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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nightclub scene thrives at The O Lounge

An energetic staff welcomes clubgoers when they visit The O Lounge on Kapiolani Boulevard.

Photos by Randy T. Fujimori

The "O" Lounge

Where: 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.

Call: 944-THEO (8436)

Open: Wednesday through Sunday; private parties can be accommodated during the other days.

It's "Cocktail" laced with a little bit of "Coyote Ugly;" it's "Footloose" jazzed up with hip hop and breakdancing from "8 Mile;" it's Sade mixed in with a little 50 Cent. And it's a scene that plays out regularly at the trendy The O Lounge.

Before opening last Wednesday night, a ramped-up cast of bartenders and servers twirled and tossed bottles in the air, and grooved as they readied for the evening crowd.

"We don't want to be the conventional nightclub," said amiable owner Liz Watanabe. "We've held everything here from concerts to corporate parties to baby's first luau to CD releases. And we even fed the hungry here during the holidays."

Soon, however, The O will be the site of a bartending academy (which starts today and runs for four weeks), a dance studio and a "Women's Closet" fashion show.

But for now, it's still home for talented artist Sherry Shaoling, who performs classic and contemporary vocal jazz here Wednesday nights from 8 to 10.

"I play with a quartet," she said, while rhythmically swaying her hips and singing the words to "The Sweetest Taboo" by Sade. "I'll do classic numbers from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and even Frank Sinatra. It's a mellow atmosphere and feels more like a private party."

This Wednesday, The O Lounge will play host to its monthly wine-tasting event, from 6 to 8 p.m. The evening will feature wines from South Africa and assorted pupus. Cost is $10, or free for those who hold VIP cards.

"We'll try to pair the pupus with the wines," Watanabe said. "It's a casual, stand-up fun event."

While the club scene DOES dominate here, Watanabe would like to see The O become more known for its food.

"When I first opened a year ago, I wanted a restaurant/club," the vibrant and enterprising 32 year old said. "I've got a great chef and an ever-changing list of pupus, but people still ignore this fact."

So pay heed, folks.

The list of appetizers here is as good as any found on a menu at a casual sit-down restaurant. Truth be told, some of it is much better.

Fresh oysters on the half shell and deep-fried oysters, for example, slosh around in the mouth and slide easily down the throat.

The tomato-and-basil quesadilla was simplicity at its best and so was the plump shrimp cocktail.

Vegetarian spring rolls and pork won tons offer substantial crunch and lots of flavor, even when they're not dipped in the accompanying sweet-and-sour sauce.

Chicken yakitori and beef teriyaki skewers could easily be turned into a hearty meal with a side bowl of steamed rice. So too can the kiawe-smoked strips of rib-eye steak.

Pupus range from $6 to $20 and half-priced on Wednesdays.

"People who want to have a party here aren't limited to this menu," said Watanabe, whose great grandfather Yoichi Hata founded Y. Hata, a century-old local company that provides wholesale and distribution food services islandwide. "We'll easily take special requests."

One of the requests bartender Nadia Saxman often gets is for her original cocktail called "The Naughty."

Sherry Shaoling sings jazz Wednesday nights from 8 to 10 p.m.
"I won the ultimate bartending competition at the Blaisdell with this drink," Saxman said. "And I went on to Vegas with it and I may be taking it to the Ukraine later this month."

Egged on by general manager Gerald Oda, The O's promotional manager Hanson Nguyen "busted a move," showing the kind of steps he'll be teaching when the dance studio gets up and going in the summer.

"Step back, cancel," demonstrated Hanson, who also teaches dance at the Honolulu Club. "I'll be teaching hip hop and other multi-style dances."

With a year now under its belt, The O has become an "in-place" and one of Honolulu's hottest nightspots.

"We've got everything here from jazz on Wednesdays to salsa on Sundays," Oda said. "We see a really diverse crowd, from the MTV generation to the thirtysomethings like me. It's a nice comfortable atmosphere to have fun."