Groove in relaxed element


POSTED: Friday, September 25, 2009

I didn't realize it when I picked this month's featured bar, but nearly six years have passed—to the day—since I reviewed the establishment now known as the Element Lounge.

It was called Pigskin's Sports Bar back in 2003, and at the time, I described the neighborhood around Ala Moana Center as a “;mix of bars, strip clubs and nightclubs all within walking distance of each other.”; That description remains true, although the closure of Osake Sushi Bar and Skybox Sports Bar in 2007 means people have to walk a little farther to find a dance floor at Pearl Ultralounge or Rumours Nightclub.

These days, an increase in live music attracts people to the area. It started with the opening of Jazz Minds Art & Cafe in 2006, followed by Apartm3nt in the Century Center and the new lounge at Hawaiian Brian's Billiards earlier this year.

With the addition of Element Lounge, the stretch of Kapiolani Boulevard near the Hawai'i Convention Center is poised to become a live-music hot spot comparable to the concentration of venues currently found in Chinatown. It's now possible to watch a band play on any given night of the week somewhere around the Hawaii Convention Center.





        1661 Kapiolani Blvd.

» Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily


» Info: 230-1682 or www.hsblinks.com/ri




THE TOTAL space occupied by the Element Lounge is slightly deceiving, especially if you don't spend a lot of time drinking in this area.

Most people will drive along Kapiolani and never venture down the narrow driveway that leads past Jazz Minds into a small parking lot. This is where the lone entrance to the lounge is located, which opens into a spacious room you may not expect to find.

Upon entering, you'll find yourself in a game area of sorts, with two pool tables and a pair of dart machines separated by a couple of couches and a funky, circular love seat. Continue around the corner and you'll see the bar proper and a performance space split up by more comfortable-looking seating.

Even though it had been a few years since I visited, I could tell new owner Loreen Nakama made the effort to change things up a bit. Low-quality restaurant tables and chairs have been replaced by plush couches, and the walls have been repainted with darker, more earthy tones. While it's obvious the upgrades were made without spending a lot of money, this place is by no means a dump.

ALSO INTERESTING is how the customers here represent the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood. Nakama said most of the regulars from Pigskin's found other bars to patronize after she took over in early June, but over the course of a few visits, I noticed people who appeared to have stuck around through all the changes.

These days, they're joined by an all-female clientele that Nakama attracts, plus a few wayward groups of local guys looking for a place to pre-party (or post-party) in conjunction with visits to nearby Femme Nu or Rock-Za. It makes for an eclectic mix when the different groups all decide to drink at the Element Lounge at the same time, but I didn't notice any friction over the course of multiple visits.

Maybe it's a testament to Nakama's ability to be hospitable, or just the overall spaciousness of the lounge, but either way, I was impressed by how welcoming it feels here.

IF YOU visit the Element Lounge, be sure to arrive on an empty stomach.

Nakama comes from a catering background, and she's partnered with a local cook to offer a full complement of pupus. Nearly everything on the menu is priced at $10 or less, and rotating specials are also available on the weekends.

Start with finger foods like won ton chips and dip ($5), popcorn snack mix ($6) or spicy edamame ($8). A variety of fried foods dominate the menu, but seafood options like shoyu ahi poke ($10), seared ahi ($10) and salt-and-pepper shrimp ($10) are all worth a try. In addition, you can't go wrong with one of four chicken dishes (Korean, garlic, char siu and furikake), all priced at $10 each. The prices get even better during happy hour (4 to 7 p.m. daily), when select items are 50 percent off.

While parking can be an issue during pau hana and late at night on weekends, the Element Lounge is a worthy pick for “;Monday Night Football”; fans looking to sneak away from work on a Monday afternoon. Add some live music to the mix on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and you've got yourself a solid pick in the Kapiolani area that's more affordable than nearby alternatives.