Cocktails in Los Angeles? Yes. Drink LA.
I love innovation. I love when someone takes a normal object or a standard service and then turns the world on its head. I love it when we lulled into comfort are then shocked by greatness and returned to quality.
This world of ours where we think, read, enjoy and create cocktails – it’s a really small, and; if you look at the bigger picture, it’s somewhat meaningless in the grand scheme of things. BUT! I do love doing what it is that we do, I do love the excitement of opening a new bottle of spirits, trying a creative combination of ingredients, experimenting with new bar tools…
This week I was in Los Angles. If you were in LA this week by way of Seattle, you, like me, would have immediately noticed how the weather in both cities were similar – the rain, the drizzle, the overcast skies…it’d have been comforting if not for the fact that we really were looking for LA’rific sun and warmth. So, while; sadly, the weather was rather Seattlelike, also – happily and surprisingly, so were some of the drinks.
I really did not have many high expectations for cocktails in LA. (Sorry, LA.) Sorry Tatsu and Ron, who both had such great things to say about their city’s bars – it turns out that you were both right.
For such a large city, LA has never been known to be a haven for the successful combination of liquors in a glass which work to form a creative and delicious cocktail. Starlets? Yes. By the baker’s dozen. Idiot moguls and their mini-me’s? Absolutely. Loud dudes that see nothing wrong in saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”? No, I don’t know who you are, and unless your name is Bill Clinton, Kurt Cobain or Murray Stenson,
I really don’t care. BUT, where spirits are concerned, as far as I knew, LA has never shown an appreciation for spirits that do not have some movie star’s attachment to the brand in order to sell it or cocktails that don’t end with the suffix ‘tini’. Form over function. Style over substance. Geez. This is not very nice, ‘eh? BUT, I suppose that’s to be understood, and…deserved. In cocktail cities’ best bars, ‘barstars’ are the most famous and appreciated people in the room. In a city such as LA, how can you have a great bar where the bartender is the most relevant and appreciated person in the room, when instead it’s some starlet with a one-season hit TV show? I love the idea that if that same starlet was to walk through the door of Zig Zag in Seattle, all eyes would return quickly to Murray, as he spent his five minutes making a mojito. I love that walking into a great bar in NYC with Audrey Saunders makes more of a stir than if ‘cocktailian’ P “I’m what you call a mixologist” Diddy walked into the room.
BUT! Here’s the good news… Ready? Innovation is in the mix in Los Angles. In NYC over the last few years, innovation meant ice at Milk & Honey, where a 600pound block of ice meant perfect ice and no ice machine was necessary. In Portland, innovation meant dozens of house made bitters, liqueurs & tinctures at Daniel Shoemaker’s great Teardrop Lounge or Jeffrey Morganthaler’s barrel-aged cocktails at Clyde Common. In Seattle, our innovation was service & community. We developed a community that has no equal, and an expectation of outstanding service. In LA? Innovation means The Varnish – a great bar program with a history of some seriously skilled bartenders, now led by LA’s version of Gentleman Bartender, Chris
Bostick. It means The Roger Room, Rivera & Culver City’s A-Frame showing a rare care for their cocktails, and it especially means The Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood (West Hollywood? I never know the difference) and Tasting Kitchen in Venice, both bars excelling in creating something totally new and extremely valuable to the LA basin.
The Library Bar @ The Roosevelt – Hollywood
To recognize the innovation at this bar, it takes just the time between walking in the tiny bar and ordering your drinks and having them put down in front of you to recognize their particular brand of innovation. For a town known for fresh ingredients, bartender Matt Biancaniello takes this to a distance unmatched by any other establishment in town – or any that I’ve ever seen, actually. Matt’s bartop is akin to the produce section of your local grocery store, or more specifically, the farmer’s markets where he gets his produce. Fresh greens bursting out everywhere, rhubarb, peppers of all sorts, fruits from the stonefruit to the berry variety… No menu (““Everything is omakase,” he was quoted as saying in the July/August issue of Imbibe, written by Seattle’s Paul Clarke) just a request for what you’d like, and he will make something happen for you. AND, while the results were often really odd, they were also hits. We had a Last Word with a ghost pepper and cilantro finish – delicious, a variation, but a good one to be sure. We had the best Bloody Mary that I’ve ever had – all with fresh ingredients, and even though the hippest of hipsters of hipsterville showed up half way through, nothing could ruin that great experience.
Tasting Kitchen – Venice
Since the Northwest has one of the best cocktail scenes in the world, it seemed to The Tasting Kitchen that it’d be a great idea to simply import much of their barstaff (and some of their floor staff, such as this kid Sol, who used to walk by Liberty all the damn time, and there he was…) to Venice. And to great effect, indeed! Tasting Kitchen opens every day at 6pm, and; you better get there no later than 6:30 if you want to get a seat. Open for a couple years now, this place is still busy every night, and for good reason. It’s hardly surprising that these transplant bartenders from the NW would have dozens of house-made ingredients sitting along their bartop. It’s hardly surprising that their cocktails are made with these ingredients, which means that – same as The Library Bar – the cocktails that you get at The Tasting Kitchen will be cocktails that you cannot get anywhere else.
In Short: We can get a great drink or few in LA. Really, we should thank New York, since so many of LA’s top bartenders came from there, but…let’s just allow LA to have it’s moment, ‘eh?