It's a real challenge to navigate through the noise of PR flack in drink listicles to get to the goods, but the first weekend of every month, Eater LA is here to be your cocktail companion. Here now, where to drink, and exactly what you should sip while you're there.
December 4, 2015:
For an exploration in classic cocktails
Head to: Viviane, restaurateur Stephane Bombet's newest project in the Avalon Hotel. With plenty of mid-century modern vibes and undeniably hip surrounds, it's quite the place to lounge poolside while sipping a well-crafted libation by bar director Ryan Wainwright of Terrine.
Drink: The Manhattan flight, a generous taste of three iterations of the classic drink. There's the traditional, of course, with rye, Cizano vermouth, and bitters, that manages to be both tremendously boozy and smooth as silk - the epitome of a perfect cocktail. The Rob Roy, made with Scotch, Carpano vermouth, Chinato, and bitters, is smokier with a strong orange nose. And finally, Wainwright takes the greatest liberty with the Cuban, mixing Bacardi 8 yr, Hamilton Guyana rum, Cocchi vermouth, and bitters. You'll be glad he did.
For a playful riff on a very popular milk punch
Head to: Faith & Flower, one of LA's most eye-catching restaurants that has become a mainstay for ideal downtown date nights and solid after-work drinks that come by way of Edwin Osegueda and Darwin Pornel.
Drink: The Spanish Milk Punch, a spin on the Esquire's Cocktail of 2014, the English Milk Punch. Instead of mixing rum, cognac, and whiskey, the Spanish take on the drink blends tequila, mezcal, and cachaça. The result is far smokier than the original, but no less smooth or viscous. Is one better than the other? All we can say is we'd be devastated if either were ever removed from the menu.
For your new favorite margarita in the South Bay
Head to: Sausal, a "Nuevo Rancho" restaurant that pays homage to Southern California's dining culture during the days of Spanish occupation. This surprising El Segundo gem has impressive wood fired dishes with some of the South Bay's best laid back cocktails to boot.
Drink: While Sausal's extra boozy iteration of eggnog will definitely keep you warm in the chilly months, you're go-to drink here will be the strawberry margarita, a clean version of the classic made with El Jimador Reposado, triple sec, fresh strawberries, lime, and, of course, salt. Although there's nothing groundbreaking here, the caution used with the sweetener and brightness that comes from the generous addition of citrus is exactly what you want to drink to cut through Sausal's smoky, wood-fired dishes.
For well made drinks in a glitzy part of town
Head to: The Church Key, the cavernous West Hollywood restaurant occupying prime Sunset Strip real estate. Here the stiletto-ed clientele would probably let passable drinks skate by, but barman Devon Espinosa assures those with palates for fine tipples are well looked after.
Drink: The Going Down Unher, an Aussie-inspired libation served in a massive pineapple chalice fitting of the surrounding digs. Absolute Elyx is mixed with eucalyptus syrup, passion fruit puree, and yellow chartreuse to make a drink that isn't overbearingly sweet with conspicuous herbaceous notes. This is exactly what you want to be drinking to kick off an evening's revelry.
October 2, 2015:
For the Ultimate Pairing of Booze: Petty Cash Arts District
The Drink: Rosé Jose
The Scoop: There's no doubt that plenty of good times can be had sipping tequila and rosé, but what happens when the two inebriants are blended together? You get the ultimate sipper you never knew would taste so good. Such is the Rosé Jose, Petty Cash Arts District's shining star on its solid agave-centric cocktail menu. Rosé and tequila blanco are blended with rhubarb, pink peppercorn, lemon, and seltzer to make a drink that has all the punch of tequila and refreshing, slightly floral notes of rosé, and proves that mixing liquor can be a very, very good thing. Whether or not it makes you sicker, we'll have to drink a few more to find out.
