A New Kind of Bar
Bar Leather Apron, which opens in late December, is all about the experience.
Tom Park of Leather Soul, left, and champion bartender Justin Park—no relation—have teamed up to create Bar Leather Apron, an intimate lounge/bar in the Topa Financial Center at the end of December.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
Three years ago, Justin Park was looking for a pair of leather boots for his wedding. He wandered into high-end men’s shoe boutique Leather Soul in Waikīkī—honestly, the champion bartender was initially drawn in by the rare bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon on the shelf—and walked out with a $500 pair of Alden boots.
When Leather Soul owner Tom Park realized who Justin was—co-owner of The Manifest in Chinatown and an award-winning mixologist—he realized they had a lot in common. They both appreciated good whiskey and, apparently, expensive shoes.
And that was just the beginning.
The two started working together on VIP events at Leather Soul, with Justin slinging his creative cocktails for some of Tom’s best customers.
Then, at one event, the two started talking.
“Hey, we should do more events.”
“Yeah, we should.”
“Hey, we should open a bar.”
“Yeah, we should.”
A year later, the friends negotiated a lease on a 1,054-square-foot mezzanine space in the Topa Financial Center in downtown Honolulu. (The entire space had previously been occupied by the Mezz 127 bar and lounge.)
Bar Leather Apron, which is slated to open around the end of December, is the result of a few trips to bars in Japan—mainly Osaka—and the handiwork of Justin, who has hand-stitched aprons made from calf leather. (“I’m pretty crafty, so I thought I’d try to make them myself,” he says, proudly showing me his Instagram feed featuring his skills. “These would retail for $500!”)
The trips to Japan really influenced the kind of bar they wanted to open. The duo appreciated the speakeasy aesthetic in many of these hidden bars, where suit-wearing mixologists behind wooden bars have mastered the art of crafting classic cocktails, often with signature twists.
“You know how people say the Japanese take stuff, dissect it and make it better? We want to do that,” Justin says.
Adds Tom: “They just do things at the next level.”
That’s the intent behind Bar Leather Apron, he says: to offer innovative cocktails and high-quality spirits in an intimate and classy lounge atmosphere with impeccable service. It’s about the whole experience, not just the drink in front of you.
“When I go to a bar, I’m not looking to see if the drink is good,” Justin says. “I don’t put as much emphasis on that. What really matters is the experience. It’s how the bartender makes a drink. Did he explain it? How did he make you feel?”
The name needs some explanation.
“Leather Apron” is one of those phrases, Justin says, that nods to old-fashioned European and East Coast bars. Putting “Bar” in front of it pays homage to the inspiration they’re drawing from Japanese bars, which put the word “Bar” in front of the business name. (For example, “Bar High Five” or “Bar K.”)
Despite the slightly odd name, Park and Park are adamant that Bar Leather Apron will not be a Japanese bar.
Instead, the décor will evoke old-style New York City speakeasies, with leather furniture, dark woods and gold fixtures, and jazz wafting overhead. The bar will hold around 40 people, with two dozen seats and a small private room for up to six.
Cocktails will range in price from $12 to $15, each one paired with a small bite. (Similar drinks in Japan are upward of $20 each.) While $10 is the usual going rate for a hand-crafted cocktail in Honolulu, Justin says patrons will get a lot more for the extra bucks at his bar.
“What you get for $10 will be half of what we do here,” he says. “We’re offering nicer glassware, hand-carved ice, better seating.”
Though the drink menu will be heavily cocktail-driven, it'll boast an extensive whiskey offering, some wines and sakes and a fun beer list.
Both Tom and Justin hope the bar’s location, right at the edge of Downtown Honolulu, will lure the pau hana crowd looking for discounted drinks and nosh. But although they’re thinking about creating a happy hour menu, that won’t be their focus.
“People expect better quality and a better experience,” Tom says. “This (bar) is just in line with that trend.”
Bar Leather Apron, Topa Financial Center, 745 Fort St., #127A, 3 p.m. to closing Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to closing Saturday, barleatherapron.com. Hours subject to change.