Scene: Koi

Taking their lead from L.A.’s hipster scene, the owners of Koi offer Honolulu a little something to change up the nightlife.
Koi Sushi and Sake Lounge
1700 Kapi’olani Blvd., Wednesday through Sunday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

If you stop in at 1700 Kapi’olani Blvd., formerly home to Blue Tropix nightclub, you’ll barely recognize the place. Gone are the squirrel monkeys behind plate glass windows. Gone are the over-indulgers and after-hours fights. Enter: Koi. We visited this sushi and sake lounge one month after its opening and were pleased to find bamboo-etched glass doors and a koi pond, a cozy, six-seater sushi bar, and clusters of white couches and low tables scattered around the room. Although the decorations were sparse and the fish tanks unoccupied, the potential was obvious.

With Koi’s renovation comes a renovated crowd, as well. Business professionals in their 20s and 30s fill the lounge from Wednesday through Sunday nights, says partner Justin Henson. We stopped in on Friday, its busiest night, but at 8 p.m., the crowd we’d heard about had yet to arrive. Instead, smooth R&B streamed through the empty space as we munched on the thinly sliced, marinated sweet snapper ($17) and seafood napoleon ($20), a tower of fresh sashimi.

Koi has pool tables, in addition to a DJ and great sushi. photo: Monte Costa

"We’re still working on the dinner crowd," says Henson, running down a list of things to come, including $1 hand-roll sushi nights and happy-hour specials. But the owners aren’t worried; they are, after all, familiar with the location and the nightlife scene. Three of Koi’s six owners, Henson, Keoni Chan and Jace Medeiros, also own Skybox, the sports bar directly upstairs that’s been open for a little over a year. And Chan and Medeiros own the promotion company DFX Entertainment, providing venues for Island revelers for the past 10 years.

Sure enough, a few $2 domestics later, and halfway through our "bomb"ucha roll ($16), the loungers trickled in, filling up the couches and crowding three-deep at the bar. As DJ K-Smooth from radio station I-94 set up his tables, the music got a little louder and the drinks flowed a little quicker. The bar, lined with four large fish tanks and backlit liquor shelves, remained packed for the rest of the night, but drinks and food (the kitchen is open until 11 p.m.) were never far from reach, as a cocktail server passed by every few minutes.

"Honolulu is overdue for a place like Koi," says Henson. Although swanky lounges are par for the course in large cities such as Los Angeles, the concept has yet to be fully explored in Hawai’i. Koi aims to fill that void. There’s a DJ, but never a cover; the music provides ambiance, not hearing loss; and although there’s a crowd, it’s not over-crowded–that is, until word gets out about this chill, new lounge.