Name proves unlucky as
Buddha Bar hits sign snag
Offended local Buddhists launch
a campaign to try to get the
Waikiki bar's name changed
Buddha Bar opened Thursday in Waikiki with promoters promising "a modern upscale European nightclub with Asian accents" modeled on a Paris bar with the same name.
The doors are still open but the sign is down -- for now.
Local Buddhists, offended at the use of a revered name, launched a letter-writing campaign to city and state government agencies.
City officials said the name choice is beyond their control as constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.
"In my letter, I said a Christian would find it offensive to see a Jesus Bar," said Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, president of the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists.
She toured the bar at 260A Lewers St. on opening night. "In front they have a large happy Buddha there greeting people," she said, an image that other businesses display on a smaller scale as "kind of a lucky charm."
The bar occupies the House of Hong, one of the city's premium Chinese restaurants for 40 years before it was closed earlier this year. That sign remains outside the bar.
"I'm at a loss how to handle it," said Les Hong, president of Hong's Enterprises, which owns several restaurants. "I have promoters who came up with the idea, wanting a new identity to distinguish ourselves. They did a great job creating an upscale lounge with a DJ playing records.
"It's a worldwide name," Hong said. A series of CDs have been produced of the eclectic instrumental music from the Paris Buddha Bar, which has imitators in Montreal, Detroit and San Francisco.
"It was not to desecrate the name of Buddha. Who in their right mind would want to do that?" said Hong, who followed his late father, Raymond Hong, as head of the family business.
"It never crossed my mind that this would upset people. We are sensitive to the concerns of some people and will try to address it. But we are only going to be here for nine months," he said.
The whole block is slated for development by Outrigger Enterprises Inc.
Hong also received letters from the Bishop Chikai Yosemori of Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin Hawaii, the largest Buddhist denomination in Hawaii, and the Rev. Yoshiaki Fujitani, president of the Buddhist Promotion Society.
The bar manager took a sidewalk Buddha Bar signboard down at the direction of the Honolulu Liquor Commission.
"We heard the complaint and dispatched investigators," said liquor law Administrator Wally Weatherwax. "They were given a written warning that they did not get our approval and were required to take it down."
The name can be reinstated if the bar operator goes through the process. House of Hong still has a restaurant license good through next June 30, Weatherwax said, but the owner needs to apply for a license category change if it is being changed to a bar.
The content of the sign, such as a name that offends, is not the Liquor Commission's business, he said.
The size of a business sign is regulated by the city, but not its content, said Department of Planning and Permitting Director Eric Crispin. City building and zoning laws provide for limits on size, placement and number of signs at a business location.
He said business sign content is regulated by the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.