Something Totally New

After months of anticipation, Honolulu gets a look at the dazzle of Pearl, the first and only nightclub at Ala Moana Center

Friday - October 13, 2006
By Chad Pata
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A model struts her stuff during a fashion show on opening night. The ‘runway’ is actually one of three bars in the club, each with a different look and feel
A model struts her stuff during a fashion show on opening
night. The ‘runway’ is actually one of three bars in the club,
each with a different look and feel

Getting a taste of Vegas got a little easier this week as local nightclub guru Beau Mohr opened Honolulu’s newest ultra-lounge Pearl at Ala Moana Shopping Center.

If you have spent any time on the Strip you will recognize the scene: gold clad beauties serving $12 martinis in crystal glassware while door guys in suit and ties survey the lounge.

Not exactly Hawaiian style, but Mohr is wagering $2 million that the Islands are ready to step it up a notch.

“I think 10 years ago it probably wouldn’t have worked out,” says Mohr who has been at the helm of Studebakers and Ocean Club over the past two decades.

“But I think nowadays it will work. I think there is definitely a void in the marketplace. I realize people in Hawaii are conservative, but people from Hawaii have seen this in Vegas as they have moved away from downtown and onto the Strip.

“Have a guy on the door in suit and tie 10 years ago and they would have looked at him like an alien. Now it’s no big deal.”

Perhaps he has a point, but the streets of Honolulu are paved with the failures of ultra lounges in the past like Maharaja with its faux waiting lines out front and Studio One with its exclusive memberships. They have found it to be much too Bud-Light-and-poke in the Islands to have success all gussied up.

Mohr did not, however, come into this blind. He did extensive market research and found there is a small segment of the population whom he felt were not having their needs met.

“Our market is the 30-year-old professional who because of the high cost of mortgages is still living at home with their parents,” says Mohr. “So instead, they put their money in their car. They don’t want to stay home at night so they go out and they have expendable income.”

He strives to make it a place where they can feel like someone, even going so far as bringing liquor bottle service to the Islands. Bottle service involves a guest purchasing an entire bottle of liquor for $200 to $300 and then having it served to them by a hostess who serves as their own private waitress/host/bartender.

“It’s more personalized bar service, basically you have a bartender there at your table making the drinks in front of you,” says Mohr. “It gives people that extra attention they want when they are celebrating a special occasion.”

Overseeing his bottle service is Tenniel Gacayan, a VIP host from Vegas who provided bottle service at the uber-cool Tabu Ultra Lounge in the MGM Grand.

“It’s an image they are buying,” says Gacayan about the bottle service, “they want other people to perceive them as a player, because at that point they are.”

Creating the image is only part of the process. No one would pay for these drinks if they were not top quality, which is why Mohr has enlisted Hall of Fame mixologist Francesco Lafranconi (yes, there is a Hall of Fame for bartending). He has been brought in from Vegas not only to create the drink menu, but also to train the bar staff in the art of making cocktails the right way.

His focus is on a return to quality ingredients and fresh juices. In creating his drinks he says he likes to think “outside the shaker.”

“It’s easy to be a crowd pleaser with vodka, but that doesn’t give you any competitive advantage,” says Lafranconi, who uses Grand Marnier as the base in one of Pearl’s signature drinks, Lilikoi Dream.

“All these drinks are not sweet, not mouth coating, so they don’t fill you up with sugars.”

Hall of Fame mixologist Francesco Lafranconi shares his secrets during a training session with Pearl staff
Hall of Fame mixologist Francesco Lafranconi shares
his secrets during a training session with Pearl staff

He is maintaining ties to Hawaii’s roots by using many local fruits like lychee and “drinks with a story” like their My Tie that uses the original 1924 Mai Tai recipe.

Accompanying the drinks is a tapas style pupu list consisting of 15 to 20 items. Putting the menu together is Donato Loperfido, former owner of Donato’s in Manoa, expanding out from his traditional Italian ways to create a cross-cultural mix of pupus. As you can imagine, it will definitely not be the snacks you are accustomed to seeing in bars.

“You are not here looking for chicken wings, it’s more like well presented food and fresh seafood,” says Loperfido, noting that some highlights will be caviar, carpaccio and oysters. “Also we will have fondue, cheese and chocolate, it will be nice to have for you and your friends.”

The 5,500 square foot lounge is divided into three distinct areas. The main bar is constructed out of onyx and the bartop is wider to accompany new lines, they can throw a party at Pearl and do it with style.

“Fashion and nightlife go hand-in-hand,” says Mohr. “It will compliment the mall. The more girls dress up, the more they want to go out.”

The second area is higher than the main bar and will contain booths and tables equipped for the bottle service. The third area is suspended over the three story space separating the parking garage from the main building which they will use for VIP and private functions “It’s like a big living room, a cozy, comfy upscale living room with booths that look like couches,” say Mohr, who is using a lot of warm colors in the decor like red and orange. “The dance floor is tiny because Pearl is more about socializing than dancing.”

This is a departure from Mohr’s clubs in the past where even the bar top was not off limits to dancing. But there will be some dancing and they do have a stage behind the main bar so there will be live entertainment as well.

Mohr’s hope is to wow everyone with the sheer luxury of the place. There is mother-of-pearl in the ceilings and backlit red glowing walls. The bathrooms have all oversized stalls for the ladies, some specialty drinks will sprinkled with edible pearl dust and the glassware is all crystal.

“I wasn’t going to use crystal at first, but it just looks so much clearer and feels so much better in your hand,” says Mohr.

All this leads to the inevitable question of how much a drink is going to cost and will the local consumer buy it.

In a market flooded with $2 beer specials and $3 martini happy hours, how does one sell a double-digit libation?

“It’s going to be high-end prices, but I want to make it a value,” says Mohr, who notes that the price point for drinks in Honolulu is way behind other Mainland cities.

“Value is not about pricing, it is about what you get for the dollars spent. It’ll be expensive dollarwise, but valuewise it will be worth it.”

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