Too Small To Fail: The Owner of Anyplace Cocktail Lounge, One of the Oldest Bars in Honolulu, Tells Us What Her Business is Like During COVID-19
“This is when you really realize how much people care about you and how much you care about them.”
Anyplace Cocktail Lounge has liquor license No. 15—according to that piece of paper, the dive bar on King Street has been around since 1978, but “some people swear it’s been longer,” says current owner Judy Foster Long, who bought the bar from her mother in 2000. Long is a third generation bar owner. “My ojiisan died in an accident when my mom was 7,” she says. “So my obachan raised two children by herself in Kobe, Japan, after World War II, and opened a bar to take care of her family. I give her so much credit for that.”
Anyplace is a lot like many other places around Honolulu—tucked away, longstanding, unfancy watering holes where some of the staff has been there as long as the patrons. The vibe is sports bar tinged with Hawaiiana and a bit of a western saloon. Regulars gather for cheap beer, Spam and egg sandwiches, Obachan’s Fried Chicken, and furikake and ranch salads, while putting up with the groups and solo singers taking advantage of $1 karaoke songs.
Long’s mother put in the karaoke machines when she bought the bar from the original owner in 1990, “and all the regular customers told her they were going to leave,” Long says. “‘This place is going to be empty,’ they said. She just did it anyway.”
And the regulars came back anyway. And they kept coming back. Until now.
“This place is like Cheers, I guess, but I feel like Cheers doesn’t even cover it,” Long says. “It’s the place where we care for each other and we’re like a family. And so I think that has been the most difficult thing with all of this—you worry about people, but you can’t see them. So I call people and check up and they call me so that’s nice too. And people have been supporting us with their takeout.”
But the takeout sales aren’t enough. “All we can do is lessen the bleed. Everybody’s suffering.” From about 20 employees—most of them part-time workers—Long has cut the staff to four. She has applied for multiple Small Business Association disaster loans and wrote a letter to her landlord, cosigned by other tenants of the building, which includes Fujiyama Texas restaurant and Mermaid Den Lash and Beauty Services, requesting loan forgiveness or abatement. Long says she knows of other neighboring businesses, such as Y’s Sports Bar and Illest, where the landlords proactively waived April’s rent.
She says that business began declining in February. “It was subtle in the beginning, and then in March, it became really apparent, even before the shutdown. The weather didn’t help either—the thunderstorms, the flash fIood warnings.
“I’m better now than last week. In the beginning, it was very stressful and disheartening. Every day, it was like another brick was being laid on your chest. But then, you know, what we have is so much better than a lot of other places. We’re an island. So it’s easier for us to manage it if [the state government] would have a comprehensive plan and not this piecemeal stuff they seem to come up with all the time. And this is when you really realize how much people care about you and how much you care about them. Everybody gets to spend more time with their families—and that’s good and bad. But we all slow down and get more acquainted with each other.
“What I hope this doesn’t do is what we were already trending to—that social distancing is going to make us a nation of individuals who cannot relate to each other. One of my customers keeps saying ‘This is the Hunger Games. We’re headed for the Hunger Games.’ I’m like, I don’t want to hear that.
“I would like to see this make our society better, not worse. I want to be hopeful about the future.” That maybe, the story of Anyplace in the time of the coronavirus will be a story that future generations tell just as Long tells of her grandmother’s bar.
For Anyplace Cocktail Lounge’s takeout menu, check @anyplacehawaii, 2065 S. King St., #102, (808) 947-8977