Movers and Shakers: Hawaii's Up and Coming Bartenders

Meet Honolulu's new crop of bartenders who approach drinks like chefs craft dishes.


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(page 2 of 4)


Justin Park.

Illustration: Dana Paresa

Justin Park
MANIFEST

It might be stating the obvious, but bartenders seem to have a thing for tattoos. Justin Park, co-owner of Chinatown bar Manifest, is in his bartender uniform: tie and dress shirt with enough room at the ends of his rolled-up sleeves to reveal a substantial amount of ink. He looks right at home in Manifest’s hip blend of modern classy and punk, with its red brick, elegant reading lamps and alt/subculture art.

Everything, from Park’s suited-up formality to the vintage coupe glasses for certain drinks to the size and shape of the drink garnishes, is part of the carefully orchestrated Manifest experience, as envisioned by Park.

Park’s start was modest: a server at Buca di Beppo, eventually working his way up to bartender. He later joined forces with a few coworkers, starting up a short-lived sports bar. “I went from just being a clock-in employee to being in charge of everything,” he says. “You really feel the responsibilities ... and you learn quick.”

But it was from watching other bartenders, such as Thirtyninehotel’s Christian Self, compete in competitions that Park began to really learn about cocktails—and how bartending could be about more than just running a business. His friend and bandmate Brandon Reid offered him a partnership role in a brand new bar-of-their-own venture in 2009.

“There was really nothing holding me back. Nothing,” says Park, who adopted the duties of bar manager for the newly founded Manifest. “I said, ‘Let me take this over. I know I can do it.’”

He started traveling to cocktail meccas such as New York and San Francisco, tasting exotic whiskeys, gins and liqueurs not available in Hawaii. He visited some of the best bars in the country and allowed himself to be inspired; he added the Blue Collar cocktail from New York bar Milk and Honey to Manifest’s menu. From there, he began playing with concoctions himself, pushing Manifest to explore how quality cocktails and drinks could add to the bar-going experience and make it more than just music and a dance floor. He started expanding the offerings at Manifest, growing its whiskey collection from under 10 to more than a hundred. It was—and still is—a learning experience.

Park’s team at Manifest draws inspiration from trends, experiments, travels, regional flavors and, of course, the classics. The menu’s Hotel Street Sour, for instance, which won Park first place at the Bombay Sapphire/GQ Most Inspired Bartender Competition last year, is a twist on the 1920s Pisco sour, with lemongrass, kaffir lime, coconut and ginger providing a whiff of Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Park’s like a pusher for gateway cocktails, reading those who might be willing to branch out from their go-to gin and tonics or vodka-Red Bulls. “You can tell when they order something just because it’s what they always order,” he says.

“And every once in awhile, I’ll say, ‘Do you order that because you don’t know what else to get?’”

“Take Kaleo,” he says, gesturing at a patron across the bar. “He’s a regular here. Every drink Kaleo used to order was grape vodka and Sprite. Now Kaleo comes in and orders Hibiki, which is a blended Japanese whiskey, on ice. I’m not saying what he does now is ‘cooler,’ he just has a better idea of what he’s putting in his mouth, and maybe a more refined palate—not just for sweet fructose and stuff like that. People like Kaleo, who are interested, is what drives us to learn more, so we can offer more.”
 

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