Raising the bar
Over the strains of Jawaiian music, with a sea breeze blowing through the open windows, Matt Tomlinson talks about his vision for the Dolphin Spit Saloon.
“We are here for everybody,” he said. “Our goal is to make everybody who walks in feel comfortable. We have no demographic. Human beings are our demographic.”
Tomlinson, who has been in Hawaii for eight years, and who has worked in the restaurant and bar industry for more years than that, shies away from the word bar to describe the new business.
“Bar can have a negative connotation,” said Tomlinson, the saloon’s operating partner. “I want it to be the kind of place people can hang out.”
Even more, he said, is that it’s a saloon for everyone. Already, since opening in late February, the Dolphin Spit Saloon has attracted some regulars — that started in the first week — and patrons from every walk of life, from local politicians to police officers to construction workers. On a recent afternoon, patrons ranged in age from 21 to 71, some sitting at the bar with drinks, others sitting at tables, enjoying food from North Kona Shopping Center restaurants.
Business picks up around 10 or 10:30 p.m., Tomlinson said, when restaurant and hotel workers end the evening shift and look for a place to relax. The Dolphin Spit offers something many other Kona night spots do not — easy parking access. Tomlinson said he’s heard from patrons who choose to come to the saloon, over other places, specifically for the parking.
The saloon doesn’t have a kitchen, although it does keep a few items from Umeke’s behind the bar. Tomlinson said he and his three partners could have put in a kitchen, but opted to use the space in other ways. Patrons are allowed to bring in outside food, and some of the nearby restaurants, including Original Thai, will even bring food over for customers who order to go. Tomlinson keeps several menus behind the bar, so his patrons can find the food they want to complement their drinks.
The location takes over another former bar’s location, as well as an office space. Completely renovated, the new interior features a long bar, refrigerators along the back wall to keep bottled and canned beers cold, new bathrooms and a marine-themed decor. With 10 high-definition televisions, the saloon offers patrons the chance to watch baseball, football and other professional sporting events.
On April 26, they will broadcast a UFC fight for free, Tomlinson said. Monday nights feature karaoke and local musicians will occasionally play there, too.
The last few years, during the economic downturn that affected all of the country, Tomlinson said he started to see customer service decrease.
“People lost jobs, people were laid off, everything took a drastic hit,” he said.
So making sure his staff offers great customer service is something he is focusing on at the Dolphin Spit, he said. His bartenders will come out and take orders at the outside tables.
Tomlinson and his partners are also making sure their establishment becomes part of the community, sponsoring community events, he said.
Open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., the Dolphin Spit Saloon features six beers on tap, 25 beers in bottles and cans, plus spirits. The space can seat 112, a limit it reached during the night of the Brew Fest, Tomlinson said.