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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 23, 2006

Piranha Room still has bite

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

The Piranha Room at the Ocean Club remains a popular place for the 20s and 30s crowd. A portion of the take goes to Russell Tanoue's Project Shine, which offers makeovers and photo shoots for those in ill health.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Left to right: Gee Ambrocio, Crystal Hirata and Eileen Calibuso hang out at the Piranha Room on party night.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: Ocean Club at Restaurant Row, 531-8444

When: 8 p.m.-4 a.m., last Saturday of the month

Cover: $5 before 9 p.m., $10 afterward

Under 21 OK? No. In fact, you'll have to be 23 or older to scale this fish.

What to wear: Dig deep into that closet. People will treat you nicer.

VIP section? Yes ... and a strictly guarded one, too.

The soundtrack: "Yeah," Usher; "1, 2 Step," Ciara, "Gimme the Light," Sean Paul

First Piranha Room: December 2001

Tomorrow's theme: "Thrashed"

More about Project Shine: www.russelltanoue.com

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Mainstream music and a dose of sauciness in its themed parties keep the club crowd coming back to the Piranha Room on the last Saturday of the month.

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It's been a while since The Night Stuff visited Ocean Club's Piranha Room. Three whole years, to be exact. That's a long time in club years, and an excruciatingly long time in club-writer years.

Yet when I told a friend I'd be going back to Piranha for the column, her reply was quick and catty: "At least you'll get to say 'hi' to the same people that were there three years ago," she sneered.

In fact, save for fashion photographer/promoter Russell Tanoue, now a celeb in his own right, who was lavishing attention on his peeps and getting that attention lavished back at him in the VIP section, I barely recognized anyone from that late January night in 2003. Still, the room remained so packed with mid-twenty- and thirtysomething revelers, I'm sure some of those folks were there.

Piranha Room is still co-founder Tanoue's personal BFF party (if you're a Best Friend Forever, lucky you!). A portion of proceeds raised each month goes to Tanoue's Project Shine, which offers free makeovers and photo shoots to people facing life-threatening illnesses or self-esteem issues.

Piranha adopts a theme and live entertainment element each time out. A swimsuit fashion show celebrating a Tanoue-shot spread in a local weekly tabloid was the high point of "Wet!" the night we attended.

Themes past: "Playboy Pajama Party," "Bunny Bash" and "Garden of Eden." You get the picture.

Sure, there was an element of sameness in my Piranha visit. The aim remains to offer its straight-laced, older club-kid clientele as much harmless sauciness as it can stomach. (Ooh! Bikini models! Ooh! Playboy models!) The music mix is still surprise-free mainstream Top 40 hip-hop and R&B.

But really, why quibble? What really mattered was that the, um, kids still seemed to be having genuine fun with it all.

And seeing the unleashed 9-to-5 aloha shirt set kicking out the jams to Usher and Ciara under smoke effects and multicolor club lights always warms my jaded after-hours heart.

The crowd was just as rich with beautiful people as your average Skyline, only with slightly less pretentiousness outside the VIP section. Not-on-the-guest-list hopefuls still waited patiently in line outside.

"We're late tonight," sighed Harlan Morita, of Waikiki, waiting with friends in one of at least three Piranha Room lines 'round midnight. "Can you get us in?"

I should have so much pull.

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Eileen Calibuso was among those attending a recent Piranha Room party. Her name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.