Chinatown Treasures: Rock and Punk Glory Days of the 2010s
Just before the Covid shutdown, a live music scene was booming in Honolulu’s Chinatown. On a Saturday night you can find rock, reggae, blues, jazz, and Dj’s within walking distance, with tasty snacks nearby. As more people begin to return to Chinatown’s nightlife, local businesses look to the future – with healthy respect for these last days of glory.
Chinatown seemed like a place where rook and roll shows should take place, according to songwriter, singer Josh Hancock, Josh 86 of punk band 86 List. When the opportunity for a bar on Hotel Street presented itself in 2010, he and a partner started Downbeat Diner and Lounge. It quickly became a hub for live music.
“One fun group that performed regularly at Downbeat and definitely captured the hearts of many local set designers was the Hell Caminos,” Hancock says. “They were a psycho-billy band, so it’s like rockabilly and punk together.”
“Mr. Meaner is probably the oldest punk band that has played in Hawaii for the longest time,” he says.
“The Smitz, great big ska punk band, it’s a good example of really killer musicians and artists who have performed at Downbeat and other small venues. I think our town is a little too small for it. some of them. If they were on the mainland they would have had huge follow-ups, greater impact but … “
“The kind of magic is that in Chinatown, there’s a following that these bands had,” Hancock continues. “Between Downbeat, the Mercury Bar and Next Door, these fans were performing every week. The punk scene or the music scene was super healthy back then.”
Hancock mentions well-known Hoku award winning artists who debuted around this time, including Tavana and Mike Love.
“Maybe people would start having a drink at the Mercury Bar, walking to Downbeat and having dinner. Maybe cross the street to Next Door. If 39 Hotel Street was open, they’d go see a DJ there. Bar 35 if they were dressed appropriately, ”recalls Hancock.
“Probably ending up at Hank’s or Smith’s Union for karaoke and ending up smoking cigar cigarettes at O’Tooles. Having all these different bars and places spread across your little area becomes that fun kind of nighttime Wonderland.”
Hancock says Downbeat had concerts six nights a week, from folk nights to reggae, rock, indie and punk. I believe I saw another establishment’s sign in the Downbeat window last week.
Hancock left Downbeat in 2018, and the scene was already changing.
“Tinder has ruined the bar scene for everyone,” says Brandon Reid, co-owner of Manifest Cafe-Bar and Restaurant. “Before Covid the nightlife scene, the nightclubs were falling. Happy hour was already happening. Millennials were like, I don’t do that.”
Nicole Reid, the other owner of Manifest, says the reopening actually means making a leap into her business. The Manifest is in the process of becoming a restaurant and incorporating multi-sensory experiences.
“So yeah, you can have music, but I think you’re also going to have projection mapping, visual interactions, even 3D art. Immersive spaces, more immersive experiences being a way for them. people to create different audio landscapes in addition to landscapes in their space. “
The Reids keep abreast of developments in recreational cannabis. They see cannabis being incorporated into expanding aspects of the food, drink and entertainment industries.
In the direction of ‘Ewa on the street of the hotel, in Maunakea, the restoration of the Wo Fat building has started. Former University of Hawaii coach June Jones is part of a hui renovating the famous festival hall. It will have a street-level restaurant and a lobby bar with a 23-room boutique hotel above.
“Getting everyone back to Chinatown is what we want to do,” Jones says. “I think everyone in the community, all the store owners, everyone is so excited that we are making this happen.”
The Mighty Union development group behind the Wo Fat renovation has a history of respectful and successful renovations to its credit. The idea is to create an easy mix of residents and visitors in public spaces, the lobby restaurant, they say, will not be Chinese. Estimated completion fall 2022.