JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Managing director Gelareh Khoie, with her pug Zoe, is planning thirtyninehotel's first anniversary event with, from left, assistant manager Chris Lam, bar manager Selena Makaena and partner Richard Ralya.
Hip birthday, hip hostess
thirtyninehotel still hosts both art and scene
With a year of experience and reinforcements to bolster her assault on Honolulu's mainstream arts and entertainment scene, Gelareh Khoie couldn't be happier with her current situation.
Celebration for thirtyninehotel features Nicky Siano and DJ Harvey
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: thirtyninehotel, 39 N. Hotel St.
Along with partners Richard Ralya and DJ Harvey, the managing director of thirtyninehotel celebrates the downtown multimedia space's first birthday this weekend. And now that the "New Chinatown Syndicate" has grown with the recent openings of Next Door and Bar 35, she's confident that efforts to rejuvenate the neighborhood with a checkered past are finally starting to pay off.
"The combination of the more traditional and this new kind of modern edginess is bringing out more people," she said earlier this week. "That sort of hip, trendy kind of look and feel is catching on here in Hawaii."
WHEN KHOIE moved to Oahu ten years ago, she was an artist struggling to connect in a new place with others who shared similar interests.
Born in Iran, she attended high school in Southern California before studying at the San Francisco Art Institute. Along with painting, she founded the artist collective Special Prescription in 1999 and began to dabble in Honolulu's after-hours scene.
An early partnership with veteran DJ/promoter Mark Chittom led to her meeting DJ Harvey, who would go on to join her in producing "Quiet Storm." The underground weekly originated out of a studio above Indigo and garnered a strong following during its short-lived run in 2001. When thirtyninehotel opened for business three years later, it was "Quiet Storm Saturdays" that served as the venue's first flagship event, and a redemption of sorts for Khoie.
"I was ecstatic, I was over the moon, I was on cloud nine," she said. "Ten years of wanting to have my own space, and I finally did it."
Following a soft opening on Aug. 7, 2004, thirtyninehotel began regular gallery hours on Sept. 3. Why wait an extra month to celebrate one year in business?
"I had booked the space out for a GirlFest event eight months prior on that day, and I just couldn't change it," Khoie explained. "But I just found out the other day that (Oct. 1) is a very ancient Persian (day of ) celebration. It's a celebration of harvest, like reaping what you've sown."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
From left, Gelareh Khoie, Chris Lam, Selena Makaena and Richard Ralya chill with two turntables, Khoie's 1972 Bozak mixer and some vinyl. The group runs the multimedia space thirtynine- hotel.
ALTHOUGH IT was a bit overwhelming at first, Khoie is beginning to get the hang of day-to-day operations, and the necessary balance between art and entertainment. She's also quick to credit Ralya with handling the business-related aspects of the gallery.
"Richard is my right-hand man," she said. "Everything from our business cards and our logo to the newsletter and our Web site ... I couldn't have done any of it without him."
There have also been subtle tweaks to the weekly entertainment lineup, including the replacement of "Quiet Storm Saturdays" with "Lucky Tiger," a mix of house and what Khoie describes as modern disco, usually spun by herself or Chittom, with the occasional hand-picked guest DJ. The Newjass Quartet remains in its regular slot on Tuesday nights, and there is an occasional Friday night party.
Gone are movie screenings, a reggae night and the short-lived "Peas in a Pod," which allowed people to bring in their iPods and connect to thirtyninehotel's sound system.
"That one was a little too democratic for me," laughed Khoie. "What if someone played Quiet Riot?"
Scaling back the late night schedule became much easier once Next Door began to host parties and Bar 35 opened for business. It was also in thirtyninehotel's best interest to refocus on the artistic ambitions of Khoie and her partners.
"What was happening was we were starting to push a little too far towards the club side," she said. "I wanted to stop that immediately, because I want to achieve a really nice balance between the gallery aspect and club aspect of the space. I generally think less is more, and we didn't want to spread ourselves too thin."
THIS WEEKEND'S birthday party continues Khoie's tradition of booking guest appearances by a vast array of performers.
After opening his own nightclub in New York at the age of 17, Nicky Siano went on to work as one of the original DJs at Studio 54 in the 1970s. Before hip-hop surged in popularity, he was a king in clubland, even releasing one of the first records to be produced by a DJ in 1977.
Siano returned to the New York club scene in 1998 after a 14-year hiatus, and has since resumed touring around the world. His appearance in Honolulu is yet another signal that Honolulu is opening itself up to new things.
"Nicky has had tremendous influence on the entire dance music culture that today's DJs are participating in," Khoie said. "There's a little more modernism happening in Hawaii. The music is better, the sound systems are getting better, (and) the quality of social interaction is rising."
With the increasing popularity of events like the monthly "First Fridays" and continued success of establishments like Indigo and The ARTS at Marks Garage, she remains optimistic that Honolulu will make its mark as a hub for cultural activity in addition to tourism.
"It's really blown up, even in the last year," she said. "I think the addition of an urban gallery ... like ours really kind of enhanced everything. And now I feel a renewed energy welling up inside of me, and all of these goals that have been developing in our minds over the year are now coming to the surface.
"I'm actually really excited about the second year. I think it's going to be better than the first."