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39 Hotel

September 3, 2008

Every metropolitan area worth its salt has a hood that caters to the more eccentric sorts, the artistes. These areas become infused with a cache of cool that brings in bohemians and their wannabe brethren (this author falls firmly into the latter camp), infusing whole swaths of the city with an organic culture that money, quite frankly, just can’t buy. On second thought, that sentiment is a bit dated, but maybe what I am trying to say is that in spite of the money there is a quality of play, an element of the unexpected that transcends the seed money.

Chinatown, which is undergoing a painfully slow but steady process of gentrification, is that hood in Honolulu. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, that block. Because Chinatown itself is just a few blocks deep, and as far as I can see, most of the action centers around Hotel Street. This action, because of the limbic state of gentrification, is an intriguing blend of afterhours office worker and hardened criminal.

Passing by the pimps and pushers lurking in their shadowy doorways, I made my first landfall in Chinatown a few weeks back. I had been looking for something that would remind me of one of those beautiful Tokyo spaces. 39 Hotel fit the bill.

This second floor lounge is a lofty-ceilinged amalgam of a gallery, dj club and bar, with psychedelic swirlies muraled onto the high white walls. The space opens out onto a rooftop deck outfitted with a second bar and a small stage for performers of organic music. The transplanted British bartender, whose name I have stupidly forgotten, is a fixture of the deck, and makes a mad mama jama mojito that will set all your ills at ease.

The place is peopled by an intriguing spectrum that runs from normally looking, older business types to the tattooed, pierced, trashy and effortlessly hip hipsters you would expect. Live music, great vibe, did I mention the mojitos.

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