Ong King's Way
By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Kawehi Haug
With all the talk about the Chinatown scene, word on the street is this: There's one Chi-town haunt that's not following how-to-be-a-hipster protocol.
Its first violation of the scenester code came in the form of a second-story space whose address isn't notable for where it is, but rather for where it isn't. Because, as its name implies, Ong King — a slurred variation of "on King," as in on King Street — isn't on the newly cool Hotel Street strip, where urban fly meets city grit for gotta-be-there carousing.
Ong King Arts Center, which celebrates its second anniversary tonight, is on the far end of town. The end end, where the grit can't really be mistaken for anything but grit and where urban fly is just straight urban.
It's where the anti-scene begins.
ON THE FRINGE
At Ong King, there's no guarantee of seeing or being seen by anyone who'll validate a need to belong. There's no cool kids' table. No virtual runway for the well-dressed to strut their stuff. No name-dropping, digit-getting or shoulder-rubbing. And there is no listing of rules, because making rules means, if only implicitly, that there's a hierarchy, and that would defeat its purpose.
"Here, you can do whatever you want," said Christian Ellauri, or See, as he prefers to be called. "There are no rules. OK, there are two rules: Don't disrespect others and don't disrespect the space. Other than that, anything goes."
See, who co-owns Ong King with co-founder Jonathan Hereaux, said neither he nor Hereaux is interested in ever becoming one of those "it" places. Fitting in is totally overrated and popularity (not to be confused with success) is for the birds.
It's kind of funny then, that two years into their nonclub venture, See and Hereaux have to admit that their place is wildly popular.
THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS
"The measure of our success is how many people come in here for the first time and do something creative, and that's been happening," Hereaux said. "We get people in here who say that this is my first time showing, this is my first time going out to someplace other than Waikiki. I think that's the measure of success. It would be easy to say that success should be measured monetarily, but that's not it for me."
See and Hereaux are both artists — See is a playwright and actor; Hereaux is a musician. Their motivation for being successful business owners is rooted more deeply in their own creativity than in their need to make a buck. That is, they'd rather give people a place to hang their art (even if it's bad), play their music (even if it's bad) and perform their skits (even if they're bad), than charge people to see something better.
It's nightlife to the tune of the featured entertainment, if the featured entertainment cared about whether or not anyone sings on key.
IS THAT A FUTON IN THE WINDOW?
At first glance, Ong King looks like an artist's loft that might double as an independent art school for hippies' kids.
It must be the writing on the walls. In the unisex bathroom, a Shel Silverstein poem is hand-scribbled on the stall wall: "The saddest thing I ever did see was a woodpecker pecking on a plastic tree. He looks at me and, 'friend,' says he, 'life ain't as sweet as it used to be.' "
Other spots throughout the space are marked with people's expressions of creativity. Or maybe it's their politics. Or both. Here, one rarely exists without the other.
The main room is the art room, as well as the main performance space for live music and theater. At a sound board, See is mixing Ong King's first CD release, a compilation of the various live music acts at the club over the past two years. There's no bar. Neither See nor Hereaux drink alcohol, so they decided to serve 'awa instead because "the thing about alcohol is that it almost always goes in one direction: out of control," said Hereaux. "We don't want to get drunk with alcohol, we want to get drunk with passion. We still have fun without the alcohol."
It's the fun that led to the full-sized futon being nailed to the outside of one of the windows. The black mattress that hangs from a couple of rusty screws is the guys' solution to a noise problem that used to make their neighbors very unhappy. But with the cooperation of their patrons, who agree to keep the noise down after midnight, and the futon acting as a buffer, the neighbors haven't complained in over a year. Does that mean they can stay? It's just another mark of success for See and Hereaux that proves that after two years of building their offbeat dream on the outskirts of town, they just might be a legitimate part of the scene. (Don't tell them, though.)
"What would Ong King look like at its most realized? This is it. Right here. Right now," said Hereaux.
"The important thing is our foundation — that we stay true to our roots and that as artists, we keep creating," See said. "As long as we do that, we can go anywhere from here. I'm excited about the possibility of an Ong King in Buenos Aires."
Reach Kawehi Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org.