Owner of downtown bar ready to transfer license


POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2009

A downtown bar fighting complaints that it is a center for crime and drugs wants to transfer its liquor license to the landlord, allowing another bar to open in the same place.

Mall Cafe's owner wants out, said William Harrison, attorney for the bar at a Honolulu Liquor Commission hearing yesterday.

“;She ... has decided that it's just not economically feasible to continue on and fight battles like this,”; Harrison said.

Mall Cafe, at 80 S. Pauahi St., faces several citations from a March investigation: failing to maintain health standards, overserving alcohol, and a lack of timecards. It also is the target of a petition signed by more than 220 community members opposing the bar's license renewal because of neighborhood crime and drugs.

Mall Cafe pleaded not guilty to all violations and filed a motion to dismiss the petition. Harrison said the petition and the investigation are improper and racist.

“;We believe that this licensee has been targeted by HPD (the Honolulu Police Department) and liquor investigators because of the clientele they have at the establishment,”; he said.

He cited a 2005 joint Liquor Commission and police investigation into the bar called Operation Micronesia.

“;That has substantial racial overtones to it,”; he said. “;There'd be a public outcry, for instance, if this was Operation Africa or Operation Japan or China.”;

Investigators did not find a single violation during that operation.

The commission postponed a decision yesterday, rescheduling a hearing for April 30.

After the hearing, Harrison said bar owner Min Lee Koch incurred a lot of debt after the commission forced her to stop presenting live music in March.

About two dozen community members showed up for the hearing. Some expressed mixed reactions to the bar's attempt to save the license.

Bethel Street Gallery owner Marc Turner, who said he was punched in the face by a man who walked out of the bar, supports another bar moving in as long as the disruptions are handled.

But Kanoe Reece, wife of artist-photographer Kim Taylor Reece, called the attempt to save the license “;slick maneuverings.”;

“;They've known about this problem with this particular license for years ... and they've chosen to ignore it,”; she said. “;That's not fair to the community.”;

Local attorney William McCorriston, whose son holds the master lease on the property, said they have been working on a solution for the owner and the community.

The solution could come in the form of a bar similar to Loft Gallery and Lounge. Owner Daniel Gray said he was approached about two months ago by lease holder Union Mill Investment, which wanted him to open a bar in the same place.

Gray plans to name the new bar SoHo, after the New York City neighborhood and a blend of “;south”; and “;Honolulu.”;