Party! Party! Party!

Justin Yoshino may have the best job in Honolulu — throwing parties for a living. No wonder he loves going to work

Justin Yoshino, Hawaii’s master party planner, got the inspiration to start his own event planning business from an Arabian-themed party he attended in San Francisco.

Justine Michioka, Julie Takeguchi and Malika
Dudley say ‘cheers!’ with Justin Yoshino

“Someone invited me to a party that was in a warehouse,” says Yoshino. “They had transformed this warehouse into, like, the Arabian Nights, so they had flying carpets, jugglers, a guy breathing fire, a band, DJ playing, food … and everyone was totally dressed up. And the only way you could get in was with an invitation. If you just rolled up to the door and said, ‘I want to come in and pay a cover,’ they wouldn’t let you in. It’s very exclusive.”

Yoshino says there wasn’t much of a club scene in Honolulu at the time, so he decided to bring events like the one he saw in San Francisco to Hawaii. He started Partymasters Hawaii in 2001, doing event planning and coordination. He threw exclusive theme parties that drew 300 to 500 people. He stopped throwing parties two years ago because it wasn’t profitable, and has instead dedicated himself to Feng Shui Ultra Lounge, which is a nightclub open Saturday nights at the Hyatt’s third floor Ciao Mein restaurant.

Yoshino says Feng Shui draws about 600-1,000 people and it has been profitable. They first started on a monthly basis — now they’re weekly.

“There are two dance floors. The outdoor pool deck is where everyone mingles. You can lay back on one of the lounge chairs and look up at the stars. If you want to talk to people it’s not too loud up there like a typical club. It’s more like a social gathering,” says Yoshino. “It’s like going to a party or somebody’s house. If you want to go inside, the first room is called the Green Room and there’s house and techno (music). You walk in the back room and they’re playing R&B and pop.”

Flipping through his scrapbook,Yoshino shows pictures of the parties he’s thrown.

The first party Yoshino hosted was themed “Fly with Angels.”

“All the models dressed up like Victoria Secret angels. It was a blackand- white party. It was at the Hanohano Room on the top floor. We also had stations of food, so people could try out different food. To be fashion conscious, we did a fashion show with White House/Black Market. We also did martinis and massages, martinis and manicures. So for $10, you want a martini, you got a 10-minute massage or minimanicure.”

His second big party was based on The Sopranos. “It was an Italian, mafia kind of a get-up. It was a black-and-red party, and we did it at Ciao Mein restaurant.”

The third party was conceived when Angela Baraquio came back to Hawaii as the newly crowned Miss America. It was her first appearance back here since she had won, and since she’s a personal friend of Yoshino, he wanted to do something to welcome her home.

“She was only going to be home for less than five days, and there was no way that she could get to see everybody she wanted to see. I told Angie, I want to throw a party for you. But she said it has to have a purpose and not just a party. She says, ‘I’m starting this Angela Perez Baraquio Education Foundation where they train teachers how to help students with their social skills.’So I said, ‘Why don’t we donate the money we get at the door to your foundation?’”

Yoshino continues to describe a party contracted by Mercedes. “It was their 125th anniversary party. It was during Christmas — a champagne reception with Moet-Chandon. They had different stations of food, including a sushi bar. We hired St. John to do our fashion show. The catwalk was in between the cars. So the girls would pose and stand by the car and people would take pictures. We featured the clothes, but also the cars.”

He did another party called “Coyote Ugly” named after the movie. “We asked everyone to dress in animal print or leather. This party was at Chai’s Island Bistro. We hired singers and performers and they remade one of the scenes where they dance on top of the bar and shot everyone with the water.”

Partymasters also did Bruce Willis’ wrap party for Tears of the Sun out at Ko Olina. The Ihilani prepared the food, and a lively Polynesian show entertained the guests. A big movie screen was set up where everyone got to watch bloopers from the movie.

Yoshino dances with Darah and
Denby Dung at a recent event

There was also a Playboy mansion pajama party and a Halloween party. By having invitation-only parties, Yoshino wanted to bring in the hip, young, professional crowd.

When asked how he comes up with ideas to make parties unique and different,Yoshino says “by traveling.” He’s been to many of the big clubs in major cities. “I take ideas on what they’re doing, try to tweak it and bring it back home.”

As to what it takes to make a party happen, Yoshino explains:

“I think the most important thing is you have to create a buzz. You’ve got to create the hype. You got to get it in the hands of the key party people who talk about it and tell other people. It just kind of snowballs.

“You need to have a cool atmosphere, good music — because music brings people back. If you want to come to the place more than once, you’ve got to have something you really like besides the place. The last thing, I would say, is to keep it fresh by re-creating yourself, doing things differently, keep promoting. Don’t just open the club and say ‘Here we are.’”

Yoshino was born in Honolulu, grew up in Nuuanu and graduated from Punahou in 1981. He majored in speech at the University of Hawaii.

“In college, the first nightclub I worked at was Bobby McGee’s,” he recalls. “Unlike the clubs and promoters today, back then there were so many different nightclubs. We had a promotion going on every night, seven days a week. There was something different happening every night, so people would come in for different nights. That’s how I learned the trade. I started out by bringing different parties from campus.”

He was the campus representative for Bobby McGee’s, in which he started out part time and then went to full time. He worked there for about seven-eight years, then went on to work in the travel industry, then went back to work in the food and beverage biz.

While the theme parties are no longer, Yoshino would also like to resurrect the now defunct Dead Liver Society, a wine lover’s club, with Formaggio’s owner Wes Zane.

Before taking off to a golf tournament, Yoshino talks about his love of his job. “Part of the reason I’m in this business is I enjoy making people laugh. The most fun part of the job is being able to create something that people enjoy doing.”

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