Still swingin' after all these years


POSTED: Friday, July 03, 2009

Most big parties have a theme, be it celebrating the season or something complicated like wearing a costume.

Next week the theme for Hula's Bar & Lei Stand's 35th anniversary party is “;Hula = Dance = Hula's.”; And one of the featured dancers will be Hula's owner Jack Law.

As Law explained last Friday, it was customary in the early days of Hula's to play “;Hula Lady”; by the Sunday Manoa each night at closing. So Law chose the theme and decided that he would join the bar staff this year in dancing hula.

“;We're not gonna tell anybody when it is going to happen, but when the party is going full speed we're going to have a musical cue and everybody's going to stop working and go to the dance floor.”;

Members of Tau Dance Theatre, Iona Pear and Cherry Blossom Cabaret will also perform during the evening. The “;dance”; theme will include belly dancing, tango, Tahitian and breakdancing as well.

“;It's going to be a real special night,”; Law said.

He has good reason to celebrate. There aren't many free-standing bars or nightclubs that have lasted as long as Hula's.

Anna Bannana's is older but has had several ownership changes, whereas Law has owned Hula's from the time he opened it in 1974 with his business partner, Eaton “;Bob”; Magoon Jr. They built the original Hula's Bar & Lei Stand in “;an old broken down house”; under a huge banyan on a piece of Magoon Estate property at the corner of Kuhio Avenue and Kalaimoku Street.

At the time, it was one of Hawaii's first true discotheques and a local nightlife pioneer by running original audio and video content on its in-house TV system. Hula's was also the best known “;gay bar”; in town, becoming a Waikiki landmark where people of both genders and all sexual preferences were able to come together and party.

According to Law, Halloween—aka “;Hulaween”;—rivaled New Year's Eve for extravagant celebrating and elaborate (or barely there) costumes.

“;Hula's turned Halloween into an adult party,”; he said. “;Once Hula's started really doing it up for 'Hulaween,' people would come just to hang around outside and watch the costumes.”;

HULA'S SURVIVED through good times and bad—even the problematic change in the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. However, when Law was told early in 1999 that the property would be sold, it looked like the end of the line.

Hula's closed the day after its 25th anniversary party.

“;I had asked the developer, Honu Development Company, to delay having us evicted because we had already sent out invitations and everything,”; Law said. “;Our existing lease was month-to-month for such a long time ... and so they let us stay until the anniversary and then they told us we had to get out.”;

Law described the struggle to save Hula's as a “;white-knuckle time.”;

“;I had looked and looked (and) literally almost gave up finding a place for Hula's. I couldn't find one that I felt had the ambiance of the old Hula's, and if it came even close to the old ambiance I couldn't afford the rent.

“;It was just by a fluke—I was looking at a three-story apartment building over on Cartwright Road, about a block from here—and the Realtor mentioned this other listing.”;

The “;other listing”; was the space that would become the new Hula's—or, as Law describes it, “;the view Hula's”; as opposed to the original club, which is remembered as “;the tree Hula's.”; The new space on Kapahulu Avenue was a gutted former restaurant inhabited by a large number of cats that smelled like a litter box.

Law, a Realtor himself, held his nose and noted the possibilities: It was commercial condominium space and had a great view.

“;I found the space when I had absolutely given up looking. Not only a space that I could afford the rent on, but I could actually afford to buy it. I was able to finagle the financing to buy it and also the financing to build it out as it is now.

“;None of the equipment at the old Hula's was in any condition to continue to use ... so everything had to be (bought) new.”;

The one problem was that Honu insisted the old Hula's close in July, while the new location didn't open until November. A decade later, the “;footprint”; occupied by the original Hula's remains a vacant lot.

“;Looking back ... there was no reason the developer couldn't have let us stay,”; Law said. “;The truth of the matter is that we barely survived.”;

As he prepared to celebrate Hula's 35th anniversary as an iconic Waikiki nightclub, Law noted the ambiance of the original location had waned even before the property was sold.

“;When the old Kuhio Theatre was torn down and they put up the Niketown building, it took something away,”; he said. “;All of a sudden you were sitting under the tree and you weren't looking at the old-fashioned deco neon lights from the theater, you were looking at the garish lights from Banana Republic.

“;The one thing the old Hula's didn't have is a view. The new Hula's has a view that is unparalleled by any place like it in the world.”;





        » Where: Hula's Bar & Lei Stand, 134 Kapahulu Ave.

» When: 7 p.m. Thursday


» Cost: Free


» Info: 923-0669 or www.hulas.com