When I first heard the news, I was shocked. Maui’s largest live music nightclub would close its doors on Jan. 13. Although this is a common fate for many nightclubs on Maui, Hapa’s has been a successful venue—with typical but not tragic ups and downs—for 12 years.
Hapa’s is the only place famed Hawaiian musician Willie K has opted to play on a weekly basis. It’s the only venue with a regular night that caters to Maui’s gay community. Its weekly “ladies night,” as well as other nights featuring DJs, live local music and imported acts of every imaginable genre, consistently filled up the expansive yet accessible bar and club.
But now I’m sitting inside a darkened Hapa’s before it opens for its final night. Workers dart between the main and satellite bars and tables, setting up decor and making idle chatter, and it seems as though it’s business as usual. And yet, looking out at the empty dance floor with its overhanging tinsel ornaments and disco ball, I get a little wistful.
This is where I’ve seen the Brazilian Girls, Lyrics Born, DJ’s Mark Farina and Q-bert, Pepper and Men of Las Vegas. I wonder how Hapa’s closing will affect the already limited entertainment scene on Maui.
“We’re not done, we’re just moving,” says Gus Hoeft, the owner. “Only the new location is going be more of a classy establishment, with a strictly enforced dress code. It’s all about the atmosphere but it won’t be stiff.”
Hoeft assures me the new club, which will likely be in Ma`alaea, will still house the same kinds of entertainment that has helped make Hapa’s so successful. Willie K is still going to be there. Ultra Fabulous Tuesdays—gay night—will also be in effect.
But the new joint, to be named “Club MG,” will also feature a restaurant with live Hawaiian music during dinner. After dinner, it becomes the late night venue with a similar format to Hapa’s.
If all goes as planned, Hoeft says it’ll open Feb. 12.
“That’s the Chinese New Year,” he says, smiling. “Year of the Boar! We’ll have red carpet for the opening, with Willie K headlining and a couple of fire dancers.”
Hoeft said he was just as surprised by the closing of Hapa’s as everybody else. He says the club was doing well but was renting their space month-to-month. Apparently, when it came time to renew their lease, the landlord decided to give it to somebody “with deeper pockets.”
Hoeft says he found out about the sudden change from the new owner, not the landlord.
“I wondered why—I looked at myself and said, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’” he says. “I’ve struggled with how to pay bills, how to get promotions, how to get people in the door. I’ve paid back the debts of former owners, then I was treated like this. Honesty and fairness is how I run things. I felt like this was a set-up.”
Hapa’s original owners—business men Hoeft calls “three of the most intelligent people I know”—opened the club at Lipoa Street 12 years ago. They intended to operate it as Maui’s only brew house at the time, but like a dissolving marriage, the management dispersed a few years later. Hoeft, who opened the club as a doorman, took over and beefed up its nighttime format.
“I consider everyone who goes to Hapa’s part of my family,” he says. “I’ve seen kids grow up here—they used to come to Teen Night and now they’re here for regular club nights. Every musician in Hawai`i has played here—Eric Gilliom with the Project, Hapa, Keili`i Reichel, Fiji, Kapena, Amy Gilliom, even Prince with Willie K… Musicians loved to play here ‘cause the stage is so close to the patrons, and they get that interaction.
“Hapa’s is a dynasty,” he adds. “It’s been there, it’s been done—it’s been successful. But it’s been at the same level for a while now. It needs to go to a different level—to step up and do something else. The name change is part of that—it has to have its own identification.
“I won’t miss the landlord,” Hoeft says. “But I will miss the warmth of our clientele. Everybody has been so supportive. I think that all the promoters, the DJ’s, the bands—especially our clientele—made Hapa’s what it is. But they need the change also. I think that it’s going to be very successful, and very exciting. I’m not worried at all. Everything will work out.”
Hoeft smiles. “Or, I hope so anyway. ‘Cause in four years I’m gonna run for mayor.” He laughs. “No, don’t say that.” MTW