This is The Barkeepers, a regular feature in which Eater roams the city to meet the fine ladies and gentlemen that work behind the bar at some of LA's hottest cocktail parlors.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
Jeremy Lake launched his bartending career with gusto at Rivera, where he trained under Julian Cox at the then-revolutionary seasonal, creative cocktail station. Since then, he's put together a strong program at Crossroads, which opened in the former Philippe space on Melrose. While cocktails have flown under the radar, Lake's foundation at Rivera, bolstered with a heightened sense of hospitality, have made Crossroads a fine place to grab a drink before enjoying the haute plant-based fare from chef Tal Ronnen. Here now, Eater sits with Lake to talk about the L.A. drinking scene, and what makes a great cocktail.
When did you get into bartending? Four years ago in June, I walked into Rivera looking for a job. I had a small connection with John Sedlar and was interested in getting back to bartending after slinging Jack and Cokes for years. During the interview, Julian asked me if I recognized any of the bottles of the shelves. I panicked when I didn't; I was going to lie about it, but when I told him I didn't, he said that was great. The training, which lasts six weeks, was going to two days after that. The only problem was, that was my birthday and I had already planned a trip to Cabo with all my friends. On my way home, I felt like I needed to be there, so all my friends went to Cabo for my birthday without me. Two years later, I was running the program for Julian.
What's that training like? Back then 99.9% of the U.S. didn't understand what they are now. People thought they were syrupy, batched drinks made with chemicals and based on like five brands. My eyes were opened when I first had a Gold Rush. I couldn't believe cocktails could taste so good.
How can you tell if a bartender can make good drinks? Go in and ask them to make a daiquiri. See what a trained bartender could do with just those ingredients.
How do you gauge customers? You can tell immediately what a person's going to like or not going to like in about five words. Sometimes it doesn't even take words. With that, you take them in a certain direction. If they're a novice, you want to take the flair out with something simple, like an Ivy Maid or a vodka Eastside, which is made with fresh lime, mint, cucumber and syrup. You add vodka, muddle it, shake it, and garnish over ice with cucumber that's skewered with fresh mint. You use fresh, high-quality sugar, high-grade spirit.
How did you go about making the program here? It was initially a challenge to make a cocktail menu that fit in with the whole theme of the restaurant, which is plant-based Mediterranean. A lot of clientele are health-conscious. When I first started, I didn't know much about vegan cuisine, but when I started eating here, I definitely starting feeling the benefits. I applied the same methodology to the cocktails. I know the chef's going to win. I serve alcohol, which is not good for you. I'm always going to lose that battles, so I try hard to put healthy ingredients in the drinks fresh carrot juice and kombucha. The La Flaca uses dandelion root and agave.
How do you pair the cocktails with the plant-based food? If you can pair wine with food, you can pair cocktails with food. Fresh ingredients pair with fresh ingredients. I would use the Hard Times, which is bourbon, apple brandy, lemon, maple, and housemade ras al hanout, and those Mediterranean spices go together with the ones that chef Tal Ronnen uses. It goes with anything citrusy, with fresh salads, vegetables. I try to use ingredients that are found around the Mediterranean.
Did people initially order a lot of cocktails here? It wasn't possible to get a great cocktail in a vegan restaurant before Crossroads. People didn't initially want booze, but this place gets really fun and lively. People that weren't vegans were coming in to see what was going on.
What other bars do you like? I live in the Valley, so I like the Local Peasant, where I usually get a shot and beer. You'll realize that most bartenders don't want to drink cocktails at another bar. Right now I'm drinking bourbon and IPAs.
What do you think about the L.A. bar scene? The bar community's really tight. There's a little friendly competition, but it's very brotherly and sisterly. In other cities, if you don't work in that bar, then the staff don't really talk to you. It's ironic because there's a sense that people aren't friendly in L.A. About three years ago, everyone wanted to get into mixology. People would come in and order a vodka mojito, and they'd turn them down. That attitude was wrong. You don't want to alienate the guest. I think we honed the craft of making drinks, but now we are honing the craft of hospitality, which should've been there in the first place.
·All The Barkeepers Coverage [~ELA~]