Harbor Court Bistro struggling to retain a crowd


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Since losing the ability to serve alcohol late last month, Harbor Court Bistro has been losing $15,000 a week and has laid off its cocktail staff, bartenders and managers, said owner Elizabeth Hata Watanabe.

The restaurant has also lost 14 Christmas party bookings, but salvaged a reception for the Hawaii International Film Festival by moving it to The O Lounge, which is her Kapiolani Blvd. nightclub.

Of Harbor Court Bistro, Watanabe said, “;I want to feature really great food with an exotic cocktail.”; She previously had a selection of 25 exotic beers, “;that's not going to attract your regular nightclub crowd. It's a little more refined palate. Everything I did here was to attract this downtown crowd.”;

Despite the holiday, Monday's lunch hour saw the restaurant busy with patrons fellow Star-Bulletin columnist Jason Genegabus would call “;the aloha shirt army.”;

Happy hour and dinner business have led to her losses, she said.

Grand opening festivities at August's end and early last month led Harbor Court residents to believe she was also running a nightclub.

Young adults lured by the Bistro's now-fired consultant, while waiting to get inside, ran amok in the complex's common areas, angering residents.

“;It should have never happened like that,”; Watanabe said.

A petition signed by a majority of residents prohibited the Honolulu Liquor Commission from considering her liquor license application that would have allowed live or recorded music and dancing - the same type awarded to predecessors Cassis and Palomino. That essentially killed the application.

Restaurant General licenses are issued in two categories: Standard bar, with no live music or dancing; or another allowing recorded or live music and dancing. Both allow up to 24-hour restaurant operation and alcohol sales from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

However, “;there was no dancing,”; Watanabe said. She has curtailed the Bistro's hours, but wants to be able to stage wedding receptions or fundraisers.

“;It was not really a denial ... because we couldn't vote on it,”; said Dewey Kim Jr., commission administrator.

Harbor Court owners association director Suzette Nasser said in an earlier interview that Watanabe should have amended the license she was seeking. “;Her mistake was not withdrawing that type of license when she knew we had enough votes.”;

Since the application failed, more than half a dozen petition-signers have told Watanabe they believed they were signing a petition against a nightclub, she said.

They have signed another letter seeking to retract their names from the original petition. Watanabe has been barred from communicating with residents en masse through the resident manager to try to drum up support.

Her motion for reconsideration by the Liquor Commission was not on this week's meeting agenda as of yesterday afternoon.