Bar Maze and Podmore opened this summer as buzzy cocktail concepts that promise to raise the culinary bar in town even higher.
The teams behind each are Bar Leather Apron and Senia — restaurants that burst onto the Honolulu scene to great acclaim, attracting eager crowds and headlines from well-respected outlets from around the world.
With its top-notch menu and hideaway location in the lobby of the TOPA Financial Center downtown, Bar Leather Apron quickly became a cult favorite among the cocktail curious, earning national accolades from Esquire, the James Beard Foundation and Playboy. But conquering that corner of the market wasn’t enough for owners Justin Park and Tom Park, who want to branch out with a new, ambitious concept that placed equal weight on food and cocktails. Enter, Bar Maze.
Located on the ground floor of The Collection in Kaka‘ako, Bar Maze is a departure from the traditional drinks-forward bar format — the team wanted equal billing between drinks and food. Chef Ki Chung from the well-regarded Aubergine restaurant in Carmel, California, came aboard to help build the menu, which will feature a limited seating four-course omakase paired with cocktails. (If you’re just looking for a quick drink and a bite, an a la carte menu will be served in the mezzanine.)
For the drink menu, the team had a big challenge: how to improve on Bar Leather Apron’s award-winning repertoire. For the Maze Old Fashioned, for example, Tom says they wanted to break away from Bar Leather Apron’s extremely popular version of the classic cocktail. “We needed to give Maze’s version its own identity,” he says. “Infusing vanilla in Angostura bitters adds another level of subtle sweetness, and we’re garnishing with an orange slice and a housemade brandied cherry as a tribute to Bar K, one of our favorite bars in the world.”
If you were a fan of the top-notch high- balls at Bar Leather Apron, you’ll find plenty to like here, too. The Stonefruit, a highball variation using Dalwhinnie 15-year (the best whiskey for a highball, according to Justin) as the base and stone fruits, such as apricot and nectarine, as the flavor essence earns high marks from Tom as being “dangerously delicious and easy to drink.”
If Bar Maze represents a strong cocktail team moving more toward the culinary world, Bar Podmore is some what of the opposite: an award-winning chef moving into the bar sphere. Chef Anthony Rush and wife and business partner Katherine Nomura were part of the owner-team that opened the James Beard-nominated Senia in Chinatown, which garnered rave reviews in The New York Times and Eater.
Bar Podmore, their newest venture, opened late summer (named for its home in the Podmore building downtown) and represents a departure from the structures of fine dining — guests will be able to drop in for a quick drink or linger through the night to taste through the menu — but with no less of an emphasis on the composition and thoughtfulness when it comes to their offerings.
Menu-wise, the restaurant touts itself as being “brunch by day and cocktails by night.” Rush’s British roots shine through when it comes to the dishes that will be served canapé-style alongside the drinks, with elevated versions of English favorites on display. Try the Scotch quail egg done up with duck or the Foie Gras Parfait served with a Mini Yorkshire Pudding for example.
At press time, the cocktail menu was still in development, but expect a wide array of styles from lead bartender Brett Adams, who recently moved here from Portland. With around 18 choices on the list, featuring syrups made from local fruits and modern cooking techniques alongside a slate of classic cocktails, including a gin and tonic served tableside. Rush tapped local artisan Nick Hunsinger to collaborate on some of the service pieces, so you can expect that thought has gone beyond ingredients to the presentation as well.
Design-wise, the vibe is decidedly elevated with lush green banquettes, deep purple bar chairs and a mirrored backwall, all put together with help from Kana Lathrop of WRNS Studio — and it fits well with the historic location, one of 10 surviving lava-cut stone buildings left in Hawai‘i. It’s as far from the frozen Mai Tais in plastic cups served at the beach bars as one could get — but that’s by design.