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Best Honolulu Bars for Networking

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     Amuse Wine Bar at The Honolulu Design Center
     Photo: Kevin Blitz

Sometimes there’s no better way to meet a new client or seal a deal than with your business card in one hand and a drink in the other. Whether it’s at a well-organized networking event or just standing at the bar at one of Honolulu’s hippest spots, young professionals are finding ways to mingle, network and do business.

What do you get when you combine Hawaii’s rising professionals with a drink menu?

More often than not, you’ll wind up with a networking event that looks more like an exclusive private party, complete with swag bags, thumping music and drink specials. It’s the nametags that give it away.

As you probably already know, networking – especially in these word-of-mouth Islands – is often the most effective way to do business. We talk. We connect. We ask people where they graduated from high school before we inquire about their professions.

“I feel like people here in Hawaii have always naturally networked and embraced networking as a way to help people in business and in life,” says Joann A. Seery, executive director for Business Network International Hawaii, which boasts more than 800 members on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. “The opportunities here are great. Almost any time of the day or night, there is an event or opportunity to network.”

Thanks to new venues, creative event planners, social media and an increasing urge to blend business with pleasure, Hawaii’s networking scene has exploded.

There are regular mixers at nightclubs, business-launch parties at restaurants and all-out galas at exclusive private homes. There are networking events over lunch, after hikes, in boutiques, in art museums, at pau hana, after surf sessions, on golf courses, in coffee shops and at oceanfront lounges.

Of course, a few places are better than the rest. On nights when there isn’t an event, most of these spots are also great places to hang out and network with whoever drops by.

Venues matter for events. You want enough floor space for people to meet and mingle. You want plentiful free or cheap parking. And you’ve got to have good food and drinks.

It’s all about the math, says social-media guru Toby Tamaye, president of AT Marketing, a Hawaii-based firm that specializes in advertising, public relations, event marketing and social media. “Networking events are about people. The more you can bring in, the better chance you have to see and meet more people.”

Here are some of the best schmooze spots in Hawaii. Get your business cards ready.

 

     Photo: Tracy Chan

Waikiki Edition

Sometimes, all that matters is ambiance.

The swanky Lobby Bar at the Waikiki Edition hotel has a lot of that – including oversize sofas and a dramatic, rotating bookcase that separates the bar to create a more intimate setting for networking events.

This 353-room boutique hotel, which opened in October, is the first of five Edition brands created through a partnership with Marriott International and hip hotelier Ian Schrager. It’s contemporary, stylish and one of Honolulu’s hottest places to hang, especially after hours. (It doesn’t hurt that the upscale Morimoto Waikiki, owned by Masaharu Moritmoto of “Iron Chef” fame, is its signature restaurant.)

Scott Rasak, marketing coordinator at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, who helps organize networking events with Nextworking, recently held an event for Ad 2 Honolulu here, drawn by the environment.

“The space worked out perfectly, with great trendy lounge music,” Rasak says. “The food is always good and specialty drinks keep the interest of the crowd. This is truly a great networking space for a weekday event.”

It’s the kind of environment that lures patrons – and not just for the networking opportunity. But these chance meetings can often turn a casual night out into a productive business connection.

“It’s a great way to meet people and grow my sphere of influence,” says Lauren Horikoshi, 26, a project coordinator at Prudential Locations, who attends networking events about once a month but who goes out – especially to the various bars at the Edition – more often just to meet people. “I’m always trying to network on behalf of my company, whether it be at events or just at the bar.”

1775 Ala Moana Blvd., 943-5800,
www.editionhotels.com.

 

     Photo: Tyson Yamada

Ka Restaurant & Lounge

Sure, it’s an awkward space in Ward Center, with dark corners and small seating areas tucked away from the rest of the restaurant. But that, in a way, is what makes Ka such a popular spot for networking events. There’s a lot of space in which people can mingle, but enough quieter areas where they can actually have conversations.

“It’s just comfortable,” says Yukari Takai, marketing manager for Toastman Inc. and Hitchhike Records, after a recent launch party at Ka for the Honolulu affiliate of Groupon, an online daily deal program. “A lot of networking events have been held here, so I’m used to it.”

In addition to a lot of parking – including valet service – at the centrally located Ward Center, Ka offers something that makes event planners swoon: flexibility. “We are willing to work with you in any type of event you might have in mind,” says Bryan “Yosh” Yoshida, managing partner of Element Group, which operates Ka, Tsunami and Ginza Nightclub, all of which host networking events.

It helps that this favorite pau-hana spot has nosh that’s perfect for mixers, including furikake corn puffs, bacon-wrapped mochi skewers, garlic edamame and specialty Asian-style pizzas with toppings such as spicy Thai peanut sauce, Korean-style barbecue sauce and natto.

Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 593-7885,
www.karestaurant.com

 

ArtAfterDark

Take an after-hours event at an art museum, add food stations, cool art and deejays spinning electro and house, and you’ve got ArtAfterDark, a hip party held on the last Friday of every month at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The event attracts hundreds of well-dressed professionals looking for a unique Friday-night experience.

That means hundreds of opportunities to meet people who could turn into clients, partners or even future employers – without the pressure of being an actual business-focused event.

“A great way of cultivating solid business contacts is through social events where you casually get to know people in complementary businesses,” says Danielle Scherman, founder and president of Social Wahines, which hosts well-attended networking events for women every month. “You are better able to learn about each other’s needs and become long-lasting contacts that help one another.”

Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St., 532-8700,
www.artafterdark.org.

 

Pearl Ultralounge

You haven’t been to a networking event in Honolulu until you’ve been to one at Pearl.

It has hosted everything from business mixers to launch parties to industry get-togethers – all lured by the venue’s convenient location at Ala Moana Center, plentiful parking, spacious environment, happy-hour menu and a database you can use to help get the word out about your event.

That usually translates into an event that’s well-promoted and well-attended by business professionals from around Oahu. Since this space is really a popular nightclub – with a menu that boasts mini Kobe burgers, crab-stuffed mushroom caps and Kumamoto oysters topped with a Bloody Mary granita, all with wine pairings – this venue isn’t all business, either.

“Most times, I go to these networking events to meet people outside of my social circle and get to know my peers. But it’s also about having fun,” says Brandon Suyeoka, 33, a senior account executive and social-media director for Hendrix Miyasaki Shin Advertising. “I’d say half the time I’m more concerned about having fun versus making business connections.”

Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace, 944-8000,
www.pearlhawaii.com.

 

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