Raising The Bar
When the bartender at the Los Angeles catering company where Dave Newman worked as a server in his teens called out sick one day, they asked if anyone knew how to tend bar.
It looked like fun, Newman remembers thinking. Plus, he was still underage, just 19, so there was this illicit feeling that it was something he wasn’t supposed to be doing. So he raised his hand, and they stuck him behind the bar.
It didn’t take them long to figure out that he was lying. Although it’s a miracle they did, considering so many youths know where to buy a fake ID these days. The majority of their clientele may have been underage and they didn’t have a clue!
“The first drink somebody ordered was a Cuba Libre,” Newman recalls, “and I was like, ‘what is that?'”
But he was immediately hooked.
“The first moment when I stepped behind the bar, I just enjoyed the aspect of service and being the person who has everything that everybody really wants,” Newman says.
Now, two decades after fumbling his way through that impromptu bartending gig, Newman, it seems, has become a sort of beacon of what people really want to drink: He’s one of the state’s most widely recognized mixologists and has a slew of accolades to his name. After building up the cocktail program at Nobu Waikiki, he opened his own joint, popular gastropub Pint + Jigger, alongside partners Daryn Ogino and Hideo and Grace Simon in 2012.
Now, the business partners are about to launch their next venture: a speakeasy right next door to Pint + Jigger called Harry’s Hardware Emporium. What Newman describes as an intimate cocktail lounge, Harry’s Hardware Emporium is a Prohibition-themed venue offering classic cocktails and a smattering of Newman’s own concoctions. It’s set to open by early-to-mid-March.
“I feel like when we first opened Pint + Jigger, there were a lot of people who weren’t ready for a full-blown craft cocktail bar,” Newman says. “And now people are really into it, so we just want to step up that game one notch higher.”
Even well before Newman was lying his way into bartending, he remembers being intrigued by the idea of liquor – probably, he says, because it’s always been a big part of the Newman family. For generations on his dad’s side, his relatives have always owned bars or liquor stores. (Harry’s, in fact, is named after the furthest relative he can trace back who owned a liquor store.)
After his initial brush with bartending, Newman worked as a server at an Italian restaurant – and begged to get behind the bar.
“I hounded the bar manager every day – I was like, can you just teach me some drinks?” Newman recalls. “And he was like, I don’t even like you, go away. And this went on for a few months, and finally he said, god, if you stop asking me, I will teach you one drink a day.”
The bartender taught him a painstaking method that Newman still applies to his creative process today: Make a drink, taste it, tweak as needed, taste again, repeat until you have the absolute perfect recipe. Some of Newman’s drinks, even something as standard as a margarita, have gone through hundreds of iterations.
“It gave me an incredible sense of ways to balance flavors and the confidence to serve drinks that I think are the best. It also kind of made me an alcoholic,” Newman says with a laugh.
At first, he never really saw bartending as a career at all – it was primarily a way to fund his wanderlust.
After college, he wanted to move to Spain, so he got a job at a bar there. Next up, snowboarding in Colorado sounded fun, so he worked at a dive bar there when he wasn’t on the slopes. Other times, he’d end up back in LA, work at a bar for while to save up money, then take off traveling – a months-long trek through Eastern Europe, a stint living in Honduras.
Eventually, he returned to LA, where he ran a series of nightclubs in Hollywood before joining Nobu Malibu. Three years later, when Nobu was looking for someone to run the bar at its Hawaii location, Newman jumped at the chance. (As a young teenager, Newman had come out here briefly as a sponsored body boarder. “I just fell in love with Hawaii, and I was always like, how can I get back there?”)
Somewhere along the way, Newman realized his passion for bartending.
“I love the fact that we get to meet so many people,” he says. “Over the course of an evening, I could meet 100 different people – it’s pretty amazing.
“I get to meet all walks of life – tons of people celebrating, some people who are drinking their sorrows away
– and that range makes it so different every single day. It’s something I look forward to even now, 20 years later, I still look forward to it – who is going to walk into our bar? What is my shift going to be like?”
Newman loved his job at Nobu. But when he began his search to buy a home, he met mortgage broker Daryn Ogino, and other things began to take shape.
Before becoming a mortgage broker, Ogino had paid his way through college by working in restaurants. He and Grace Simon – who also had extensive experience in the restaurant industry – had been friends since high school, and the two had always tossed around the idea of opening their own place with Grace’s husband Hideo, a real estate broker.
When Grace and Hideo moved home following a stint in California, the trio got more serious about their plans.
It was during that same time that Ogino was working with Newman, so he asked if Newman might be willing to do some consulting with them. But as they spent more time together, they all got along so well that one day, they had a pitch for him: Why doesn’t he join them as a partner?
“We needed someone who had a following, knew what he was doing and was passionate about it, and Dave was our guy,” says Ogino, who also owns the newly opened Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room.
“Dave had already built up a huge following as a craft cocktail bartender,” adds Hideo, who also owns Square Barrels. “He was already award-winning, and he had a great following and he also had a great network.”
For Newman, it was a bit of a risk.
“Daryn convinced me to buy a house I can’t afford, but I was like, I have a good job at Nobu, I’m fine. And then he convinces me that we should open a bar together,” Newman says with a laugh. “It was terrifying. I put myself in a really stupid situation – it was like look, let me buy a house I can’t afford and then let me quit my actual source of income.
“But I jumped in here, and it has been just amazing.”
Pint + Jigger opened to instant success – “we opened the doors and we just got murdered,” Newman recalls – an enthusiasm that does not seem to have neutralized as it approaches its fifth birthday in May.
“We have an incredible amount of regulars, it’s unbelievable,” Newman says. “We have people who come in here two, three, four times a week.”
In their time running Pint + Jigger, the co-owners have taken note of the way that people’s drinking habits have changed. Over the years, they have seen people become more interested in classic cocktails, and drinks with natural ingredients.
“A lot of the bar trends follow on the foot of what is going on in the restaurant world, and farm-to-table is getting much more popular,” Newman muses. “If you are going to be that concerned about what you are eating, then you don’t want to go and have a margarita or a daiquiri with a sour mix that has high fructose corn syrup and Yellow No. 5.”
Taking cue, the group conceptualized Harry’s Hardware Emporium, which will feature a rotating selection of barrel-aged cocktails, along with classic cocktails and signature creations. Also look out for shareable punch bowls, as well as an absinthe station. It also will focus on seasonal ingredients, with as many as possible made in-house, including with fresh-pressed juices.
In true speakeasy fashion, the entrance to Harry’s will be obscured inside of Pint + Jigger; from the street, it just looks like an old hardware shop.
“It will be a really swanky, cool, calm environment,” Hideo says. “It’s the sort of thing where it’s like you’re leaving for a minute into the past.”
“We want people to feel like they are in a different place, maybe in a different time – to be somewhere where it takes them out of their element,” Ogino says. “I think that is what our real goal is – to provide that feeling where you can kind of escape life for a little bit.”
As Newman sees it, this is the next step in building up the craft cocktail culture in Hawaii.
“I don’t think people realize how lucky we are – the amount of bartender talent in Hawaii is ridiculous,” Newman says. “And there are so many places that are opening. Every bar that is opening now has a craft cocktail program. It’s incredible. We aren’t the red-headed stepchild of the cocktail world anymore.
“And it’s just going to get better.”
For more information and updates, visit pintandjigger.com.