Waikiki ready for nightlife comeback
“They probably have no idea where we are,” BAMP Project Marketing and Promotions Director Flash Hansen quipped as I marveled over a huge line packed with gorgeous young people deep in Waikiki on Saturday night.
We were at the Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head for new Friday party Park Place, but many of us still referred to it as “The Old W” in reference its previous incarnation as the W Honolulu from 2004 until 2009, when Friday nights were just as swanky as the global boutique hotel brand and hundreds would line up to get inside the second floor restaurant-turned-nightclub.
Flash and I were rushing out to catch the Jurassic 5 pre-party with DJs Nu Mark and Cut Chemist (which I’m so glad I did!), and as usual I was in a situation where I was saying hello to all the cool kids whooshing in as I whooshed out.
The crowd wasn’t all young, however. There were definitely quite a few of the major players from Honolulu's nightlife who also made the trek to the far end of Waikiki to party with Tantriq Entertainment and say happy birthday to MillerCoors Area Sales Manager Colonel Toma. Pro surfers Sean Moody and Roy Powers, entrepreneur Jason Kim, promoters Bryan Simpson and Nao Fukazawa, Butigroove owner BJ Sabate, local American Apparel model Kiani Yamamoto, Element Group partner Sean Saiki and many others braved the traffic to come kick it. I would even say the average age in the room on Saturday night was late 20s to early 30s, which is the sweet spot for most clubs that want to be considered “upscale.”
Since very little was different in regards to the decor and look of the hotel's second floor space except the art on the walls, many of us older nightlife types couldn’t help but reminisce about the old W days. I wasn’t alone in my musings that this town is ready for something different.
While Tantriq doesn’t have plans to promote the party every week, Lotus Waikiki General Manager Joshua Gray said Park Place will be a weekly event. I’m looking forward to this event jump-starting what appears to be an imminent resurgence in Waikiki nightlife options over the next 12 months.
Party-hopping isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be come next year, especially if the Lotus sticks to its plans. Or when the 9,000 square foot SkyBar Waikiki opens downstairs from the Top of Waikiki at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. Or when the new 300-person Buho Cocina y Cantina unveils its large rooftop patio bar above Tanaka of Tokyo at 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. And especially if/when the planned Tyler Restaurant and Jaded Nightclub renderings that use the likeness of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler in the former Señor Frog's space at the Royal Hawaiian Center are ever built.
Although there are plenty of people still around who remember running the nightlife gauntlet in Honolulu every weekend when parties were scattered from Waikiki to Chinatown, there is definitely a certain finesse people need to make it out of Waikiki alive. The first, and most obvious, is don’t drink and drive. That sounds easy, but many are not as keen to accept this challenge, unfortunately.
I can only speak for myself when I say being wasted when you’re out is not fun. I personally just don’t like being all sloppy and out of control (anymore). It’s more about enjoying my beverage, the conversations and the music. Those who drink have taxi cabs and Uber to rely on, or possibly that one friend who doesn't drink to drive them home.
Uber is becoming more and more accessible with a taxi option that allows you to use a normal taxi billed to your credit card for only $1 more (instead of Uber's regular black car service, which can get pricey), and with EcoCab’s rewards program, people can earn free stuff starting at about the cost of a round of drinks. Now is a good time to test these services out and get back in the swing of things before all the new spots begin to open their doors.
Also in Waikiki on Sunday is the debut of a new lounge concept at the Pacific Beach Hotel, called the Oltra Lounge. This is the hotel I always park in to go to the Waikiki 24-Hour Fitness and walk by their giant aquarium thinking of Las Vegas.
A volunteer committee including myself, Merielle Tomas, Shayla Nakashima, Erin "Roxy on the Mic" Bunda, Clear Channel Hawaii's Kaulana Young, Level H Productions' Hanson Nguyen and Dax Moore, Nextdoor's Marty Simijan have been working the past few months on a Waikiki version of the Rage4Daniel fundraiser for Nextdoor owner Daniel Gray, who was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer. Lea Saporito, a manager at the Pacific Beach and Gray's former co-worker Chili's, came up with the Oltra Lounge concept and helped organize all the volunteers for Sunday's fundraising effort.
While the tumor has shrunk in Gray's brain, he has been dealing with a feeding tube and some pretty harsh after-effects from radiation therapy. The difficult treatment means daily visits to the hospital for two hours of fluid and anti-nausea intake. While staying in good spirits and determined to keep bringing shows to Honolulu, Gray's attitude has made it easy to carve out the time for everyone to step up and keep working to help raise money to offset his medical bills.
Rage4Daniel Waikiki starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Pacific Beach Hotel's new Oltra Lounge, 2490 Kalakaua Ave. The party will also feature live entertainment by Simple Souls and a fashion show featuring Hula Hearts, Kaimana Beach Wear, Pull-In Clothing and Red Label Clothing. Tickets are $20 general admission and $45 VIP (includes food and drinks); $5 validated parking will also be available. Visit facebook.com for more info.
Meanwhile, back in Chinatown nobody is slowing down any time soon. Out of the box thinkers Jun Jo and Donnis present another installment of their freaky Ratchet Twerk Rave 3000 party called “Free Wi-Fi and Pizza” at Ong King, 184 N. King St., on Saturday night. If it’s anything like the last one, expect a room full of skateboarders, hip-hop heads, perfect-10 supermodel-looking girls and Donnis jumping around on the mic getting the crowd amped up.
“Turnt up” would be an understatement to describe this party; I was literally clinging to Ong King's brick walls because I was afraid the floor was going to cave in from all the jumping.
“It was something that Honolulu has not felt for a long time,” Jo said afterward, and I definitely agree. If First Friday wears down the amateurs, this monthly could easily take the trophy for Saturday night professionals.
Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young's Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for POW! WOW! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular "Bacardi Pool Party" on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.