First Look: Bar Leather Apron
The hype about this downtown high-end whiskey bar is real—and warranted.
The French 75, a cocktail made from gin, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar, from the new Bar Leather Apron in Downtown Honolulu.
Photos: Kawehi Haug
The buzz was loud from the earliest rumors that Manifest’s bartending genius Justin Park was going to open a new place. And it only grew louder when we learned that the bar would be home to the state’s largest collection of whiskeys.
Naturally, we couldn’t wait to sip a 15-year Dalwhinnie in Park’s cool new digs. And Bar Leather Apron really is cool. From the handcrafted (by Park, no less) leather bar aprons that are the staff’s signature uniform, to the custom wood furniture and leather-all-over seating, to the uber chill jazz soundtrack, Bar LA is a small pocket of serious style—in decidedly unstylish surroundings. It lives on the awkward mezzanine level of the first floor of the Topa Financial Center, at the makai end of Bishop Street.
Comparisons to speakeasy-style gentlemen’s dens are definitely on point, especially when sitting at the seven-seat bar where Park mixes up an exclusive list of cocktails for bar patrons. Grab a seat (and you’re lucky if you do) in the tiny lounge that overlooks the ordinary goings-on of an urban high-rise, and it feels a little like sitting in a super fancy airport lounge where the poor coach plebes mill about in plain view while you hang with a room full of the rich and lucky. Except here, you don’t need to be rich to drink well. The drinks start at $7 and go all the way up to whiskey that’s $150 by the shot. Cocktails run $12 to $18, which is very reasonable considering how well crafted they are. You can be in and out of there having had a couple of great drinks in a place dripping with ambience for $35.
We’re told our best bet for a return visit is to make reservations. We don’t mind rolling in at 11 on a school night when the chance of finding a seat are pretty good, but some of us might be too old to make a habit of late-night midweek sipping sessions.
This whiskey-spiked New York Sour was our favorite.
Bar LA’s version of the popular Moscow Mule, which is traditionally served in a copper mug.
Bar LA’s extra lengthy whiskey list is nicely punctuated by a short and strong list of classic cocktails (Old Fashioned, Dark and Stormy, Moscow mule and, our fave, the NY Sour) and a very good list of highball drinks. The names are your flavor guides — Shiso, Yuzu, Maple, Lemongrass — and all of them are remarkably balanced and delicious, so a good place to start is at the top and then finish at the end.
This isn’t the kind of bar you visit for the food, but your leather-clad server does bring small plates of bar snacks every so often. This is a place that specializes in nice little details: hot towels when you’re first seated to wipe away the dreck of the day, a glass of water that’s cool but not cold so you don’t shock your palate into not being able to taste the cocktails the way they are meant to be tasted, custom coasters in sizes that match their glasses, hand-shaped ice. At Bar LA, it’s these little things that make the place so great.
THIS JUST IN!
Photo: Courtesy of Bar Leather Apron
Justin Park, head bartender and co-owner of Bar Leather Apron, will compete in the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s “Shake It Up!” competition at the Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show in Las Vegas in March.
This prestigious contest pits 10 top U.S. bartenders against each other for the championship title, as well as determining which mixologist will represent the U.S. in two International Bartenders Association Global Competitions: the Pan American Cocktail Competition and the World Cocktail Championship in the fall.
Park earned first-place marks in the Best Technical and Overall categories in the “Shake It Up!” competition in 2014. He went on to compete in both IBA contests, winning Best Garnish/Decoration in the Pan American Cocktail Competition and fourth place in the Fancy Cocktail division in the World Cocktail Championship.
Learn more at usbg.org