The Last Days of Club Hubba Hubba
After a thorough renovation, about all that's left of Honolulu's most infamous strip club is the legendary neon sign out front, and the memories of Hubba Hubba's lurid past.
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“Diamond was one of the passable-looking ones,” Gilda says. “Long, curly, flowing, brunette hair but already with a drug and alcohol problem. She was 27 years old. I told her, Sweetheart, in 10 years you’re going to be a bigger mess than I am. She’d walk slowly down the runway in a bikini with a glassed look. She didn’t dance. Just walked slowly to the music of ‘Enigma.’ She thought she had the world by the balls but she was being used by men.”
Others making up the catwalk menagerie included Liberty West, “a talented older dancer just a little bit past it, a headliner from Vegas who danced to Broadway show tunes;” Nevada Sands, once upon a time beautiful and slender, but, having gained a lot of weight, she now stripped down to Spandex garments covering her body; and Kandy Barbour, a gorgeous former porn star insecure about her looks, who, à la Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, would ask “‘Do I still look good?’” Gilda says, “I told her what any good husband would … You look wonderful, dear.”
Overseeing everything was long-time owner Tad Matsuoka, who, when the club fell on hard times, housed the dozen or so girls in grimy upstairs rooms where they shared one shower (“with no water pressure and slimy with fungus”) and a small kitchen (“with an old stove, a washing machine and tar-paper flooring”). Gilda and the other upstairs residents referred to the place as the “Hubba Hovel.”
In 1994, the Hawaii-based TV show Byrds of Paradise shot part of an episode in Club Hubba Hubba. At one point, lead actor Timothy Busfield looked around at the shabby club and its inhabitants and said, “How could anyone work here?” Gilda couldn’t remember if it was a line from the script or just a general observation by the actor.
Shortly after that, Gilda left Club Hubba Hubba and her life as a stripper. As she walked away, the famous green neon sign boasting “Live Nude Shows” hanging on the side of the building blinked bravely on.
Today, the sign still clings to the side of the two-story, red-brick building. But the naked neon tube girl hasn’t kicked up her leg since 1997, when the club finally closed. As writer Brian Nicol noted in a 1980 HONOLULU Magazine piece on Chinatown nightlife, newspapers and magazines had been writing Hotel Street’s obituary for 30 years. But when he walked into Club Hubba Hubba that year, he found the place fairly thriving, although the club and its dancers were already showing signs of age. By then, Matsuoka had stopped his earlier practice of bringing top burlesque dancers from Las Vegas and entertainers from Japan and housing them in nice apartments. The era of the “Hubba Hovel” was in full bloom.