Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Date Nights—Part II

     The Downtown Arts District, a couple blocks east of central Chinatown, has a good thing going evenings. Deanne and I have been a couple times—both times smashing successes with hand holding, listening to live music, walking, and ducking in and out of shops and cafes/bars.
     When I was in college, the Chinatown area had a bad nighttime reputation. A dorm mate told his girlfriend who was going there with a bunch of girls, “Now if some guy grabs you, I want to kick him in the n___!” She said nothing's going to happen but you could tell he was serious.
     We parked at Chinatown Gateway Plaza for three dollars after five p.m. then both times went for early dinners at Murphy's Bar and Grill. It has a family-friendly restaurant section with attentive waitresses and a bricks/brass/window planters atmosphere that seems years and miles away from the hectic financial district just a few blocks away. (The first time we went I had a wine glass of Narwhal beer on tap—the only drink either of us had on either night—and it was fantastic!) Then after eating and talking and relaxing and easing into our togetherness mode, we headed up Bethel Street toward Hawaii Theater.
     Now here's where the vibe got funky-fun: young, beautiful people out and about, smatterings of middle-agers walking by or waiting for a bus, and a few senior young-at-hearts ducking into a bar seemed to invite and enfold us into the scene. On our first night there in front of the theater young costumed college types, Caucasian and oriental geeky-chic, put on a sidewalk Celtic-sounding modern pop show featuring singing accompanied by guitar, violin, and cello. Further along and around a corner in a side alley, a few young, slim ladies dressed in Charleston era sexy half-lingeries (they may have been among the Cherry Blossom Cabaret) were filing into the adjacent store's make-shift show room theater with hung sheets for walls (they'd done their thing before in a hairstyling salon). At the Arts at Mark's Garage (it really is a grungy old garage I used to park in decades ago; its street level commercial space is now an art gallery/performing arts center), I was allowed to enter free and see the tail end of a one-man show: he sat on a barstool, recited his final lines, bowed, and was very well received by the small but enthusiastic audience (the place held perhaps twenty. The Rocky Horror Picture show was to be screened later with attendees encouraged to bring rice, squirt guns, plastic tarp, and other audience participation props.) We then ducked in and out of boutiques, vendors warm and inviting, and ended up at Hank's Cafe where a middle aged guy sang and played guitar. The barkeeper/owner was cool and let us hangout in the near empty place that seated perhaps fifteen and I sang along to Beatles & Paul McCartney classics, tipping the musician who played my requested In My Life (Beatles' version).
     The second night, after our light meal, we ducked into the dark old-world-looking Brasserie du Vin wine bar/restaurant and had a couple of dainty pastries selected from the refrigerated display case out front. Fantastic, light, and not too sweet—they were the perfect shared desserts for Deane's birthday. Continuing along we looped back around block's end and stopped into Fresh Cafe, which was soft-opening with a new concept with three separate spaces, all clean and well lit with open loft-style atmospheres: restaurant, outdoors lanai seating along a covered walk with high brick walls and industrial refrigerator steel doors to match, and a separate well-lit bar where we snacked on chips with salsa while listening to a twenty-something musician sing and play acoustic guitar upbeat and tight. Another patron and I had fun harmonizing along to songs I never before heard. (The gathering crowd in shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers made me feel like we were grandparents, though, but only in a self-reflective, humorous way.) And we finished the night at the Dragon Upstairs jazz bar where a quintet of oldsters (college professor types) stuffed into a tiny area riffed out fun, humorous numbers I again didn't recognize but appreciated just the same. The sax and trumpet traded conversational riffs like arguing spouses, cutting in on each other, reasoning, insisting, and pleading. Then, as if they both had had enough, they riffed off simultaneous which resulted in ticklish cacophonous dissonant notes and verses that had me laughing half-way through, so taken was I by their show of generosity and humility, neither upstaging the other. (I'd heard the sax player years before at Ward's Rafters in Kaimuki which was in an attic of a house turned jazz venue when he'd played with a pianist parent of a scout in Braden's den. At the time he'd played limpid and unexpressive. At the Dragon, he cooked. I concluded he'd underperformed at the Ward's Rafters as professional courtesy to Dan, the show's headliner that afternoon...)
     We'd been to the Arts District before for shows at Hawaii Theater and dinner and never felt threatened so times have, as advertised, changed for the better. Of course our evenings ended well before ten, so that may have had something to do with it. Most locals know of the area's chronic homeless presence (especially at the park beside Hawaii Theater) and problems with drugs, public inebriation, the mentally ill, and crime, so its not something we do often. But once in awhile, when its early, we feel its safe enough. And there is a police substation and Walmart nearby that makes the area feel a lot less shady than before. 

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