SuperCity: Catching Air on Piikoi
BY CHRISTA WITTMIER / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I recently overheard someone in the break room at work mention we’re coming up on a four-day weekend. It literally stopped me in my tracks.
Four day weekend? Wait. What?!?
Was I that buried in work, non-work-but-still-work and fun stuff that I had no idea it was already Thanksgiving?
Turns out my coworkers were talking about Valentine’s Day on Friday, followed by President’s Day on Monday. Valentine’s Day on a Friday pumps up Honolulu’s restaurant and bar businesses quite a bit and makes for a very nice evening with no alarm clocks the next day. Some would consider that “holiday-like,” apparently.
A four-day weekend. For once I might be a little bit jealous of you couples. Just a tiny bit.
For those who are not coupled up, however, I found just the activity for you. No, it’s not the smartphone hookup app Tinder — I’m talking about Air Park Lounge, the cutest little karaoke spot next to Ichikiri Loft on Piikoi. They just opened and I’m telling you, this place is hot.
Located on the second floor at 510 Piikoi, I stopped by Sunday when they opened at 5 p.m. for a quick look around. I found owner Chen Pan in a hallway, pushing a mop bucket out of a very posh-looking bathroom. “Upscale, but not pretentious” is what I’m told the lounge goes for — and this scene immediately depicted the phrase.
I went inside to meet general manager Shawn Gallus and his wife, Melissa, who showed me around the different rooms, including a larger area that could be sectioned off for large parties.
Melissa was super warm and friendly and reminded me a lot of myself, as we’ve both traveled quite a bit but fell deeply in love with Hawaii the second we got here. I could see her excitement as she talked and it was contagious.
The lounge is gorgeous, with fine touches that add to the ambiance. From rainbow-colored LED uplight sconces along the walls to a fully tricked-out Hello Kitty-themed room, it’s obvious quite a bit of money was invested in this place. The lounge is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily and is already gaining popularity with people who live and work in the area, including KHON’s media darlings who work just down the street.
The most obvious difference between this place and other karaoke lounges I’ve been to is the staff. Every employee I was introduced to had a very upbeat demeanor that was very genuine. They felt like my friends by the time I left and I found myself pretty excited to come back.
General manager Gallus has worked in the service industry since he was 13 years old. Having spent time in a white-glove tableside restaurant in Fort Collins, Colo. and working under a mentor who waited on dignitaries, Gallus understood from an early age what high service standards are all about.
“It let me see where service can go,” he said. “It’s not just waiting on people, there’s an art to it.”
After working in a few more high-end restaurants, Gallus found himself at Nobu Matsuhisa’s namesake restaurant in Aspen, Colo., where he received his first level sommelier rank after learning the finer points of wine and champagne from Jay Fletcher, head of the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Gallus said he knew what to look for when recruiting his new staff at Air Park. While the ins and outs of beverage service can be taught, employees here also exhibit attributes that come from within.
“I have scholarship winners, an opera singer, a violinist,” he said. “They are all super smart girls.”
I don’t plan to do anything romantic on Friday, so this is exactly the type of place I need. I could even go by myself.
I may not be as interested in their mega-modern touch-screen song selector plasma TVs or their 120,000 song list (in four languages) as others might, but I’m always down to order a glass of wine and enjoy my single life with a warm and friendly staff.
Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young’s Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for POW! WOW! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular “Bacardi Pool Party” on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.