Saturday, August 4, 2001

Plan would keep
bars open later
in downtown

A task force claims a density
rule is bad for business, but
others fear fights and noise

By Leila Fujimori

Life is a cabaret -- at least it should be, say some downtown business people.

Members of the Mayor's Downtown/Chinatown Task Force have asked the city Liquor Commission to change the liquor laws for a section of downtown Honolulu governing cabarets.

Cabarets are establishments that are permitted to serve liquor until 4 a.m., two hours after the usual closing time for bars without such a license.

The group wants an exemption to a rule that prohibits new cabarets from being located within 500 feet from any previously licensed late-night cabaret, hostess bar or strip club. The exemption would be identical to one for Waikiki.

Art The request is being made for the area bounded by Bishop to River streets and Nimitz Highway to Beretania Street.

The task force making the request is made up of 100 community leaders, business owners, property owners, lessees and others interested in seeing downtown and Chinatown become successful.

"The change is to try to encourage the business people to come down to the Chinatown-Downtown area, to entice them to do business, so you can upgrade the area and help the economy of the whole area," said Sun Hung Wong, executive director of the Chinatown Merchants Association and a member of the task force.

Wong said current limitations discourage businesses.

Bob Gerell, who chairs the task force, said the proposed downtown area of 10 square blocks is smaller than Waikiki and should therefore have the exemption.

But at a meeting of the Downtown Neighborhood Board Thursday night, members voted 5-1 with one abstention to write a letter to the Liquor Commission opposing the request.

Lynne Matusow, chairwoman of the board, voted against the request.

"What does that mean? So we can have wall-to-wall cabarets?" she said yesterday.

"Our board has never opposed a cabaret license," Matusow said. "What we're concerned with is concentration. We don't want the density increased."

Past experience with problems at Restaurant Row before the 500-foot restrictions were in place taught board members that problems resulted from having such establishments in such close proximity, she said.

Matusow said there were complaints from area residents and 3 a.m. shootings.

She estimated that more than 8,000 residents live in the downtown area covered by the task force's proposal.

Police agree with the neighborhood board.

"We're always leery about extending hours of alcohol consumption," said police Sgt. Lester Hite.

He said when Restaurant Row had three cabarets that mostly catered to young adults, fights and noise complaints were common.

He said once the rules are changed and clubs obtain the late-night cabaret licenses, the licenses would be difficult to take away if problems cropped up.

He warned that if the establishments were unwilling to provide sufficient security, including to side streets, "they're going to be taxing police resources ... taking away the police force from the rest of the community."

"I've always taken the position that cabarets belong in a resort setting," said Hite, adding that he finds the exemption in Waikiki appropriate.

Vernon Luke, part owner of Players Sports & Entertainment Club, which has a cabaret license for its Alakea Street location, said when his bar changed to a 4 a.m. closing time, patrons who would normally come in earlier came in later.

Luke noted there are a lot of small bars downtown.

"A lot of these bars would love to get a 4 o'clock license," Luke said.

And patrons would like to be able to go barhopping after 2 a.m.

Still, he said, "There will be more problems, people drinking to later, maybe a DUI increase that police should really object to."

After the commission receives the board's opposition letter, a public hearing on the task force's proposal will be set.

E-mail to City Desk

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