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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Gilda, who asked that we only use her stage name because she still lives in Honolulu, has become something of the keeper of ghostly memories, at least from the short time she was there. Along with performing on the catwalk, she also served as a “mixer,” one of the ladies who sits down with gents and encourages them to buy overpriced champagne. Most of the girls did both, because there was more money to be made as a mixer. One of the best mixers was the unfortunate Nancy.
“She was a brilliant mixer,” Gilda said. “College educated. She made a lot of money, for herself and the owner. But she lived beyond her means. One customer convinced her to invest in soybean stocks and she lost $5,000.”
Another customer, a well-known, prosperous local businessman with a family, had a weakness for champagne and Nancy, Gilda said.
One night, Gilda and Frank the Handyman finished work at 3 a.m. and, as had become their habit, went upstairs for a drink and some popcorn.
“We cooked a big bowl of popcorn, and this guy somehow got into the building because he wanted to be with Nancy,” she said. “He was coming up the stairs, drunk. Frank got out a machete and waved it at him. He wouldn’t stop. Frank hit him with the machete and there was blood everywhere. The man knew his goose was cooked. He didn’t want to get caught by the police, so he left, leaving a trail of blood. It was like a Tarantino movie. Frank got out the mop and cleaned up all the blood drops. Then we finished the popcorn. Just another day at the Hubba Hubba. Do your job, eat some popcorn, clean up the blood, finish the popcorn.”
The intruder was never arrested for breaking into the club, but Nancy, “the diabolically brilliant mixer,” became addicted to champagne, eventually spiraled into dementia and became a ward of the state.
Gilda remembers another mysterious thing about Club Hubba Hubba. The club had two small dressing rooms downstairs for dancers, one of them set aside for the divas, or featured acts who preferred solitude. Gilda recalls that, on the cigarette smoke-stained door of the diva dressing room, someone long ago had written: “Laissez les bons temps roulez!” It’s a famous French phrase from New Orleans—“Let the good times roll!”
No one knows who wrote that ghostly message. But you have to believe that, in the nearly 50 years Club Hubba Hubba was in business, there were many times they must have.
1886: Two new buildings are constructed on Hotel Street, one brick, the other wood.
1899: Lincoln Loy McCandless purchases lot 25 (future site of Club Hubba Hubba) and lot 21 and builds a new, two-story brick building incorporating the existing brick building.
1934-35: Clyde C. Hopkins runs a restaurant on the ground-floor level of lots 21 and 25.
1936: Green Front Café occupies the ground floor level of lot 21 and 25.
1940: The name changes to Aloha Café, and is popular with Navy and Army personnel, with regular patrol visits by military police. The café becomes known for live nude shows and swing music.
1947: Café Hubba Hubba opens at 25 N. Hotel Street.
1953: Name changes to “Club Hubba Hubba” and the club becomes a prominent location for jazz music, burlesque shows and, later, strip shows.
1980s: Chinatown’s seedy reputation begins to hurt business at Club Hubba Hubba, with tales of drugs, gambling and pool halls. Similar adult clubs closer to Waikiki with more parking draw off Hubba Hubba customers.
1997: Club Hubba Hubba closes after 50 years and the building is boarded up and the sign turned off.
2010: Construction begins for the restoration and rehabilitation of the Club Hubba Hubba Building by the Stack family (Marks-McCandless heirs), with drawings by Mason Architects. The rehabilitation plans include a ground-floor restaurant and office space upstairs.
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