Revisit France’s Belle Époque at L’Aperitif, a New Bar Concept in Halekulani’s La Mer

The cocktails are designed by Colin Field, the head bartender of the Hemingway Bar the Ritz Hotel Paris.
Above left: L’Aperitif menu (too many people were taking the menu, so now the bar is charging $5 to take it home); right: Joanne, our bartender


The first thing you notice at L’Aperitif are the menus. They are tabloid newspaper size—the cocktails listed on thick, yellowed paper, as if the menus have been around since the turn of the century. They remind me of menus at new bars in San Francisco (Local Edition and Tradition), new bars that give tribute to the old.


L’Aperitif, Halekulani’s new bar (or rather, a re-envisioning of La Mer’s existing bar), also draws on the past—France’s Belle Époque. The Halekulani wants it to become a destination in itself instead of just a restaurant holding area.


It brought on Colin Field, the head bartender of the Hemingway Bar the Ritz Hotel Paris, as a consultant; the drink recipes are his. Cocktail descriptions are whimsically baroque—take the Hemingway Old Fashioned:


“Imagine making a true thick sauce of sugar and bitters of Trinidad, mixed with the juice of half a lemon and orange, then adding plenty of beautiful ice and marry Maker’s Mark bourbon. Stir for 12 seconds and you say … ‘oh my God!’”


Above: the Spherit in action


Everything’s a bit theatrical, from the careful mixing of the drinks to the oversized rose perched on my Esprit Chanel to the ice itself. Order the cognac over ice, and the bartender will bring out the $1,000 spherical ice making contraption, which shapes a cylinder of ice into a perfect sphere right before your eyes. It’s a marvel. Our bartender says it is the only one on the Island. (What are the advantages of spherical ice? It melts more slowly, for less dilution.)


Above, from left: Esprit Chanel, foie gras with rose petal marmalade, Hemingway Old Fashioned with an olive and blue cheese croquette.


The drinks themselves are beautiful in appearance and taste. The Esprit Chanel combines Lillet, a French aperitif wine and Citadelle gin for a surprisingly light cocktail with just a touch of sweet. Here’s what might help make the $20-a-cocktail price tag more palatable: each drink comes with a one-bite pairing. For the Esprit Chanel, a foie gras with rose petal marmalade on a brioche chip, for the Hemingway Old Fashioned, an olive and blue cheese croquette.


My spirit-heavy favoring date finds the Hemingway Old Fashioned doesn’t burn as strongly as he’d like, but I'm not as much a tough guy as he is, so I find it well-balanced. I love the Serendipity cocktail, with Calvados, mint and apple juice—topped with Champagne, it’s fizzy and refreshing.


L’Aperitif, inside La Mer in the Halekulani, (808) 923-2311.