Field Notes: A Gathering Place for Pool Players and Music Fans
Each month, Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Hawaiian Brian’s.
Photo: Zach Manzano
In 1985 a trio of friends, including one named Brian Hashimoto, opened a pool hall on Ke‘eaumoku Street. Video arcade games followed, as did a 1990 move to 1680 Kapi‘olani Blvd., but so little changed at Hawaiian Brian’s that generations can fondly cite the same urban legends about pool sharks, back-room gamblers and occasional rumbles. Since 2006, however, a new HB has been taking shape—that’s when a founding but silent partner, Glenn Anderson, decided to try his hand, while Hashimoto took a back seat. After getting a liquor license in 2009 and launching a small-format music series, Anderson coaxed his son Lee back from the Mainland (and a finance career) to act as booker, promoter and marketer. The 39 pool tables shrank to 23, the arcade games went away (though not the electronic dartboards) and the 21,000-square-foot space was carved into a 6,500-square-foot hall called Crossroads, an intimate stage called The Studio and a “secret” space called Electron, devoted to electronic dance music (EDM). Today it’s not uncommon for three acts to be playing simultaneously, bringing together one of the more eclectic crowds in Hawai‘i—fans of reggae, punk, metalcore, acoustic, boomer rock, stand-up comedy and electronica. Down the hall the music barely registers over the clack of cues on ivory.
Photo: Greg Yamamoto
“We call them tribes,” says Lee Anderson, 27, lithe and long-haired. “Pool players already know there’s a pool hall here, but now people are embracing the metal and reggae scene. And the electronic music room is so unexpected”—accessed via a door bearing a law firm’s name plate—“that it’s like you totally escape Hawaiian Brian’s.” Local promoters bring in their fan bases, like reggae producer Richard “Die Hard” Matsushige and KTUH DJ Kevan Scott (who recently packed the house with baby boomers for folk-rock legend Richard Thompson and bluegrass icon David Grisman).
“I purposely try to book different genres in the three rooms,” Lee says. Adds father Glenn, now 61: “Often we get a big name on a strange night, like a Tuesday, because they’re on tour and Honolulu is a stopover from California to New Zealand or Australia or the Philippines.” In the poolroom, stars like “Black Widow” Jeanette Lee and English snooker ace Alison Fisher make regular appearances. “Fisher wants to move to Hawai‘i,” says Glenn. “She plays so much in Asia, it just makes sense.”
Early in the evening, a DJ warms up for the midnight headliner.
Photo: Greg Yamamoto
“It’s an indoor circus,” says Lee. “People are here because they love music. We see a lot of mingling; we like to say we’re trying to create the most diverse smoking section in Honolulu: metal kids next to EDM kids next to a guy with dreadlocks.”
Adds Glenn: “This being Honolulu, a lot of the musicians actually play in different bands. They’re sort of used to being interchangeable.”
Life’s Little Extras
Photo: Greg Yamamoto
“We sell a lot of Heineken and Bud Lite,” says Glenn. “Alt rock guys like PBR.” In the late-night canteen, Lee’s stepmother Jeannie Park, her sister Young Park and the beloved Mrs. Soon Han dish up, and serve to each venue, old reliables including meat jun, fried mandoo, loco moco, kālua pig with lomi lomi, hot wings and fried ika, aka “(SQUID)”—as the menu helpfully points out for those wearing beer goggles.
Shae Crowder, 19, and Shantel Nakayama, 19, students
Shantel: “I’m here every day.”
Shae: “We met at Roosevelt High School. She hated me.”
Shantel: “Yeah, I did.”
Shae: “Now we’re friends. Pool did it. It gives us something to do at night.”
Lock Lynch, 27, sound engineer, Thunder Studio
“I just came from the Nā Hōkū Awards, where I was nominated for Sound Engineer of the Year for Choice is Yours by the Kailua Bay Buddies. I also run the sound system here.”
Did you know? Before opening Hawaiian Brian’s, Anderson and Hashimoto toured Mainland pool halls to take design notes.
For a hot time: hawaiianbrians.com