A melodious return to the Pagoda
The erstwhile music venue brings live entertainment back on Fridays to LaSalle
As Honolulu continues to enjoy a growing arts and entertainment landscape, one local musician is providing new life to a venue that used to be a mandatory destination for an older generation of club kids.
Aloha Friday Entertainment
Place: LaSalle Lounge, Pagoda Hote, 1525 Rycroft St.
Time: 8 to 10 p.m. Fridays
Cost: $20 cover; two-drink minimum
The Pagoda Hotel relaunched live music on Fridays earlier this month, three decades after it attracted legions of local residents to the C'est Si Bon showroom. While the C'est Si Bon itself is no more (the room was converted into generic ballroom/meeting space in the '80s), the nearby LaSalle Lounge now serves as an intimate space to enjoy an evening of music with family and friends.
"THE C'EST Si Bon was the happening room back then," said Nohelani Cypriano, a C'est Si Bon veteran recently retained by the Pagoda to book artists for the Friday night performances. "I worked there many years ago as a background singer for John Rowles."
Rowles and magician David Copperfield were the biggest names, by mainstream standards, to get their start at the hotel. But throughout much of the mid- to late-'70s, the showroom also played host to a variety of local bands.
"Everybody who was somebody started at that hotel," said Cypriano. "Anyone who has a career and is still around right now has been to the Pagoda and did shows there in the good old days."
Live entertainment was a staple at the Pagoda seven days a week, which meant steady work for a large number of local musicians. Even bands like Greenwood, which made a living playing off-nights at various nightclubs, were able to find gigs as often as four or five nights a week.
"We were playing off-nights for everybody else because nobody wanted it," said Robin Kimura of Greenwood, which he helped form as a student at Kalani High School. "The C'est Si Bon was a little out of the box because it wasn't in Waikiki."
After graduating in 1975, Kimura spent the next five years or so playing with his bandmates in clubs like the Magic Mushroom, Hula Hut, the Tiki and Waikiki Beef and Grog. These days, Clubland pales in comparison to what he experienced.
"If you didn't live during that era, you don't know what it was really like to go club hopping in Waikiki," he said. "A screwdriver was one of these vodkas you'd never heard of, from a gun, and the orange juice was powdered!"
Back in the 1970s, everyone from David Copperfield to the local band Greenwood played C'est Si Bon at Pagoda Hotel. "Everybody who was somebody started at that hotel," says Nohelani Cypriano, who now books shows for Pagoda's LaSalle Lounge.
THE DRINKS promise to be a lot tastier this weekend at the LaSalle Lounge (and they better be, considering the LaSalle's two-drink minimum), with Ledward Kaapana playing from 8 to 10 p.m.
Upcoming performances include Sean Na'auao and Robi Kahakalau on Oct. 5, Augie Rey on Oct. 12, Melveen Leed on Oct. 19 and 'Ike Pono on Oct. 26. Those looking for a full meal are invited to the Pagoda's floating restaurant, where different guitarists perform with a hula dancer from 6 to 8 p.m. each week.
"We're hoping this will be a success ... since it's an opening for friends to go in and work," Cypriano said.
For now, she'll focus on Fridays, although an expansion to Saturdays is possible. Weldon Kekauoha, Kahala, Kelly Boy DeLima, Aunty Genoa Keawe, Gary Aiko and Puamana are among the names she mentioned when asked about bands she hopes to feature in the coming months.
One performer you won't see, for now, is Cypriano herself. With weekly commitments at the Ko'olina Beach Club on Fridays and the Sheraton Moana Westin on Saturdays, it's difficult for her to make it to the Pagoda on the weekends.
"It's little steps at a time," she said, noting she enjoys the behind-the-scenes work a promoter does that the general public never sees. "When I grew up, I was always around the music my mother did.
"So to be involved with some of these groups and be able to give them a gig makes me feel connected to her. It's just nice to talk to people you sometimes haven't seen in a while ... I really like that."
Melveen Leed is among the singers scheduled to perform.