Unhappy hour


POSTED: Monday, April 13, 2009

At the Diamond Head end of Pauahi Street downtown, a ragged bar opens onto Fort Street Mall. Inside, not a single stool is untorn, and trampled gum speckles the brownish-red carpet like spots of black oil.





        Liquor license hearing for Mall Cafe:

4 p.m. Thursday at the Honolulu Liquor Commission, 711 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 600




Despite the worn appearance, patrons describe Mall Cafe as a refuge where they can relax after weeks aboard a commercial fishing vessel, say, or a day cleaning buildings.

Neighborhood residents, however, are fed up, saying the bar attracts drugs and violence.

Sentiments have become particularly acute in the wake of a fatal shooting at River and Pauahi streets and a stabbing and beating case nearby a week later.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has responded with stepped-up police patrols.

The Downtown Neighborhood Board received a community complaint about Mall Cafe at its February meeting.

Afterward, about 220 residents and business representatives signed a petition asking the Honolulu Liquor Commission not to renew the bar's liquor license.

The petition claims the bar overserves its patrons, who then fight, use illicit drugs and use Fort Street Mall as a public restroom. A man was allegedly stabbed near the bar earlier this year.

The commission will hold a hearing Thursday to discuss the petition and several violations found at the bar during an investigation in early March.

At that time, liquor investigators, firefighters and police found bugs in liquor bottles and other violations.

Formerly Club Pauahi, the bar at 80 S. Pauahi St. was the focus of similar complaints in June 2006.

At that hearing, the bar faced allegations of overservice and being a public disruption, and business representatives expressed fear for their safety. In 2005 a man was killed with a knife outside the bar. (The suspect, who came out of the bar, was acquitted in 2008.)

The commission renewed the license but with conditions that included hiring a security company, ending live entertainment and requiring more liquor service training.

Then the bar closed for renovations and the complaints stopped.

In September 2007 bar owner Min Lee Koch reopened the establishment as a cafe in an attempt to draw a more respectable crowd, calling it Mall Cafe.

As a cafe, the bar did not make enough to pay the $8,000 rent. Koch brought back live music, believing the restrictions on her license ended when it was renewed in 2007.

The violence in the Bethel Street area allegedly started returning last fall, according to business owners at the February Downtown Neighborhood Board meeting. They blamed the bar.

Burton White of Hawaii Theatre said he watched a man come out of the bar and beat a woman along Bethel Street until police stopped them on Hotel Street.

Liquor Commission Administrator Dewey Kim said the bar is at risk of losing its license.

But some say the bar is being unfairly blamed for the neighborhood's violence.

“;There's violence and there's noise, and they're all blaming it on Mall Cafe,”; said Downtown Neighborhood Board member Dolores Mollring. “;Mall Cafe is not the problem. It's all the bars in the neighborhood. To me there's really no proof.”;

Mollring was part of the neighborhood board when it shut down some businesses that were hubs of drug dealing and sex videos in the 1990s.

Unlike those bars, she said, Mall Cafe is trying to clean itself up.

Mollring, who also heads a citizens patrol in the area, said the bar is a “;pleasant, nice little bar”; that is “;going the right way.”;

“;It's a Micronesian bar,”; she said. “;That's a bar that they all go to.”;

She questioned how many opponents had actually set foot inside.

Owner Koch said the community opposes her because her clientele are fishermen and Micronesians, clashing with the upscale gallery and restaurant customers.

“;We're not criminals. We are the working people,”; she said. “;They never even talk to me. They just single me out because I have a Micronesian crowd.”;

Danny Dolan, owner of the Irish pub J.J. Dolan's on Bethel, said he opposes Mall Cafe because its patrons have solicited his customers for drugs, and his bartenders have witnessed stabbings.

“;It's the behavior of the people,”; he said. “;We know the clientele. We know it's them. I hate to have anybody lose their business, but it's dangerous. The goal is just to clean up our neighborhood.”;

An April 9 letter from the Liquor Commission to Mall Cafe said that in 2008 police recorded at least 11 incidents at the bar, including two aggravated assaults with a knife. By Feb. 18 this year, police had responded to at least five incidents, including a case of aggravated assault with a knife.

Chinatown police Maj. Clayton Saito hesitated to say whether Mall Cafe causes a problem for the community.

“;They do have their share of arguments, but then it's a bar,”; he said. “;People are drinking.”;

Callers have reported fights and noise near the bar, he said.

“;You cannot necessarily attribute that (the fights) to the bar,”; he said. “;Hard to say they're the main contributor to it.”;

Police responded to business complaints by increasing their visibility in the area. In March, investigators forced the bar to stop playing live music.

“;Since then they seem to have mellowed down a little bit,”; Saito said.

Ken William, 26, a fisherman from Pohnpei, said he likes the bar because it is where he can see friends from home and hear Micronesian music. He hopes it does not close.

“;This is my only world,”; he said. “;This where I feel like home.”;