Wang Chung’s karaoke bar in Waikiki rocks the scene thanks to its owner, Danny Chang.
Text by Kelli Gratz
Images by Jonas Maon
The 1980s band Wang Chung took its name from the Chinese term for the first note of the Chinese musical scale, though the bassist said that “it means whatever you want it to mean.” When the band interjected the phrase into the lyrics of its 1987 hit “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” the lingo became Generation-X shorthand for a wild night out. For the Waikiki karaoke club Wang Chung’s, the name is a metaphor for the experience, and like a mis-sung lyric, it sounds pretty close to the proprietor’s name, Danny Chang.
Befitting a karaoke entrepreneur, Chang is goofy, funny, and affable. On a typical Friday night, he flits among his hunky bartenders, who are stirring and shaking things up behind the bar, and the young professionals, couples of all ages, and amateur singers vying for the mic. Patrons enjoy plates of sliders, chicken “wangs,” and “flied” rice (Chang often spells things on the menu as if they are being read with a Vietnamese accent). The house-specialty Ho-Chi-tini, wordplay on the name of the Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Hô Chí Minh, is made with vodka and pandan, a fragrant herb found in Southeast Asia. After a few happy hours of these, the place practically becomes the Honolulu version of The Voice.
Though Chang fits right in here in Hawai‘i, he is originally from San Francisco, California, where his parents found their version of the American dream after escaping from Vietnam as refugees. He graduated with a degree in engineering from University of California at Davis, and after, took a position as an industrial engineer for United Parcel Service. Working in and around airports, Chang was inspired to get a pilot’s license. So, when he moved to Honolulu in 2007 after his then-boyfriend was accepted into the William J. Richardson’s School of Law, he decided to go through the flight training. But he had always dreamt of owning his own karaoke bar, so when the lease for a nightclub in Waikiki became available, he halted his aviation ambitions just weeks after receiving his license to open Wang Chung’s.
Now seven years in business, this popular karaoke spot has grown from a tiny 300-square-foot venue to a spacious location inside Stay Hotel on Lewers Street. “The building we were in was going to be torn down, so we found a much larger space further down the street,” he says. His dedicated patrons followed. In just a handful of years, Chang has fostered a loving community from all walks of life. In fact, the reason he was able to open the “bigger wang” in the first place was thanks to a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised nearly $13,000 in 22 days.
As the night goes on and the room grows loud, it’s clear that Chang’s mission is to upend outdated norms, stay fresh with quality ingredients, and create an environment where anyone feels like a star. “The opportunity I have here is amazing. There’s so much you can do with business,” Chang says. “l used to say moving to Hawai‘i was the worst financial decision I’ve ever made. But now I’m glad I stayed because being away from my comfort zone really forced me to grow personally.”
Wang Chung’s is located inside Stay Hotel, at 2424 Koa Ave. in Waikiki. For more information, visit wangchungs.com.