When Hollywood club owner Matt Bendik was 14 years old, he had the same drive as nearly every post-pubescent boy entering their freshman year in high school. "I wanted to be a cool kid," he admits, seated poolside at THE MODERN HONOLULU, designer sunglasses and tunic the first clue that, indeed, he succeeded in reaching his early teen goal. It's here that Bendik has single-handedly elevated the nightlife scene in the Pacific – through his role as "Director of Nightlife" at the hotel's ADDICTION nightclub.
What follows next is an ascent the stuff of nightlife lore; except this tale is not only true, it's damn inspiring.
Bendik strutted up to a group of high school seniors who organized weekly parties in a shuttered church in Hollywood. The year was 1997.
"I said to them, 'You guys are the coolest. How can I help? I want to learn.' One older boy, who arranged the rental of the church for their late-night DJ all-ages party, said 'Come back here after the party and we'll start you out.' I showed up at 2 a.m. and they handed me a stack of garbage bags."
After spending a few months cleaning up after unruly teens, said seniors departed high school for college and to "make good" on their dreams. But not before proposing an offer to Bendik: Buy the business. For a few hundred dollars, he acquired the party list, the contract to the church rental, some DJ equipment and speakers. He was, in his own words, a "made man." Cut to the first weekend in his sophomore year in high school; Bendick walks into his parents' house shortly after midnight and unloads the contents of his cargo pants onto the kitchen table.
"My parents look at the stack of bills – there was over $10,000 dollars. Naturally, they immediately thought I was into something illegal," Bendick smirks. "It took a few weeks to convince them there were zero drugs. No alcohol. Just kids coming to listen to music, dance and cut loose for a few hours.
When the reality set in, they because extremely supportive. My dad helped insure my security team was top tier. My mom, an artist, wanted to know more about the music. At 15 I was off and running with a lucrative career."
As if this early jumpstart wasn't enough for aspiring screenwriters looking for their next film idea, Bendik was approached that very same year by management at the famed Whiskey a Go-Go on The Sunset Strip to take over promoting their Monday night all-ages show. At 15 years old, Bendik was now organizing and promoting two nights a week in Los Angeles; there wasn't a teenager in town that didn't know his name.
After high school, he assumed he would parlay the work into a full time gig. In what may be one of the best documented cases of phenomenal parenting in the City of Angels, Bendik's parents proposed other plans.
"My mom floated this brochure in front of me for the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in update New York. She said, 'Wow, look at some of these classes they offer!' Which included facilities management, accounting and other tasks that were essential to success in the nightlife business. My interest was piqued."
Bendik spent four years learning the ropes of event management, and during the course of his degree, ended up working at some of the hottest clubs in New York City and Las Vegas. It was following graduation that he was pulled into the scorching heat of Vegas' – just as Sin City was exploding at the top of U.S. nightlife and dining destination. It was now the mid-2000s.
There, he learned the ins and outs of club development on a massive scale from famed entrepreneur Andrew Sasson. Bendik literally spent a few weeks performing every single task at a club, learning every nuance and its importance for a successful business.
"I bar backed. I swept basements in hazmat suits in the blazing desert heat. I worked the door. I cut fruit. You name it."
It was from a Hawaiian named Keoni where he learned how to bartend. "I learned how many inches from the top of the bar it needs to be to the ice bins. I learned the dimensions of how long it should take to walk from the dancefloor to any bar. There is a lot more math involved than people might assume."
Bendik is now a managing partner of AV and Voyeur/DBA nightclubs in Los Angeles. Yes his role as Director of Nightlife for ADDICTION at THE MODERN HONOLULU, is perhaps where he's channeled nearly everything he's learned and executed with great success. And the locals (of Hawaii) have responded in kind: Bringing the bigger market nightclub experience to Honolulu has been a welcome change for this small island nightlife scene.
"Everyone wants to be here, in Hawaii," Bendik says. "But there's simply no place to experience that New York or Vegas style nightclub. We've created that at ADDICTION."
From the door experience – Bendik insures that his clients are dressed appropriately (a taller order than one might think in the land of eternal "slippahs"/sandals and tank tops) to seating, bottle service, VIP, dancing, top DJ talent and community promotions.
Bendik employs top scenesters (occasionally flying in talent from elsewhere if a gap cannot be filled locally) to make sure THE MODERN HONOLULU's club is the best club experience in the islands.
"I've got a network of trustworthy associates at like-minded restaurants, surf instructors, sailing guides, yoga instructors, you name it, who all feed clients to ADDICTION," Bendik adds, noting that by cultivating tight relationships throughout the islands, he can insure the right clients are attracted to ADDICTION. That is, the kind of people he would surround himself with.
Indeed the buzz around local circles in Honolulu is that you can't experience a true nightclub anywhere but ADDICTION. It's intimate and surprisingly private for a miniscule space – but that just adds to the allure, says Bendik, who recently visited THE MODERN HONOLULU with girlfriend Becca Tobin, case member of the hit TV show "Glee".
"What we can squeeze into that little square room is like a puzzle," he says. "It's all about the right formula to make people feel at ease, kick back and enjoy themselves."
It certainly seems to be working.
ADDICTION is open 10:30 p.m. - 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
Visit www.themodernhonolulu.com/addiction to learn more.