Bar report: Lewers Lounge
Left: Grand National 1909, right: Catechu Sonata
Tucked away in the Halekulani Hotel, 923-2311
What is always consistent at Lewers Lounge: the jazz, ambiance and romance. What is not: the cocktails.
A not-so-hidden oasis for jazz fans, cocktail enthusiasts, and the island visitor in search of that perfectly old-school spot that channels Hawaiian hospitality and modern living. I've come here for years (before getting into cocktails), enjoying the music and ambience. Nowadays, pianist/singer Maggie Heron entertains most nights, often accompanied by reed man Rocky Holmes. Whereas other bars in town have barely a whisper of music, Lewers is the rare spot that marries live music and cocktail.
Colin Peter Field of The Ritz Carlton in Paris recently re-designed the drink lists both at Lewers Lounge, and upstairs at L'Apertif in La Mer. Field's influence at Lewers puts heavy emphasis on classics: eight Prohibition-era cocktails such as the Sazerac, James Bond (essentially a Vesper), the Negroni, and a Whiskey Smash, are featured. In contrast to Field's L'Apertif menu, which focuses on spirits meant to excite the appetite, the first page of the Lewers Lounge list features Digestifs—herbal or spiced drinks made to help digest a meal (or at least spark after-dinner conversation). While the digestifs Field uses are not the most unique or complex, the drinks themselves should be accessible to most.
When made right, the Grand National 1909—cognac, Angostura bitters, ginger ale—can be much tastier than it sounds on paper. (Over a few occasions, its taste and appearance varied widely.) Often, though, it tasted too flat—a freshly made ginger beer would do this drink wonders, as fresh ginger would have the right spice to balance the Angostura.
The Catechu Sonata
Field describes this drink as "an after dinner cocktail that boasts enormous flavor and is powerful on the palate, while at the same time caressing the tongue." Although perhaps a bit romantic in comparison to what I experienced, the Catechu was at least balanced and relatively drier than what I was expecting. As a musician, I personally take issue with it being called a 'sonata,' but what the hell, a drink with roasted coffee is music to my palate.
To be improved
As with many bars, consistency is an issue. Over several visits, I encountered bar and wait staff who were unfamiliar with the drinks and food. Of three Sazeracs we ordered, one came without bitters and two without absinthe. The Morning Oak, made with bourbon, apricot brandy, and English breakfast tea, tasted essentially of watered-down whiskey. (Low-grade apricot brandy and an unmeasured pour of tea is possibly the culprit.)
The one constant, however, was the quality of the music and lounge experience. As I departed, and Maggie played "There Will Never Be Another You," I thought, indeed, there will not.