Honolulu’s seedy Hotel Street in the ’70s
The sailors and soldiers called it “Shit Street.” During Vietnam and a few years after, Hotel Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown was the Broadway of the skankiest red light district in the country. The Combat Zone in Boston wasn’t shit! Besides strippers, there were live sex shows, Korean handjob joints, gypsies, drag queens, drug dealers and whorehouses with lines of swabbies out the front door. At 3 in the afternoon!
Club Hubba Hubba was Shit Street’s crown jewel, an old burlesque hall and dry hustle joint just around the corner from Sailor Jerry’s tattoo shop. Full-figured hussies would come out in layers and long gloves and make you wait three songs to see nipples. The band was a sax player and drummer, older black guys about to fall asleep onstage. All the old greats, like Tempest Storm and Little Egypt had been on the marquee, but in the ’80s the big draws were over-the-hill porn stars.
To come from Idaho to that hardcore red light district was like going from a Pat Boone show to the 2 Live Crew tour bus. You’d walk down the street in the morning and the smell of Lysol would be coming from each doorway. Vomit and blood on the sidewalks. Mah Jong tiles forcefully clicking upstairs. Fucking loved it.
For some reason, Honolulu city planners made Hotel Street the main thoroughfare for city buses and so every time I rode from Hickam AFB to Ala Moana or Waikiki, I got a load of the “Boys Will Be Girls” revue placard at the Glades, and all the porno movie arcades (“the quarter sweaters”). Topless and bottomless joints were the Starbucks of Shit Street. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 (as if anybody ever carded on Shit Street).
There wasn’t a cover at Hubba Hubba during the day, when I dropped in because it felt safer than being on the street. I had a crush on a dancer from Boston named Apache who would come by Mr. Lucky T-Shirts around the corner (at the former 1033 Smith St. location of Sailor Jerry’s and then China Sea Tattoo), where I worked. I was blasting Elvis Costello one day and we had a nice talk about music we liked. She was into new wave. I was the one guy she wasn’t trying to hustle, so she was pissed when I came by the Hubba Hubba one day when she was working. “Don’t be stupid,” she said, when I asked if I could buy her a drink. “It’s $11.” But I bought her one anyway just to hang out for a few minutes. I guess I crossed the line from friend to mark and we were never the same.
Michael “Rollo” Malone bought Sailor Jerry’s shop after the old man died in 1973. I met him through his partner Kate Hellenbrand, who was my first editor, at Sunbums magazine. He would sometimes take visiting tattoo artists to Hubba Hubba. He and Ed Hardy and maybe Miss Roxy were in there one night, sitting behind a table of shitfaced Australian sailors on the rail. After one stripper came out in her ridiculous costume and went through a song taking off accessories, one of the Aussies stood up and started patting the runway. “We don’t care about your fancy dances and your feathers and spangles,” pat, pat, pat. “We want to see your twat,” pat, pat, pat “right here,” pat, pat “right now.” Rollo loved telling that story. He had the Australian accent down.
There’s a cool Italian restaurant named Bethel Union at 1115 Bethel Street, just off Hotel. In the ’80s that was the site of the Harbor Lounge, by far the seediest bar in Honolulu. I only went in one time, entering to see a G.I. performing cunnilingus on a stripper laying on the edge of the stage. There were six or seven booths with curtains- guys going in and out every ten minutes or so. “Lomi lomi?” a Korean woman asked me, motioning a handjob. The Harbor was a whorehouse with a bartender.
Bethel Street, where the grand Hawaii Theater once screened hardcore sex films, is now Honolulu’s Arts District. The Hawaii Theater showed first-run “art” films before it went porno- it’s where I saw Terrence Malick’s Badlands after Rex Reed raved about it on The Mike Douglas Show. But now it’s a performing arts center! Many Mandys have performed on the screen at the Hawaii, but these days it’s Patinkin in person!
TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR PORN
Nowadays there are so many truly beautiful women having sex on camera, but in my day Kandi Barbour was the first one who seemed too cute to be doing that stuff. She was to Traci Lords what Madonna is to Lady Gaga. Anybody who’s thinking Seka or Annette Haven can leave now. Kandi was porn’s first homecoming queen.
After her shortlived late ’70s/early ’80s heyday, Kandi “danced” at the Club Hubba Hubba.
The strippers stayed in apartments upstairs from the club, even Kandi Fucking Barbour! By this time she was too overweight to make movies, so she stripped with a shawl around her stomach at all times. But I’m such a groupie it didn’t matter. Kandi Barbour was a superstar in the adult film world. It was kinda like seeing a great, old rock n’ roller in fallen times. Most of the girls would order an expensive “champagne cocktail” and it was just ginger ale, but Kandi drank rum and cokes and watched the pour. I bought her one. Big fan.
Anyway, I was remembering all that and I did a search for Kandi Barbour, and found out she passed away in 2012 at age 53. She was homeless in San Francisco at the time- cause of death unknown. Role as a pioneer unnoted.
During our drink together at the Hubba Hubba Kandi raved about the beef chow fun at the Mini-Garden restaurant across the street and we made plans to have lunch there the next day. I was out on the sidewalk yelling “Kandi! Kandi!” to the second-floor window for about 10 minutes before I gave up. She was right, though. Best beef chow fun I’ve ever had.
