Hawaii Beverage Guide, sees and hears a lot about poor bar design but has not found a great discussion resource. So we enlisted Gabrielle Maser, Bar Director at the Pacific Club and Principal at G Design to share her perspective built through years of experience behind the bar in both high volume and boutique craft environments.
HBG: Where are you from, and what brought you to Hawaii and how has Hawaii changed your perspective?
Gabrielle: Aloha, thank you for having me! I am originally from Northern California, more specifically Marin County and San Francisco. Out of high school my two best friends and I decided we would run away to the Big Island. We arrived in the late 90’s, when Kona was a lazy town and everyone had real Aloha. I was lucky to be adopted into a great circle of friends who taught me some of the most important aspects of properly living Aloha: Treat others with kindness and compassion, always arrive with full hands and contribute (especially if your tree has mango or avocado!), and respect Hawaiian land and culture. These values combined with those of my upbringing from the mainland imparted to me that these islands are my home and it is my responsibility to take care of them.
HBG: What got you into craft bartending?
Gabrielle: My first job in high school was as a hostess at Chart House in Sausalito, California. When I arrived in Hawaii I continued working in the industry as a hostess and cocktail server at my all time favorite restaurant ever, Kona Inn. In 2001 I moved to Oahu and helped friends open Lulu’s in Waikiki as a “gunslinging” bartender. I then returned home to Marin and did a two year stint at Carlos Santana’s bar, Maria Marias. That experience gave me a love for all things agave plus a nose for fine latin flavors.
Upon returning to Hawaii, I ran the service well at Tikis for three years. I was then at Bevy for about three and a half years perfecting my cocktail crafting before I started at The Pacific Club in August 2015 where I have resided since. My love for bartending has extended past craft cocktails,
I am currently working on my sommelier certification and have passed the introductory level. I am planning on taking the certified test this October.
HBG: Who are your bartending mentors?
Gabrielle: Christian Self became my mentor when I helped open Bevy. He taught me how to apply cooking theory to cocktails and that a cocktail should be beautiful, thoughtful but also playful and not taken to seriously. The biggest lesson Christian taught me when crafting a cocktail was, the drink is for the guest and no matter what they should enjoy it. I will be forever grateful to Christian for telling me I was just as good as everyone else out there, not to be intimidated or afraid and to get out and do my thing!
Chandra Lucariello, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits’ Mixologist has also been an inspiration to me. She was one of the first women I personally saw rock the bar industry with the boys while looking fabulous and being gracious the entire time. I have called her numerous times for advice and she has always taken the time to help me the best she can. Chandra’s work at big events and cocktail menus across the state has opened up a lot of doors for fellow women in the field.
HBG: What is your favorite bar trend or ingredient of the moment?
Gabrielle: Sustainability! I think we can and should be leaders in taking care of our limited resources, the Pacific Club switched to paper straws. Christian Self definitely inspired this mindset by his use of eco friendly to-go supplies and the incorporation of repurposed building materials from Re-Use Hawaii used throughout Bevy.
Another favorite trend is vintage! Everyone is going back to hand done cocktail crafting, including chipping ice and house made syrups. There is also the use of vintage glassware. I’m constantly going to thrift stores in search of unique glassware and inspirational drinking vessels.
HBG: What are the best parts and challenges of the Hawaii Bar Scene?
Gabrielle: Working in the industry in Honolulu since 2001 has had its ups and downs. It can be frustrating how far behind Hawaii is from the rest of the world’s trends, however we are slowly moving forward. Over the past two years the International Market Place restaurants and the hotel bars have started to catch on to the craft scene. This however has created a vacuum for talented workers as we went from three or four craft bars to now over twenty places with craft menus.
Being a woman in Hawaii’s “old boys club” has also provided many challenges such as getting passed over for promotions because uncle’s brother's friend needed a job. To this day, the hotel bars and steakhouses have very few women behind the bar. I think there are only about five or six women in the state that run craft bar programs like I do, but I feel very lucky to be in place where I get creative control and support from my upper management.
There are so many positives including Hawaii’s supportive craft bartending community. A large part of this is the United States Bartenders Guild. USBG has played a great part in the Hawaii bar scene through training and networking events. Epic bartenders like Dave Newman owner of Pint and Jigger, Justin Park of Bar Leather Apron, Christian Self, Chandra Lucariello and current USBG president Kyle Reutner of Kohana Rum have all been supportive of other bartenders and have worked to keep the industry involved as it it grows at a furious pace.
HBG: What got you into interior design?
Gabrielle: I wanted to do something I love that was creative and I always loved designing spaces. As a child my step-mom had an excellent eye for design and was constantly reinventing her home and planting unique and beautiful wild flowers in her yard. This simple beauty inspired my love of design. Architecturally, the iconic Victorian homes in San Francisco were inspirational. Marin’s public courthouse was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed everything right down to the clocks and door handles. Wright’s architectural style of creating buildings that complement and disappear into the landscape has an organic feel which is reminiscent of my time spent camping on the California Coast. This style is further reflected through the architecture on Mount Tamalpais where, nestled amongst the redwoods, each house has unique towers, corners and window seats. Functionality is a key design aesthetic for me, things that are designed to look good and work well are few and far in between. My design mentor throughout college and beyond is the fabulous Mrs. Joan Riggs, Director of the Interior Design program at Chaminade University. Without her support I would not have figured out how to combine my love of bartending with a company I could run (bar consulting & design).
HBG: What are your favorite interior design trends of the moment
Gabrielle: My favorite current interior design trend is repurposing and supporting sustainability. Things were made to last until pretty recently and restoring those things and incorporating them into new designs is not only creative but socially and environmentally responsible. @hawaii-modern on instagram, is a perfect example. He picks up abandoned Eames and other mid 20th century furniture in Honolulu and restores them to beautiful gems.
HBG: What Interior Design Projects have you worked on?
Gabrielle: My first design project was a renovation for Lulu’s Waikiki. I also worked on reorganizing and updating the equipment at Tikis and dabbled in a few home renovations, a gym concept, and at Stewbum and Stonewall brewing in Kaneohe. I recently finished a Doctor’s Office at Physicians Office Building II at Queens Hospital. Currently I have been reorganizing the two main bars at The Pacific Club well as simultaneously working on the new Stonewall and Stewbum brewery in Chinatown.
HBG: Over the next few columns, are there any favorite bar design elements that you’re interested in showcasing?
Gabrielle: I loved working at Lulus. There is a huge door that holds back-up spirits right next to you, the kegs are right behind the main wall making changing them convenient and the service well was reach through so all the servers could make their own sodas, grab their own ice and access the hand sink.
Bevy’s bar stations designed by Christian Self have everything within arms reach, and there’s a great bottle display on the back wall. He also used a lot of stuff from Re-use Hawaii in his overall design.
Most recently, I think they did a great job with the Maui Brewing Company in Waikiki with the six identical service wells and the draft beer running through the center.