Hogo may no longer be serving up tiki drinks in D.C., but the bar lives on — in Peru.
Nick Brown, brother to D.C. marquee bartenders Derek and Tom Brown (who were behind the original Hogo here) has opened his own version of the bar in Lima, along with his girlfriend Lourdes Agüero de Chazal.
Nick Brown's Hogo San Bartolo is about to open for its third season in the rapidly-growing beach area that's attracting Lima residents looking for a respite. And while Hogo San Bartolo may share the former D.C. bar's namesake, the similarities end with the name and the tiki decor. Because while the former Hogo was all about rum, Nick Brown's beach bar is all about – well, what else – Peruvian pisco.
Let's start with perhaps the most obvious question: Why Peru?
It started with leaving D.C. and heading to South America in 2011. I was planning on spending just four months in Argentina, but that turned into seven months. So I ended up loving Argentina and blew through most of the money that I had, and I knew some people in Peru and I had enough money to get to Peru.
So when I left Argentina and crossed into Peru in 2011, I met my friends who picked me up from the bus station, and then they asked what I wanted to do. And I was honest with them and said that I needed to look for work to make some money. And my friends had a friend who had a restaurant outside of Lima. So I talked to the guy to see if I could get some work, and he had everyone he needed except a bartender. So for a while I helped with the bar - kind of like as a consultant - and then the main bartender left, and I jumped right in.
Were you involved in any of your brothers' projects?
I helped out with the Passenger. That was Tom's baby. Derek did the whole thing with the Columbia Room. So I was happy to go along for the ride while they were creating these places. But I also have worked in many of the positions in some of their newer bars in Shaw.
And how did you land in San Bartolo and not somewhere a bit more obvious like Lima?
In 2013, I was back in Peru and was traveling around, and I was looking at this place in San Bartolo because I had a friend that lived there who is, funny enough, Peruvian but I met her in Buenos Aires. She said I should come check it out. I liked San Bartolo when I checked it out since is had plenty of things other towns in the area didn't have.
Is it a popular beach town for Lima residents?
There are definitely beach towns that are bigger but the variety of places that are there, such as a cheese shop and a gelato place, is really great. There's a Peruvian kabob place that operates in the summer.
So what's the drive behind Hogo San Bartolo?
Hogo is an expression of art and not just in the cocktails. We wanted to create a space that's great for people to come and chill, listen to live music and just enjoying a great drink. My girlfriend Lourdes plays the ukulele, and sometimes we'll just be jamming and it'll draw people into the bar. But this being a beach town, we're only open during the November to April season when everyone is enjoying the summer.
How long did it take to get off the ground?
We're still working on things. This is a project of love so we're always fixing things, adding furniture that we've found, and just kept making the place better so people in town can come and enjoy themselves.
And starting a bar in Peru certainly has its challenges. What were some of the biggest hassles?
Well, this is a beach town, so labor sometimes tends to be very relaxed when it comes to showing up on time or at all. And then there's the whole mess of going here for one thing and going there for something else. It's not like I can just open up a catalog and order everything I need for Hogo in one shot. So getting supplies definitely takes more legwork than what you'll find in D.C.
And I'm sure there are some things that make running a bar easier in San Bartolo.
Definitely. We never have an issue with fresh fruit for our cocktails. The market is just a 30 second walk and there's always great stuff to buy and use for our drinks. And of course, there are incredible pisco producers in our backyard, so we definitely take advantage of all of that.
Was it a success right out the gate?
When we first opened Hogo, we worried if we maybe opened this in the wrong market. The first few weeks we were actually open during our first season, we weren't selling that much. And then our neighbors came by and wondered if we did more than just drinks and basic food. And since San Bartolo is a beach town, people like to drink in the afternoon and get day drunk.
Do you make your own pisco at Hogo San Bartolo? Or if not, any plans to?
That's beyond my ability. Getting a distillation system set up is beyond what I can tackle right now. But I don't ever want to say never. And if I did, I'd definitely be working on developing the taste. I don't see myself as the master distiller.
With your wanderlust, what's next for you?
I'm not sure. Right now I'm loving San Bartolo and making Hogo better with each season. So right now, this is what's next for me.