More or less open at the Pink Palace with a few changes


POSTED: Sunday, January 25, 2009

It isn't the same pink. Instead of the Sandra Dee pink it used to be, the new Royal Hawaiian is an upscale pinky salmon color. And everything in the hotel is no longer pink. I saw a room. Heresy, the sheets are white.

  ;  “;I shouldn't show the hotel to you. She doesn't have her makeup on yet,”; said Candice Kraughto, who guided us through. The new Royal's not finished but what's done looks great. In fact, it looks familiar, since you always remember the Royal Hawaiian as more elegant than it really was when it closed. Now it's all polished. Even the elevators look shiny and grand.

Only a few of the suites are online. I ducked into the Princess Abigail Kawananakoa suite, startling Shirley the maid, who said a guest just checked out. Princess K herself, who I heard was in town? “;No, Japanee,”; said Shirley.

As I cruised the lobby, I discovered the answer to a question people had asked me: What happened to Jon Matsubara (you remember, the hotshot chef who opened Stage and then departed)?

There was Matsubara himself, now executive chef of the Royal's new restaurant, Azure. (”;Don't you worry people will confuse it with Azul at the Marriott?”; I asked. “;Yes,”; he said. “;The consultants named it before I got here.”;)

There were two guys welding a new vent when we ducked into Matsubara's kitchen to admire the new high-temperature oven. His beachside restaurant is far from finished, so don't make a reservation before March.

The new Royal has hired an A-team, not only Matsubara but bartender extraordinaire Joey Gottesman. The Mai Tai Bar was open, but no Gottesman. Instead, a well-muscled young woman named Amy Clarke was loudly jackhammering some cement behind the bar. “;We have to move this drain,”; she explained.

Not a good time for a quiet drink. I'll be back, probably before the March 7 gala opening, perhaps for the HIFF Oscar Party, scheduled at the Royal for Feb. 22.


Working on the Night Moves

Last week's Night Market at Aloha Tower wasn't bustling - but it filled up for the fashion show from Custo Barcelona.

The models looked aggressively bored as only models can look. “;The guys at my table loved it,”; said one of my friends at a runway-side table. I seemed so dubious, she added, “;The skirts were really short.”;

Short of a runway-side table, the place to be was a lounge (Balinese sofas, chairs and ottomans) put together by Alan Carrell of the Hotel Street boutique, INTO. Carrell doesn't even sell furniture. “;I just wanted to create a space where people could hang out, have a drink and talk,”; he said.

I'd heard he was leaving Hotel Street. “;No, staying, but I did tell everyone I was leaving,”; he said. “;I had a couple of bad weeks there, still a tough street.”;

Carrell was surrounded by attractive women. It may have been his innate charm, but he was also handing out jelly plastic rings with a light inside. “;Want to get a woman's attention?”; he said. “;Nothing better than a flashy ring.”;


Lost in Translation

“;I don't always like meeting the VIPs they send me out to meet,”; says Cha Thompson. “;But it's part of my job,”; as head - with husband Jack - of Tihati Productions, which provides entertainment at the Hilton Luau.

When Gloria Estefan and family showed up at the luau, they turned out to be, in Cha's word, “;adorable.”;

Cha knew Estefan was Cuban, and one of the Tihati dancers was part Mexican; another, Puerto Rican. “;I asked her if she spoke Puerto Rican or Mexican,”; says Cha. “;She told me, 'Honey, we all speak Spanish.' I learned something.”;


Ms. Helm Goes to Washington

The next morning in D.C., Raiatea Helm was still ebullient after performing at the Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball. Obama did not drop by, she said, “;but we still had an awesome party - Dan Inouye, Neil, Mazie, Mufi, Colt Brennan.”;

Raiatea missed the inauguration itself because she had sound check. Although streets were blocked, her driver fell into a caravan behind two police cars, detoured all the way through Georgetown, and dropped her at the door of the hotel. “;Everyone else had to walk seven blocks,”; she said, “;and it was 11 degrees.”;

Weather notwithstanding, she reports, “;Washington was the place to be.”;


A Rainbow of Govs

Actually, according to Emme Tomimbang, the place to be on inauguration evening was Waikiki, at the Aloha Ball. Among attendees, she says, was a rainbow of former governors: Gov. and Jean Ariyoshi, Gov. and Lynne Waihee, Gov. and Vicky Cayetano, with retired Judge Jim Burns standing in for his father, John.

The menu was planned to celebrate Obama's diverse background, including, insisted Emme, “;Kenyan mountain oysters.”; African-style bull testicles? No. I checked with chef Hans Stierli, and it was Mumbai oysters, that is real oysters, baked, with a hint of curry.

Biggest hit of the evening was not the oysters, not even the shave ice stand. It was the nine-piece “;Yes We Can”; Band with Kit Ebersbach and Jeff Peterson.

“;People danced,”; said Emme. “;Jean Ariyoshi was on the floor all night, and even got George up.”; Tourist couples on the beach outside the Monarch Room heard the music and were dancing barefoot on the sand. Try that in 11-degree weather.


John Heckathorn is editor of Hawaii Magazine and director of integratedmedia for the aio Group.