February 19th, 2016
There’s no question about it, we are seeing a revival in Chinatown. While some may say the area has been abandoned since the opening of a few Waikiki establishments these past 5 years those who know see that it’s sustaining and growing and remains the creative epicenter of the Honolulu scene.
Dusty Grabel and his team at Lucky Belly, Livestock and now the new Tchin Tchin! in the old thirtyninehotel space have proven that people going out these days want more than shots and a DJ. They want good food, good drinks, good wine, and a welcoming atmosphere to enjoy each other’s company. No hassles to get inside, no worries about someone in the group is wearing shorts or a hat, a high probability that you will get a table or spot at the bar, and a somewhat hassle free parking in the street or municipal lot. If your plan A isn’t working there’s a plan B, C, D and E.
What I love about the Chinatown area is how versatile it can be. You can make dinner plans here, stop by a shop there, go grab a drink before here, go get nuts after there, and carry on the night over there. It’s all walking or stumbling distance and perfect for hosting guests in town that might change their mind a few times about the atmosphere they want. It’s a great district with many venues to choose from and depending on when you are there you can even pop in to an amazing shop and get gifts or apparel or window shop some galleries for great art. If it’s someone’s birthday and you’re eating early enough, the lei stands are all right there. If there was ever a matriarch of the Chinatown scene it would be Miki Lee from the Honolulu Culture and Arts District. Working for Dave Stewart (Indigo, Brasserie du Vin, eleven44, Bar35 Hawaii) since 2007 when Indigo was alive and thriving with its huge happy hour martinis, what she thought would be a year gig turned in to eight years. Anyone who’s ever spent some time in Chinatown has no doubt seen this unassuming tall woman, usually wearing a stylish fedora, always there in the room smiling when greatness is happening. I know personally, if I’m ever at an event and see Miki Lee, I know I’m at the right event.
She has quite a few venues under her belt managing many marketing programs and media for Stewart that bring back great memories including Brasserie du Vin, Indigo, eleven44, and the currently operating Bar35.
In 2016 as the HCAD she has launched “a new initiative to promote all the good things happening in the Chinatown community and attract more foot traffic to the Downtown-Chinatown area. Art activities are free and should generally be for all ages.”
The event, DiscoverArt will be a daytime event every 2nd Saturday of the month, with February 19th as the deadline for the community to sign up for the March 12th event. Use the sign up form here. Performers, artists, shops, mini-concerts, fine art, demos and comedy or theater are all encouraged to participate.
“Art brings communities together and it’s a win-win” Lee told me in an e-mail. “DiscoverArt is a collaborative effort to present different forms of art for the community at no charge. Art is being used as an attraction to bring people to the area and introduce them to different spaces.” It’s true, if you haven’t been to Chinatown in a month or even a few weeks you will be blown away by the hard work that’s been happening down there. This is very much a thriving community for small business, and one that should be supported. “Downtown-Chinatown is authentic, a little gritty, but that is the character we accept. And what you see are the passions of local, small business owners.”
“Look at every major city; they have a nightlife and entertainment area. They have a place filled with cool shops and galleries, coffee shops and the most cutting edge cafes and restaurants. They feed off each other; it’s a symbolic relationship; and we all benefit from each other’s presence. Had it not been for a few brave club owners back in the day, we would not be where we are today.”
Personally I love the character of Chinatown. The locally owned businesses and small-business vibe makes me feel good about where I’m spending my hard earned money. We can say support local but actually supporting local is how we keep a neighborhood alive.