Bernard Purdie is known as one of the greatest groove drummers ever, particularly for his work on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” and “Spanish Harlem” and Steely Dan albums like Royal Scam and Aja. But when he came through Honolulu in 1975 on Jeff Beck’s “Blow By Blow” tour, I had only known him for appearing with his band, fully clothed, in a XXX movie called Lialeh, which was billed as a black version of Deep Throat. It was a true blaxploitation film I had seen in a 37-capacity theater on Hotel Street a few weeks earlier. Well, the Beck show was amazing and afterwards me and my friends went to a 24-hour diner named Coco’s in Waikiki and sitting at a booth was Bernard Purdie with an attractive young lady. I never know what to say to celebrities, so I went up to him and said, “Excuse me, are you Bernard Purdie?” He gave a big smile and expected to hear about how great the show was, or maybe how his drumming on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” changed my life, but instead I said, “I saw you in that movie Lialeh.” His gal said “movie?” So I said “yeah, it’s a porno movie. He was in it. They called it ‘The Black Throat.'” Purdie laughed whole-heatedly, but then gave me a look to shuffle along. That was my brush with the world’s greatest living drummer Bernard Purdie.
THE SWING CLUB
Frequented by both G.I.’s and locals, the Swing Club had the most fights on Hotel Street. It was a dance club stocked with bargirls, who’d get the swabbies to buy them drinks at inflated prices, then go home home with a cut. The club played records of soul music downstairs and country music upstairs: very rarely were there bands. The Swing Club was owned by Chris Viccari, who was also Mr. Lucky’s landlord. He was a suave dude you didn’t mess with. Word was he was connected. That seemed about right.
Rollo designed a t-shirt for the Swing Club that Mr. V was crazy about. It was a drawing of a dancing couple as if they were only legs. Torsos faded out into darkness. After that, Mr. V would sometimes pick up our lunch tab, but one thing you’d never get was a free drink at the Swing Club. It was all business there. Since there was no cover, they made all their money at the bar. And at the bordello next door and up the stairs. “You wanna go upstairs?” meant you wanna get a whore? The john entrance was right next door to Mr. Lucky’s and at the corner was Tammy’s Lounge, a strip club run by the Hell’s Angels, but Tammy’s wasn’t a biker hangout. Francis of the Angels would come at the end of the night for the money and whichever girl he wanted to be with. He was a fat, buck-toothed Hawaiian, maybe Portuguese, but he was ruthless. We saw him beat the fuck out of another biker- not an Angel- in the alley behind China Sea. The guy was down and Francis just kept stomping him. It was attempted murder, but a couple of the other bikers picked up the guy on the ground and were in his ear about keeping his fucking mouth shut and he did when the cops came.
THE MAHU STATE
If they had Yelp for car seat blowjobs in Honolulu in the ’70s, the mahus of Pauahi Street at Bethel would be four and a half stars. Female streetwhores did not want to have sex with you. Their game was getting the most money for doing the least. “How long is it going to take you to come?” is not the sexiest line I’ve heard. Mahus actually wanted to suck your dick- and they were better looking than the woman. Getting a she’s-into-it blowjob is no time to think about what they’ve got twixt their legs. I was always thinking of Liz Taylor or Rita Moreno.
Oahu was an oppressive place to grow up. Lotsa bullying and locals “hijacking” your change or punching you out for a laugh. Every day was “Kill Haole Day” somewhere. But the Islands were surprisingly accepting of transvestites. At Aiea High School we had three or four guys who dressed and talked like girls and nobody really bothered them. It was a part of Hawaiian culture, where if you had all sons, one of the boys would assume the daughter role in helping the mother.
Anyway, all this stuff about Bruce “I Am Woman” Jenner brought me back. I can imagine a Hawaiian family watching the Diane Sawyer interview and going. “So da guy like be one mahu? So wot!”
This was Hawaii’s first punk band, the Squids. Since the Islands were always a few years behind, their first record “Tourist Riot” came out in ’81, five years after the Ramones. Keyboardist Kit Ebersbach, who was bored playing in the Honolulu Symphony, was the mastermind of the group, but they also tapped into Chinatown tattoo artist Michael Malone for inspiration. Because everyone made up punk names, Malone became Rollo Banks and I was Yikes! Crawford and we put out the Honolulu Babylon under those names. Rollo wrote the lyrics of “Tourist Riot” and Beano “David Sumida” Shots wrote the music.
The Talking Heads were the first punk band to play Hawaii- at Little Orphan Annie’s on Nimitz Highway in 1979 (right before Fear of Music came out)- and them and Devo were the biggest influences in Hawaii. Kit was always thinking about ways to also be outrageously mundane. One night when the Squids were playing their residency at the Wave, Kit gave each member a white t-shirt he had emblazoned with their instrument. His said keyboards, Rudy’s said guitar and so on. That night Frank Orrall had a tough time beating away the guys, and then someone told him that “Drummer” was the name of a gay magazine.
This has nothing to do with Hotel Street, but if you wanna go further down da mongoose hole of Honolulu in the ’70s…
Written in 2008 on the eve of Punahou’s Barack Obama being elected as the first African-American President of the United States:
“Hawaii became part of the United States in 1959, but in the ’70s, it still felt like its own country. “Pakalolo” – marijuana – was king in the state whose biggest cash crop had nicknames like Maui Wowee and Puna Butter. The pungent odor of marijuana could be smelled everywhere: movie theaters, Waikiki sidewalks, the Kam Drive In swap meet. Obama’s admitted drug use is no surprise. Everybody in Hawaii was getting high in the ’70s.”