Bar Leather Apron opens downtown
It only took a few days for guests to steamroll this week’s soft opening of Bar Leather Apron at Topa Financial Center.
Owners Justin Park and Tom Park (no relation) put out a private invite on New Year’s Day via social media, inviting friends and family to make reservations at the new space that used to be Mezz 127. By Monday, the first day of the soft opening phase, Tom Park had to put out another message letting people know reservations were nearly full.
The overwhelming response only underscores how eagerly anticipated the new bar is among mixology fans.
“It’s the home stretch to the starting line,” said Justin Park. “Different people are going to see us for different things.”
Park, 34, was previously the bar manager at Manifest in Chinatown and has more than a decade of experience in the bar industry. He raised his profile tremendously after winning the title of World’s Best Mai Tai in 2012, and is widely considered the best bartender in the United States for 2014 after winning the United States Bartenders Guild’s Shake It Up competition and finishing fourth overall in the World Cocktail Championship.
Tom Park essentially grew up at Topa, where his mother still runs a flower shop in the building after more than 25 years. He also owns luxury shoe retailer Leather Soul, which had a storefront in the same building before moving nearby to Merchant Street. After signing their lease over the summer, the two have enlisted the help of friends to get a lot of the remodeling work done themselves to turn the space into what they want for their intimate, service-oriented business model.
“We’ve both been very hands-on with the build out,” said Tom Park. “With my shoe store, I conceptualized with the architect, and then it was executed by the architect and the contractors. With this, we were involved in the process the whole way.”
Walk into the 1,054 square-foot space and you’ll find a beautiful 16-foot, J-shaped bartop fashioned from a slab of monkeypod by local woodworker Dae Son. It’s a worthy stage for Justin Park to showcase his skills, yet cozy enough for customers to get the one-on-one interaction expected from such a refined establishment. Customized glassware from Japan lines the shelves, with bottles of whiskey and other spirits on the bar that you’d have an extremely difficult time sourcing on your own.
Bar Leather Apron is also leading the way when it comes to ice in a local bar, with Justin Park promising that all his cocktails will be served with hand-carved ice. A preview visit to the bar last week turned up oversized blocks and spheres created to fill different shaped glasses, plus an expensive commercial freezer installed smack dab in the middle of the bar itself.
Justin Park explained the placement was out of necessity, so bartenders will always have ice within reach, but also as a marketing tool for customers used to watching bartenders pull “fancy” ice out of portable coolers that look like something you’d take to a picnic at the beach.
“I want there to be new flavors people have never tried and pairings they’ve never tried, and make the classics really good, but I want the emphasis to be on the whole place and not just the drink program,” he said. “You could go to a really good bar and have a (terrible) drink. You probably wouldn’t go back there. Or you might go to a (terrible) bar, but this guy knew what ... he was doing and made great drinks. I want it to be like, ‘Man, we went to this really good bar, and we had a really good drink, and we’re going to go back to this really good bar.’
“My cocktail program is a bar program. My bar program is everything that goes on in the room.”
While the drink menu continues to undergo fine-tuning during the soft opening phase, Justin Park said he expects to offer “six to eight signature drinks and about 15 to 20 classic cocktails” once Bar Leather Apron opens to the general public on Monday. A variety of classic highball cocktails will also be served along with beer, wine and “some other fun stuff.”
To help introduce the new bar’s drink menu, he shared two cocktails that are confirmed to be on the menu. Pick up a copy of today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser to check out the Bar Leather Apron Old Fashioned, a twist on the classic cocktail made with Knob Creek whiskey from a barrel hand-selected for Bar Leather Apron.
While the Old Fashioned is considered a more masculine drink — that hasn’t stopped more women from ordering them in recent years as the popularity of whiskey has grown, Justin Park added — the Clover Club falls on the other end of the spectrum. With gin as its base alcohol and a special raspberry syrup made using a sous vide machine, the drink is both delicate in appearance and full of flavor. See the recipe below.
Bar Leather Apron is located at the Topa Financial Center, 745 Fort Street, Suite 127-A, and will be open from 3 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays starting next week. Call (808) 524-0808 or visit www.barleatherapron.com.
By Justin Park, Bar Leather Apron
» 2 ounces gin
» 1/4-ounce Lillet Blanc
»1/2-ounce sous vide raspberry syrup
» 1/2-ounce lemon juice
» 1 egg white
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Shake and strain into another mixing glass. Shake with no ice added and strain again into chilled cocktail glass.
Note: Park creates his sous vide raspberry syrup using sugar, water and raspberries in a sous vide machine. Substitute with raspberry-infused simple syrup.