Chinatown’s thirtyninehotel closes

Jan. 27, 2014 | 3 Comments
Gelareh Khoie on the stairs leading to artspace thirtyninehotel in 2009. Khoie has decided to close the club after nearly 10 years. (Star-Advertiser file)

Gelareh Khoie on the stairs leading to thirtyninehotel in 2009. Khoie has decided to close the club after nearly 10 years. (Star-Advertiser File)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

The Chinatown nightclub and artspace thirtyninehotel, which officially opened its doors in August, 2004, has closed for good.

The club’s last night was Saturday, Jan. 25, when thirtyninehotel hosted the monthly dance night “Revival.” Patrons and fans weren’t informed that it was the last night for the bar and gallery.

Owner Gelareh Khoie said she began moving items out of the club on Sunday, Jan. 26. Reached by phone on Monday, she said ongoing difficulties in obtaining city permits for a planned renovation, the sale of her family’s home in Honolulu and her own desire to move on and turn her attentions back toward her work as a visual artist were all factors in the decision to close.

“I feel we achieved what we said we’d achieve,” Khoie said. “After close to 10 years, I don’t feel I’ve abandoned anyone or left anything unfinished.

Dancers at thirtyninehotel's monthly celebration of house music, "Soulgasm," in September. (Star-Advertiser file)

Dancers at thirtyninehotel’s monthly celebration of house music, “Soulgasm,” in September. (Star-Advertiser File)

THIRTYNINEHOTEL was launched as an art gallery and temple of dance music, more than a nightclub, and was built up from the bare walls by a group of friends.

Khoie, a painter and multimedia artist whose work has been exhibited at galleries throughout Honolulu, including the Honolulu Museum’s “Artists of Hawaii” and pop-up “Special Prescription” shows mounted by an artists’ hui, was (and is) also a devotee of disco music — a term she uses to describe the soulful dance music played by her favored DJs, whose roots reach to ’70s clubs in London and New York and to the sun-drenched Ibiza scene. She envisioned the space as a home for both forms of expression.

“We were really part of First Friday,” Khoie said. “With that big gallery space and the edginess of a second-floor loft, it had a definite impact. … I remember on our first First Friday, 400 people came in, and everyone’s jaws just hit the ground.”

Khoie’s long-term partner in the venture has been her mother, Fatemeh Hajiani, who will also be relocating with Khoie.

“She’s been the number one person who kept everything legal and operational,” Khoie said.

Hajiani dealt with the financial and bookkeeping requirements of running a business while also serving as a sounding board, mentor and friend to thirtyninehotel’s artists, staff and friends.

Although Khoie and Hajiani had previously planned to expand the kitchen, add a rooftop garden and improve the dance floor, Khoie said an additional permit requirement — that the club add sprinklers to protect against fire hazard — would have cost about $70,000, using up most of the budget for a renovation.

After her landlord imposed a deadline for the work to be completed, and the club moved to a month-to-month lease, the owners ultimately decided to pull the plug.

“The logistical difficulties just started becoming too hard,” Khoie said, calling it a “sticky situation,” and adding, “I got a strong feeling from the universe that it was time.”

Instead, Khoie has been exploring opportunities in New York, where she has applied for graduate studies in art. She plans to continue to host music and art events in New York, she said — but not to run a nightclub.

Art on the walls at thirtyninehotel: A work from Kris Chau's 2011 exhibit "Tiger Daughter Returns." (Star-Advertiser file)

Art on the walls at thirtyninehotel: A work from Kris Chau’s 2011 exhibit “Tiger Daughter Returns.” (Star-Advertiser File)

“I’M SAD for the people who might be sad to see us close — but also, I’m excited,” Khoie said. “We never anticipated it becoming a full-fledged bar. … It’s a draining lifestyle, being up late all the time. I want to get back to being a student, a scholar and an artist.”

Though the closing of thirtyninehotel will leave a void, Khoie said Chinatown remains vibrant and she expects new ventures in the district.

“I think Chinatown is in great shape,” she said, noting the expected Feb. 7 opening of Fresh Cafe Downtown, which coincides with First Friday.

“I’m sure whoever takes over the space will do something interesting, too. But it’s not going to be thirtyninehotel anymore. It’s going to be something different.”

Khoie announced the closure first on Facebook, with a statement: “Our lease ended and a few other logistical issues ensued that led us to the decision to close our doors. We are moving to New York and will reincarnate a new art and music space there sometime this Fall. It has been an honor and a privilege serving our community all these years. We feel certain that despite our departure, Honolulu will keep the Disco alive forever. We leave you with all our love and eternal respect. Aloha.”
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Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

  • Phil Tripp

    Sorry to hear this, we have the same sort of problems with venues closing here in Sydney and Melbourne

    • ElizabethKieszkowski

      thirtyninehotel was a major influence on the evolution of Chinatown’s nightlife scene. It’s a big change to see it close.

  • ronald1216

    thats obamas falt for taking all our money for trips which is why everything on oahu will shut down