For a Pleasant Way to Ease Yourself Into Fall: Osso
The Drink: Beaverdusa Punch
The Scoop: Darwin Manahan has quickly made a name for himself in the cocktail scene. After taking a break from training to be a firefighter, Manahan turned his attention to bartending, and manned the bar at Corazon y Miel then Punch before settling into his current role as beverage director at Cliff's Edge and Osso.
Many of the drinks on Osso's tight list riff on the classics in a way that plays well with the Southern-tinged bill of fare. The Portola, what is essentially an Old Fashioned, adds burned beeswax to develop subtle honey flavor without additional sweetness. Other bespoke touches can be found throughout the menu, but perhaps the strongest drink is the Beaverdusa Punch, an homage to Manahan's now shuttered, beloved Pasadena cocktail lounge. The mix of bourbon, rye, scotch, St. Germain, sencha tea, and lemon sounds like it would have a serious kick. It doesn't. In fact, the drink is soft with smooth legs that taste of the very first balmy days of fall. With a whisper of cinnamon and subdued tea aftertaste, it is exactly what you want to be drinking at this very moment in Los Angeles.
For a Cocktail That Represents Los Angeles: The Corner Door
The Drink: Taco Truck
The Scoop: Beau du Bois has earned a fair share of praise recently, what with his winning of Eater LA's own Bartender of the Year Eater Award last year. The praise is certainly merited — du Bois is turning out some of the best cocktails in the city. Take the Taco Truck, his mezcal-based Negroni variant. Du Bois infuses pineapple and cinnamon in Campari, a nod to the agave-based liquor, and blends it with mezcal and sweet vermouth. Even a cursory whiff of the drink sheds light on its name: imbibers are reminded of the mouth watering aromas of grilled al pastor and pineapple from those much loved taco trucks in the city. The boozy libation is, of course, strongly smoky, balanced, and lighter than you would expect, but more than anything, it tastes of LA.
For Diehard Bacon Lovers: Baltaire
The Drink: J.W. Marshall
The Scoop: Brentwood's newest steakhouse is effortlessly elegant; it's the sort of place you take your parents to. However, beverage director David Vaughn doesn't hold back with his serious cocktail game. There are fun variants on the Mint Julep, where bourbon and mint are replaced by tequila and cilantro or gin and parsley. But the drink that really pulls at the heartstrings is the J.W. Marshall, a hat tip to Vaughn's Southern roots. Vaughn takes plenty of chefs' favorite Nueske's bacon and infuses it in bourbon. The porcine liquor is subdued with rosemary sorghum syrup and lemon, creating a beverage that is immediately transportive to the south, with its rich, molasses-like flavor and lingering smoky bacon notes. There's no doubt it would be a favorite of bacon aficionados and whiskey lovers alike.
September 4, 2015:
For Those Nights You Need Tequila and a Bong: Gracias Madre
The Drink: Up in Smoke
The Scoop: With a gorgeous patio, flavorful vegan fare, and star watching galore, there are plenty of reasons to visit Gracias Madre. Chief among them though are the cocktails that take tequila and mezcal to new heights. Of course there are solid examples of the classics, but beverage director Jason Eisner's dexterity with agave-based spirits really comes to light with his more outrageous concoctions. Take the Up in Smoke, a blend of tequila blanco, house mosaic-hopped cucumber soda, lemon, and celery bitters. The libation is served in a water pipe decanter (a.k.a. a bong), and smoked tableside with, appropriately, hemp seeds.
The surprisingly light cocktail is more refreshing than one would expect, given the smoky flavor that permeates into the drink. As you take in the hemp smoke and sip your tequila-based kicker, you realize this is one of the few places you can actually smoke and drink at the same time. Luckily, there're plenty of options to satisfy subsequent cases of the munchies.
