM
Newly hired bar staff at the Hilton Hawaiian Village's CabaRAE Showroom take part in a cocktail tasting on Wednesday.
As much as local people love to hate on Waikiki — too many tourists (duh!), too much traffic, not enough affordable parking — it’s always been a nightlife destination for visitors and Hawaii residents alike.
While the area has experienced a drastic reduction in nightclubs in recent years, generations of local people have partied at places like The Point After, the Wave Waikiki, Eurasia, Lotus Soundbar and Maharaja. Party promoters have also worked over the years with hotels like the old W Honolulu (now Lotus Waikiki), Sheraton Waikiki and Trump International Waikiki to host events in non-traditional locations like hotel restaurants and ballrooms.
Soon the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort will re-enter the nightlife fray in a major way when the new CabaRAE Showroom opens near the Tapa Bar in the hotel’s Tapa Tower (anyone else besides me remember watching Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre perform at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in 2000, or Britney Spears filming a television concert special beachfront at the resort a few months earlier the same year?). Before the end of 2014, guests will be able to take in an evening of acrobatics, music and comedy in a 10,000-square-foot space that will transform into an afterhours lounge once each evening's performance has finished.
A close-up shot of one of the walls near the main bar in the new CabaRAE Showroom.
The Pulse was given an exclusive sneak-peek of the new showroom, which is approximately 90 percent complete, on Wednesday to observe as new staff hires attended an orientation session followed by a cocktail tasting with Joey Gottesman of Young’s Market Company of Hawaii. While we weren’t allowed to photograph the entire space, San Diego-based nightclub industry veteran Dave Renzella was happy to share a few select details about the new venue Hilton Hotels & Resorts hired him to create.
“The idea of the show is theater in the round,” he said. “It’s an intimate, interactive experience. We’re thinking it’s going to be about 350 seats with VIP banquettes and bottle service also available.”
Umbrellas hang from the ceiling near the main bar area.
If you attended a “CabaRAE” preview performance earlier this year, there will still be something new to experience once the production opens in the new showroom. With talent arriving from around the world on a regular basis, the show is guaranteed to change as cast members rotate in and out.
“Typically our cast will be on six- or 12-month contracts, so it’s always going to stay fresh and interesting,” Renzella said. “It will always be acrobatics, comedy and music, but not always the same acts. You can come and see new talent every year from all over the world.”
Two bars will service guests — the main bar in the showroom itself, with a secondary lanai bar featuring a nautical theme. Unlike other stage productions, guests will be encouraged to get up and walk around during the show without having to worry about an usher hurrying them along. The bars will remain open throughout each evening’s performance as well.
“It’s going to be an environment that promotes having fun and having a few cocktails,” Renzella said. “Guests will be encouraged to move around freely.”
The cocktail menu itself is still in development, however, with staffers tasting their way through a full lineup of drinks on Wednesday that were all named after current performers in the cast. Gottesman mixed up concoctions like Svelta’s Spine Twister, Maxime’s Double Dark N Stormy, The Flying Trapeze and Poissonnett’s Triple Tipple. Despite the fancy names, Gottesman said they were all simple variations of classic cocktails guaranteed to let the good times roll.
But the most intriguing aspect of the new CabaRAE Showroom is what Renzella said will follow each night’s performance. Guests will be invited to stick around for a meet-and-greet with cast members at the main bar, with the showroom morphing into a more lounge-like atmosphere that will stay open until 2 a.m.
Young's Market Company of Hawaii's Joey Gottesman, left, leads new CabaRAE Showroom staff through a tasting session on Wednesday.
The concept reminds me of what LEVEL4 did with the former Waikiki Nei space at the Royal Hawaiian Center, but a built-in customer base of hotel guests with nothing to do on-property once hotel bars close at 11 p.m. is something they couldn’t count on there.
Renzella can. Even if local crowds are slow to discover it, he said he was optimistic guests from within the Hilton Hawaiian Village would welcome the new late-night option.
Although an official grand opening date has yet to be announced, the public should be able to get a preview of the new drinks and lounge space later this month. Performances are expected to begin before the end of the year. For more details, visit cabarae.com or follow the production on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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+.