Thursday, October 14, 2004

Dennis Smith put up a Wall of Stars with photographs of people who've played at Gussie L'Amour's through the years.

Owner bids fond
aloha to Gussie’s

Dennis Smith has plenty of memories as he prepares to close Gussie L'Amour's on Saturday. A lot of big-name entertainers have played at the airport-area nightclub since Smith opened for business in 1983, and several are memorable -- for better or worse.

Jody Watley "turned out to be a real bitch; she was probably the worst one that I've ever seen as far as being rude and just into herself," Smith says. On the other hand, Nancy Sinatra was "a class act, the best," as were the Mamas & Papas when they played Gussie's, with MacKenzie Phillips and Spanky McFarland performing in place of Michelle and the late Mama Cass.

The Stray Cats, Tower of Power and WAR, "the first time they came over here," are among the acts Smith remembers as giving some of the greatest shows. Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats gave so much of himself on opening night that he had to take the next night off to rest his voice.

In addition to presenting live music of almost all genres over the years, Smith made an early commitment to the "sports bar" concept by converting what had been three bars into a single large room, and using part of that open space for pool tables and darts. Gussie's was a venue for satellite broadcasts of big-ticket sports events such as Mike Tyson's fights ("before he went downhill"). And yes, Smith adds, there was also a consistent crowd for female oil-wrestling matches -- for an audience of women as well as single men.

"I haven't been crazy about everything we've had, but I've enjoyed my life here," Smith said. "I've had fun, (and) I think customers have enjoyed it. I've provided a place for a lot of different kinds of entertainment. Being in Hawaii and having a club like this is almost like a dream."

Smith's biggest regret out of Gussie's entire 21-plus years is the way that the closing of Gussie's made front-page news before he was able to tell his friends. "I'd told the staff we were closing, but I hadn't had time to tell other people ... and (the timing of the story) was way too early support a big closing night. Some people heard about the story and thought we were already closed. It actually cost us business."

Smith says he remains on good terms with the owner of the property. The rent had gone up when the original 20-year lease expired, and the current month-to-month deal had been by mutual agreement. "It's not like they're pulling any surprises on us. They've actually been pretty fair to me. I knew it was coming sooner or later."

And so, although he plans to eventually open another nightclub somewhere ("maybe here, maybe on the mainland"), Smith will be auctioning off all the fixtures and beverage-related promotional decor at 10 a.m. Oct. 23. He says Paradise Beverages will take back the old promotional items the company has given him over the years, but there should still be plenty of great old items available for collectors.

"I'd store (everything), but even if I open another club out here, a lot of the (promotional items) are pretty old," Smith said.

"People like 'new,' and when I open my next club, I'm going to start with all new things."

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