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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 12, 2004

Buddha Bar reassessing choice of name

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

The Buddha Bar's management may be having second thoughts about that name.

After the Honolulu Liquor Commission issued a warning about a possible problem with the name, and protests came from Hawai'i's Buddhists, the bar removed its outdoor signs.

However, promotional material calling it the "Buddha Bar" has been released, said Les Hong, who runs House of Hong, which holds a restaurant liquor license.

On Tuesday, a liquor commission investigator e-mailed Buddhist protesters, informing them that the bar had taken down its sign after being warned because it had not received permission to use Buddha Bar as a trade name.

That hasn't stopped the complaints, however. The Hawai'i Association of International Buddhists continues to galvanize forces. Its president, Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, contacted Hong and faxed a copy of the group's concerns to him.

She was told he would work on a solution.

"We need to see where we are not only legally, but morally and ethically," said Hong, adding "there are people in the Buddhist community who aren't upset (by the name)."

Victor Venson, marketing director for the bar, said they will release a statement in the next couple of days. Asked if they're considering a name change, he answered: "I'm not at liberty to discuss that right now."

Frustrating restaurateur Hong is the fact that the building is due to come down in another nine months as part of the Outrigger Lewers Street redevelopment project.

"Rather than leave it vacant, we'd see if we can put something together," said Hong, 60. "I met these people — nice, cleancut guys. One's a student at HPU. They're young, they have ideas. We put it together and tried to create a real upscale kind of lounge atmosphere. ... I was very impressed with what my partners have come up with. I'm the business end, they're the promotional. They know what the scene is."

As for the protests ...

"It was never our intent to desecrate the name," he said. "We're sensitive to the feelings of the community."

Liquor commission official Wallace Weatherwax said when the agency receives complaints of this nature, it investigates them within two weeks. Since the Buddha Bar removed its signs and is registering the name, the agency won't take action unless it receives other complaints.

Hong said he'd started the process to have the name registered with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

"In a couple days we should have the name," Hong said.

Reach Mary Kaye Ritz at 525-8035 or mritz@honoluluadvertiser.com.