April 2015 Bartender of the Month: Justin Park
Name: Justin Park
Establishment: Manifest, Honolulu
Born and raised in Hawaii, Justin Park has been bartending locally for more than a decade. He is currently bar manager at the Manifest, a café and bar in Chinatown, Honolulu voted as one of the "Top 10 Not to Be Missed Whiskey Bars in the USA" by the USA today. Park draws inspiration from the world around him, taking advantage of Honolulu's unique climate and abundance of fresh island-grown fruits and vegetables, which often feature prominently in his recipes.
Justin spends the time away from the bar crafting handmade leather goods for his company Park&Terrier.
Park’s list of accomplishments include winning the Bombay Sapphire Most Inspired Bartender Hawaii 2012, World's Best Mai Tai 2012 and Technical Champion at the 2013 Campari & USBG Apertivo Competition in Portland, Oregon. Park won both Best Technical and Overall First Place in the 2014 "Shake it Up" competition held at the Nightclub & Bar convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. This qualified Park with the honor to represent the USBG and his country in both the 2014 I.B.A Pan American Cocktail Competition in Guanajuato, Mexico and the 2014 I.B.A World Cocktail Competition (WCC) in Cape Town, South Africa. Park took home the award for best Garnish/Decoration at the Pan American and finished 4th in the category of fancy cocktail in the WCC.
Why did you become a bartender?
I started working in the service industry straight out of college just to have some sort of work while I searched for a "real" job. Dealing with people was not something I thought I would enjoy as much as I did. I started as a busboy and worked my way up the ranks to server and eventually became lead bartender. I always looked up to the people who held the prominent positions in my restaurant, and outside of management, the bartender was king of the hill. I now find enjoyment in mentoring some of the younger up-and-coming bartenders in my community. To me it was all about the journey to keep learning new things and sharing those things. I'm constantly reminded why I became a bartender with the awesome crew that I get to work with, and the interesting folks I meet over the bar.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with? Being situated in one of the most isolated places on earth we are pretty fortunate to have an abundance of fresh produce that grows year round. Most recently I've been working with fresh fruit shrubs, including Lilikoi (Passion Fruit). This stuff literally grows on vines here in Hawaii.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
To be honest there's not a whole bunch of crazy things that we do at my bar that's very different from a few of the other craft cocktail places in town. But what I do try to focus on is the overall experience from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave. Obviously our cocktails and recipes and execution of them are very important but it's the feel of the place and everything that comes with it that really separates us from the competition.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
High Proof Bourbon, most likely Knob Creek single barrel which we selected, a lot of bitters, a dash of sweet and a bunch of aloha. Mix all these together and the outcome is usually a smile!
What are you sipping on and why?
This might sound kind of weird but I'm not really a huge drinker, though I am a huge collector of whiskey. The occasional dram usually consists of something from the Japanese whisky world. My current obsession is Hibiki 21 year. That stuff is like liquid gold!
What are you dancing to while mixing?
I've got to say Nina Simone or the Beatles.
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
I'm a big fan of surprising people with something before they asked for it. I'm not huge on remembering names considering I meet so many people on a day-to-day basis but for some reason their cocktails seem to stick. And if I can have something ready for them, before they ask for it, it's usually a win-win!
What brews up a great conversation with a guest/patron?
I always enjoy recommending a local beer. And also like to share a few facts about the brewery, usually where it's located and maybe some of the other style beers that they produce. With beer like whiskey people tend to find it easier to get behind trying something new when you add a little bit of a story to it. Something they can think about while trying it and remember it by.