Mix of old and new
POSTED: Saturday, October 11, 2008
North Hotel Street in Honolulu's Chinatown is probably best known for at one time being the town's red-light district, as evidenced by the now boarded-up Club Hubba Hubba.
At the same time, this corridor connecting Honolulu's financial district to the river offers historical buildings that are slowly undergoing renovations, ushering in trendy new nightspots for an emerging arts district.
The street is still one of those rare places where old-time watering holes mingle with new bars, restaurants and shops. Hotel Street today, though not as seedy as in earlier days, has not lost its excitement. It is still the place to go for entertainment, food and drink.
Club Hubba Hubba
21 North Hotel St.
Since shuttering its doors in 1997, the Club Hubba Hubba of nude live shows and World War II fame has remained boarded up and vacant.
The neon sign, though no longer lit, still remains intact and will be retained as a historical landmark, according to architect Glen Mason, who has been hired to restore the building to its former glory.
Mason said his firm likely will replace part of the second floor of the 1900s two-story brick-front building, as well as open up the back to an existing garden that would bring in more light.
What it will be when its doors open again has yet to be determined, but there probably will be no more strip shows.
The building at 21 N. Hotel St. is listed as an architecturally significant structure in the Chinatown special district on both the state and national register of historic places.
It is still a draw for war veterans and curious onlookers from out of town who read about it in their travel guides today, and one of the reasons new bars have decided to open up nearby.
Restoration work is a long and drawn-out process, but a $250,000 state grant to restore several historical buildings on Hotel Street is expected to help.
40 North Hotel St.
» Phone: 536-2211
It was a gamble when Alan Carrell and Glenn Stewart of Dallas decided to open an upscale home furnishings and gift boutique at 40 N. Hotel St. in June 2005.
They were, after all, just a few doors down from a street corner where people were most likely to solicit spare change than to walk inside looking for a designer lamp.
More than three years later, INTO has garnered a loyal following, both from local residents (including
well-heeled ladies) and out-of-town visitors who make it a point to visit when they're in town.
Upon entering, one is greeted by a canopy of color, with a wide assortment of lamps dangling from the ceiling and unique gift items that range from handbags to tableware, jewelry and Zulu telephone wire baskets woven by sisters in rural South Africa.
Carrell, who recently became the sole owner after Stewart returned to the mainland, is expanding the boutique to offer design consulting at a new space on Smith Street, to be called INTO the Trade.
"We've seen shops open and close, but the fun thing about it is that people keep coming into the neighborhood and wanting to make it happen," he said.
Club Ke Kai's Lounge
10 North Hotel St.
» Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
» Phone: 536-6966
Having been around for nine years now, Club Ke Kai's Lounge at 10 N. Hotel St. is a neighborhood watering hole where local residents gather regularly - around the clock.
Its doors are open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and yes, people do show up for drinks in the morning.
"We're a local club," said Kealii, a bartender who identifies himself only by that name. "We're friendly. We cater to anybody."
Inside, there are no frills whatsoever, just a couple of fold-out tables and chairs, a small bar and an improvised stage for live music.
Domestic beers here are available for just $2.50, imported beers for $4 and cocktails start at $3.
Club Ke Kai's, owned by Pamela Kane, replaced the former Black Pearl Lounge nearly a decade ago. Though not as old as Smith's Union Bar across the street (which dates back to 1935) or a draw for the younger 20-to-30-something crowd at Bar 35, it is definitely a local establishment.
While it is known as a gay-friendly bar, all kinds of people frequent Club Ke Kai's, mostly an older crowd age 40 and above, with some university students who trickle in for the cheaper drinks.
Some renovations are under way, according to Kealii, with the addition of new flat-screen TVs and a new ice machine.
Louis Pohl Gallery
8 Hotel St.
» Phone: 521-1812
Before finding its home at the corner of North Hotel Street and Nuuanu Avenue, the Louis Pohl Gallery was on Smith Street, and before that at Fort Street Mall.
Owner Sandy Pohl thinks she's found the right home at last for her fine-arts gallery - with two doors that open up to either 8 Hotel St. (eight is the symbolic number for prosperity in Chinese culture) and 1111 Nuuanu Ave.
"This is where north meets south," said Pohl, who has been there four years now.
She said the intersection has experienced an increase in walk-by traffic, and her gallery now has buyers who come in before and after First Friday. Sales are up.
"One thing I like about Hotel Street and this whole arts district is that people here are really friendly," she said. "It's like when I was growing up in Chinatown. All the owners knew each other and would talk story and help out a little bit."
Most recently, several merchants collaborated in organizing the 08-08-08 festivities, a party celebrating the propitious day and launch of the Beijing Olympics. It was a day when plenty of families brought their kids to watch the lion dance after avoiding Hotel Street for years because of their memories of the seedier days.
"For me that's when you see progress," Pohl said.
1 N. Hotel St.
Rita Luke, owner of Island Keepsakes, has managed to weather the ups and downs of Hotel Street for nine years, which also happens to be the symbolic number for longevity in Chinese culture.
Island Keepsakes is a gift shop offering items from mostly local artisans, ranging from Hawaiian sea salt to jewelry, soap, sushi pillows, and art. She also offers custom Hawaiian gift baskets.
"I love this corner," said Luke, whose Island Keepsakes actually has two addresses - 1050 Nuuanu Ave. and 1 N. Hotel St.
Island Keepsakes got its start at a kiosk in Waikele in its first two years, but found its way to Chinatown in search of more space.
It was a rough start.
Luke remembers when druggies lit up right outside her window. But that activity began to clear up with more policing about two years ago, she said, and foot traffic has steadily increased. The First Friday gallery artwalks - which launched in 2003 - have been a big help in bringing new customers to the shop.
Though it's been a struggle, Luke said she's quite happy with her spot. She knows her neighbors and they know her.
"I love the creativity of all the different merchants," said Luke. "I love the edginess and that this used to be the red-light district. That's what people come back for."