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A Night at the Door With Three Honolulu Bouncers

The eyes and ears of three very different bars tell us about their normal—and not-so-normal—nights on the job.

Honolulu is best known for its surf and sand, but come sunset, the lush green mountains transform into an amphitheater for Oahu’s surprisingly bustling nightlife (it’s the fourth-densest urban area in the U.S.). Suburban sprawl can give the city a sleepy atmosphere, but with over 1 million citizens and an average of half a million monthly tourists, there’s high demand for after-dark pursuits.

In Waikiki, where calendar days are irrelevant, thrill-ready vacationers in button-down shirts line up on the main strip for beach nightclubs with fire pits and tropical drinks. But just beyond the tourist zone are hot spots for local subculture: vegetarian restaurants slash local punk rock clubs, karaoke lounges with dedicated regulars and sports bars that go heavy on the pupus.

In the latest installment of PUNCH’s “A Night at the Door,” we begin in the Ala Moana neighborhood, a sort of commercial no man’s land in between Waikiki and downtown, amid high-rise condos and a sprawling shopping mall. Here at the Republik, a second-story warehouse that hosts musical acts like Michael Franti and Gary Clark Jr., bouncer Frank Kupau is preparing for a sold-out date-night crowd of mostly locals arriving to see Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.

Across the city in Chinatown, when produce stalls have shuttered for the day, stylishly dressed locals flock to a new wave of restaurants and bars. Once home to brothels, gambling parlors and opium dens, the neighborhood has undergone a series of reinventions, most recently in the 1990s as an arts district with galleries and boutiques settling in among lei stands and Chinese antique stores. At Manifest, a hyphenate venue—coffee bar by day, cocktail bar and dance club by night—D.J. Bishop, an Army vet, stands guard as the bar floods with scenesters.

While tourists gawk at street entertainers in front of the shuttered luxury stores on Waikiki’s main strip, Arnold’s Beach Bar & Grill, an open-air tiki-inspired dive, sits on the quiet fringe across from a deserted park. Serving $5 Mai Tais and Blue Hawaiis until 2 a.m., the bar attracts a mix of tipsy tourists on bar crawls, deal-seeking locals and late night, post-shift workers from the adjacent Hard Rock Café. Here, Chris Jones is stationed in front of a wooden tiki carving, amiably greeting a steady stream of revelers while training a new bouncer in the art of checking IDs.

Honolulu Bouncers

Frank Kupau
Age: 43
Workplace: The Republik

Where are you from?

How long have you been a bouncer?
“Since 2002. Been all over the place. I first started bouncing at Tiare’s Sports Bar & Grill in Kailua. I did there five to ten years. Right now it’s shut down, went out of business for a couple of years already, but that’s where I learned how to be a good bouncer. I love it. It’s my passion, but my wife doesn’t like it.”

What makes a good bouncer?
“Pay attention to the crowd. Be aware of your surroundings. Be very vigilant. Watch out. I learned how to visualize the body language, the body gestures—you can tell.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?
“We’ve seen a lot of things. Fights, especially girl fights. Sometimes we can break it up, but sometimes if there’s a female present they’ll take advantage. But we try as much to do good.”

What’s your favorite drink?
“My favorite drink at one time was Heineken, but I don’t drink anymore. On occasion, once in a while, but I’ve seen everybody here. Been there, done that. I don’t have the urge anymore.”

Honolulu Bouncers

D.J. Bishop
Age: 36
Workplace: Manifest

Where are you from?
“The Bronx, New York.”

How long have you been doing this?
“About six months. I used to be in the military, the Army. I retired from the military [in Hawaii]. Decided to do something different, you know. Get out on the scene, get out of the house, keep moving.”

So you like meeting people on the job?
“I do. I meet a lot of interesting people. Doctors, lawyers, people who work for corporate America. They come out here to have a good time. Sometimes they get a little tipsy, I got to put them out. That gets fun sometimes.”

What’s cool about this place?
“The diversity of the crowd. You get a lot of people from everywhere. Some places have only hip-hop or blues or whatever. This has a lot of diversity, so you get a lot of different cultures coming here. I like it.”

What is the craziest thing you’ve seen?
“Inside I’ve seen people halfway having sex in the club and I have to [mimics pulling them apart] you know, ‘Hey!’ Got to put them out. Seen some crazy stuff.”

How often do you work?
“Three nights a week. I like it. I like getting out of the house. Otherwise I’d stay in and watch Family Feud all day. Now I get to come out and meet people. I’m not a clubber myself, so this is the closest I come to being in the club. I like it.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“I do not drink. Eight years now.”

Honolulu Bouncers

Chris Jones
Age: 32
Workplace: Arnold’s Beach Bar & Grill

Where are you from?
“Rockford, Illinois.”

What brought you out here?
“Getting away from the cold and snow in the Midwest.”

How long have you been a bouncer here?
“Six months. I’m also a server at the Makai Plantation at the airport.”

What brought you to Arnold’s?
“I had never heard of it. I applied online. I wanted to be social without spending money, so I applied for a doorman bouncer job and found this place.”

What makes this place special?
“The regulars and the local feel of the place. There’s not a lot of places that I’ve been to that has a local feel to it. Most places have so many flyers and advertisements and everything, you don’t get the feeling that you get to talk to strangers and meet new people.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
“I’ve seen best friends fight. There’s a lot of weird stuff out here.”

What’s a regular night like?
“We run a pretty tight ship. A lot of people know that and think, Aw, we’re not going to go to Arnold’s. If you don’t look 75 and up, we’re not going to let you in without checking your ID. A lot of people don’t want come here if they feel like they’re not going to be on their best behavior. Most of my nights are pretty chill until a little later, and then it’s watching out for drunk people coming out of Ubers. Because of the area, people bar-hop and so they’ll end up here because our drinks are the cheapest in Waikiki, and they’ll want to be here.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“Rum and Coke. Because I can drink that and head home and get some sleep.”

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