Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 11, 2001

Malia Song, left, Judy Seyler and Tammy Strickland,
scope out the Spy Bar at the John Dominis restaurant.

‘Spy’ stakeout

By Shawn 'Speedy' Lopez

THE creators of the Spy Bar know something you don't. There now exists a sure-fire formula to achieving instant success in Honolulu's competitive club scene, and it's simpler than you imagined.

Attract an upscale clientele, or better yet, one that wishes to be thought of as upscale, even if only for the weekend. Next, find a fashionable nightspot that offers its patrons, at the very least, the illusion of exclusivity. Now, what better venue for such a mah-velous affair than John Dominis, the absolute pinnacle of ritzy dining in Hawaii?

The Spy Bar, a new ultra-fab get-together at the esteemed waterfront restaurant, may have nothing to do with the famous Spy Bars of Chicago or Stockholm, but if its first two weekends were any indication, it could be every bit as popular with trendy locals.

From left, Will Alameida, Kyle Reddick and
Tobias Frank chat at the Spy Bar.

At 9:30 on a recent Friday evening, parking was already scarce along fishy-smelling, puddle-riddled Ahui Street (John Dominis' location at ocean's edge is both its best and worst feature). No sleek Beemers or Benzes in sight as one might expect, although dozens of Corollas, Sentras and Civics lined the roadway, indicating a heavy -- if undistinguished -- turnout.

At the easternmost end of Kaka'ako Waterfront Park, a watchman had been posted near the entry gate with the unenviable task of informing incoming carloads of the precarious parking situation. "OK, I'm just telling everybody what I've been told," he bellowed every 60 seconds or so. "At 10 o'clock the park closes and the cops are gonna ticket and tow you." Invariably, each arriving party would hear the announcement, make a beeline back to their cars and, on their way out of the park, encounter a nasty snarl of vehicles waiting to get in.

Spy Bar patrons Patrick Chun and Louise Ponciano.

Just around the way, near the grand entrance to John Dominis, Grant Fukuda (DJ G-Dog to Honolulu nightlifers), who along with promoter Jerry Yamenfeld and business associate Kevin Williams make up the shrewd Spy Bar brain trust, is attired in a classic silk aloha shirt and stylishly baggy black slacks. He ushers me toward the ID-scrutinizing doorman who has just OK'd a small pack of spiffy males in gold chains and pec-hugging sweaters. As the doorman gives me the once-over, I take a peek over his shoulder at the venue's interior, secretly hoping he doesn't notice my sagging pants are actually made of denim. He doesn't; I'm cool, he says.

Inside, the lighting is subdued and through the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows, one can see city lights twinkle across Kewalo Basin and waves crashing up against the restaurant's foundation. A shallow moat inhabited by a variety of aquatic life makes for an equally intriguing spectacle within. A group of mesmerized partiers ooh and aah at the sight of a baby sting ray hovering above the artificial ocean floor.

Naturally, it doesn't take long for first-timers -- myself included -- to become enamored with the sublime confines of the oceanfront restaurant. If the objective here is to out-swank W Honolulu Hotel's posh "Wonder Lounge" and steal some of its recent thunder, the Spy Bar comes tantalizingly close to achieving its goal.

Like Wonder Lounge, it runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday nights, sets its customers back $10 and, of course, enforces its own dress code.

In less than half an hour, it became necessary to exercise a number of polite shoulder taps, "excuse me's" and uncomfortable shoulder-angling techniques to navigate the carpeted dance floor.

Even with the ample square footage here, the sound system is loud enough to reach every corner of the restaurant. To those who listen closely enough, the mixing is seamless. Gazing up at the dimly lit DJ area, one can make out the visage of either KSM, Racer X or Pachi at the helm, each DJ intent on delivering the perfect roof-rattling mix.

"These are guys who have been working at the Wave for over 10 years," Fukuda would later explain. "That's why they're here. We wanted to take the top three DJs for house music for this event. I think we got the best of the best."

"I don't even know any of the songs anymore," shouts one backless-bloused young woman to a group of girlfriends at the restaurant's secondary bar. "Remember back in the day when we'd go clubbing and we knew the words to all the booty songs?"

"You used to be such a hoochie mama," answers one.

"Yeah, and look at us now," she says with a wistful giggle, surveying her surroundings. "I think I'm, like, a reformed hoochie mama now."

Spy Bar

Where: At John Dominis restaurant, 43 Ahui St.
When: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays
Cover: $10
Call: 523-0955

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