Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
As I was preparing for retirement late last year with the eventual sudden reduction in disposable income, I decided on one last hurrah at one of the newer upscale bars in town called Podmore. Known for its artisanal cocktail libations and brunch options, Podmore is a great addition to the progression of cocktail bars on O‘ahu. Likely due to the higher prices charged for artisanal cocktails, Honolulu’s cocktail scene started off initially slow with Bar Leather Apron in the Topa Financial Building. Bar Leather Apron opened in 2015 by Justin Park and Tom Park (no relation), serving cocktails that started in the $14 to $15 range up to $20. Visiting Bar Leather Apron was strictly to savor these cocktails as they started with a very limited food menu. Therefore, three cocktails would set you back about the same as an appetizer, entree and dessert at the average restaurant in Honolulu. But after Bar Leather Apron remained in business with a seemingly regular clientele, we then saw two “Speakeasy” establishment start-ups also offer artisanal cocktails, but also upscale food selections: Gaslamp in Kailua and The Blind Ox in Kapahulu. So now, other than paying upwards of $22 for a libation, you’ll also be saddled with a food bill rivaling any restaurant in Waikīkī. Then just last year, Justin Park and Tom Park opened Bar Maze in the heart of Kaka‘ako, with a comprehensive cocktail and food program specializing in cocktail and food pairings like you usually see with wine and food pairings. And a little after Bar Maze opened, the husband-and-wife team of Chef Anthony Rush and Katherine Nomura opened Podmore about six blocks from their restaurant Senia in Chinatown.
Our visit to Podmore wasn’t just my final attempt to guild my financial lily before I actually retire, but also paid homage to my 30-plus year career as a pharmacist. You see, pharmacists originally created many herb, bark and root extracts (Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola) that started as medicinal cures but at some point morphed into liqueurs used in cocktails. In fact, the agent used both to prevent and treat malaria as the British Empire expanded into the tropics was a basic “prescription” of sugar, water, gin and quinine, which eventually turned into today’s gin and tonic. So ending my career in an establishment serving concoctions that may have originally been created by those who paved the way for my vocation is apropos. And I also enjoy cocktails.
We selected Podmore as we’ve been to Senia on several occasions and always enjoyed both the food and service. And during the pandemic when most restaurants were still only offering take-out, we placed a take-out order at Senia for their Portuguese themed meal. Chef Rush actually met me at the car to load the ornately arranged box in his chef whites. I also ordered a take-out cocktail (the Fall & Oates), which was packaged neatly with a large square cube of ice – the crystal-clear large cubes that high end bars use, which again impressed the both of us and thankfully barely melted on the drive back to Kāne‘ohe.
The Podmore building that houses the bar Podmore was built in 1902 by Joseph Podmore, an English sailor and previously housed the Honolulu Advertiser, the DHL Air Cargo Office, the Bon-Bon Café, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. It currently is decorated with emerald green velour seats meant to mimic a pub found in Chef Rush’s hometown in the United Kingdom.
The First Visit
Normally Ms. S prefers table seating and usually would prefer a full-sized entree versus several appetizer-sized portions. However, since Podmore is a bar that just happens to serve gourmet nibbles, she actually reserved bar seating so we could directly observe the cocktails being created. I’ll describe Podmore’s three specialty cocktails mainly so you don’t feel compelled to order them (unless you really want to) since they cost more than almost all cocktails on O‘ahu (they all cost $30). The first is the Freddie 2.0, which contains Four Roses bourbon, vanilla, chestnut honey and lemon. Though the libation sounds plain, the liquor is set in a carafe infused with smoke. After a minute or so, the cocktail is poured into its serving glass complete with a gelatin ball containing various fruits and herbs and as it slowly melts, infuses the cocktail with additional flavors that change until you’ve finished the cocktail. The second is the It’s Just a Gin & Tonic with Hendricks gin, Fever Tree tonic water, cucumber, lime and mint, which again sounds basic enough but the gin is actually contained in a sphere of ice that drops from an elaborate wooden contraption into the serving glass, cracking the ice sphere releasing the gin. You then pour your Fever Tree tonic water to the desired level and enjoy. The final specialty cocktail is the Chung Chow, which is Podmore’s version of a Pimm’s No. 1, an English gin-based cocktail spiced with fruits and herbs. Again, Podmore raises the cocktail by creating frozen ginger, cucumber, mint, strawberry, orange and lemon juices the size of grapes that pour your Pimm’s No. 1 base over. Our mixologist informed us that Podmore has a separate freezer just for these frozen fruit and herb infusions and they do take quite a while to create. So if you decide to splurge on a $30 cocktail, I would suggest the Chung Chow.
We also indulged in several gourmet bites including the Scotch Eggs, a classic English snack of a boiled egg wrapped in sausage then baked or fried. The Foie Gras Parfait with duck liver mousse topped with an elaborate fruit gelee with Yorkshire pudding (like mini English popovers) to spread the rich mousse, and the Smoked Potato Salad with lightly smoked potatoes and smoky Welsh rarebit or cheese sauce.
The Second Act
Several months after Podmore opened, they expanded their hours not just for cocktails and nibbles but to also include brunch for both the downtown workers and the weekenders alike. During brunch, Podmore offers what they call Rock Cakes – on our visit it was Chocolate Fig Scones, but the selection changes daily, as well as two sweet and seven savory entrees. A smaller list of brunch specific cocktails as well as a couple from their evening cocktail list are offered, including chilled and hot traditional breakfast beverages.
After ordering the Chocolate Fig Scones, Ms. S selected the Olive Oyl Cake cocktail, which was an epiphany for me as it contained olive oil. I’ve never sampled any cocktail with oil but it added a nice richness to the drink and to mute the alcohol. I enjoyed it so much (yes, it actually was my wife’s drink) that I tried copying it as soon as we got home. I sampled the Granny’s Tea cocktail and, because of the chocolate bitters and egg white, it paired perfectly with our scones. Ms. S then started on her Shakshuka, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dish with eggs cooked in a tomato and pepper stew. But Podmore simply placed sous vide eggs into the tomato stew so that the egg whites were also very tender and fluffy. Since Chef Rush is from the UK, I had to sample the Full English Breakfast with bacon, sausage and black pudding (blood sausage) served alongside tomatoes, mushroom, potatoes, baked beans and eggs. This was the best rendition I’ve ever sampled as Podmore makes their sausage, bacon and black pudding in-house. The sausage was a cross between the best fresh sausage you’ve sampled and ’nduja (a spreadable salami) and the thick cut bacon was a cross between bacon and Okinawan pork belly. I also would purchase the blood sausage on its own if they sold it retail. We were both thoroughly satisfied with brunch, so much so that Ms. S didn’t even ask to peruse the dessert menu…
Podmore is located in Honolulu at 202 Merchant St. The opening hours are (brunch) Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. In the evenings, Podmore is open from Wednesday through Friday from 4:30-11 p.m.; Saturdays from 5-11 p.m. and Sundays from 5-10 p.m. Call (808) 521-7367 or go to barpodmore.com for more information.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).