For Your Morning Dose of Caffeine: Terrine
The Drink: Mr. Menotti's Cold Coffee Grog
The Scoop: What's more pleasurable than the buzz you get from your morning cup of joe? The buzz you get when that morning pick-me-up is spiked with six different rums, of course. Mr. Menotti's Cold Coffee Grog hinges on the quality of those two elements. Terrine's bar maven Ryan Wainwright sources cold brew from Menotti's Coffee Stop in Venice, which makes a special four barrel-blend just for the cocktail. He then adds some kick with a complex mix of Chairman's Spiced Rum, Atlantico Rum, Skippers RSV, Skippers Dark Rum, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Flor de Cana 7 Year, and Hamilton's Guyana 86. The boozy blend is topped with a Jelinek Fernet and chocolate liqueur-infused whipped cream. Is there a better way to kick off your lazy Sunday? We think not.
For Pretty Cocktails in a Laid Back Space: Power House
The Drink: The White Orchid
The Scoop: There were pretty strong mixed emotions after Power House underwent a facelift and ditched its dive bar sensibilities to become a cleaned-up watering hole. The bar has kept its low-key vibe with healthy pours of Jameson, but has added a tight list of well executed cocktails to the menu. The visual stunner here is the White Orchid. Barmen Mike Chung chills a mix of Tito's, St. Germain, yuzu-lime juice, and white cranberry syrup with an edible orchid frozen in an ice sphere. The drink surprisingly tastes purely of lychee, and evolves as the ice melts and exposes the vibrant flower. It's a more than pleasant transformation.
For a Farewell to Summer: Bestia
The Drink: I Am Sky.
The Scoop: The consistency of every meal at Bestia is an impressive feat. The same is true for the cocktails, which set the tone for the exceptional meal to follow. With Labor Day marking the unofficial end to the glory that is summer in Los Angeles, there is no better way to hold on to those long days and balmy nights than with Bestia's I Am Sky, a drink that mixes strawberry spirit, mezcal, seascape strawberry, white pepper, cucumber, and lime juice for a libation that evokes (strawberry) lemonade stand memories with a boozy kick.
August 6, 2015:
For a Nicotine-Infused, Whiskey-Based Killer: The Wallace
The Drink: Cowboy Killer
The Scoop: Downtown Culver City's sleeper hit The Wallace has been turning out exceptional small plates with international flair and a cocktail program to match. While many gastropubs offer marginally modified iterations of the classics, here risks are taken with a great deal of success. Hits include the after dinner libation the Snakebite Float, a spiked milkshake of peanut butter stout ice cream, a generous pour of housemade Irish cream, and crème de mure; and the Oaxaca Fresca, a rather boozy mix of white rum, El Silencio mezcal, sherry, lime, hibiscus orange blossom, and burning sage. However, the real star is the Cowboy Killer. Served in a sealed jar to contain a good deal of hickory smoke, the drink takes Griff's Cowboy whiskey, chocolate chilli bitters, and tobacco-infused syrup to create a drink that smells and tastes like night huddled by the campfire. With a rather heavy concentration of nicotine from the tobacco infusion, that rush you feel is from more than just the booze.
For One Last Taste of Summer: Petty Cash Taqueria
The Drink: Unwed Melon
The Scoop: It is difficult not to order a margarita (with mezcal!) to go with a meal of octopus tacos and grilled corn nachos, especially when they are as expertly crafted as those at Petty Cash Taqueria. However, the summer cocktails are just as refreshing as one would hope, and truly celebrate the bounty of the season. Take the Unwed Melon (because it can't elope, of course). While the legs of the drink, gin and aperol, add a nice boozy kick, the liquor is more there to support the fresh cantaloupe, basil, and roasted red bell pepper that taste so of the moment. When a cocktail somehow manages to capture the smell of sun-warmed fruit at a farmer's market, it would be a shame not to drink with the season.
For a Barbecue Powerhouse with Meaty Garnish: Belcampo Meat Co.
The Drink: BBQ Old Fashioned
The Scoop: After decamping for the now shuttered Brilliantshine, Josh Goldman brought his cocktail wizardry to Santa Monica's Belcampo Meat Co. While there was really no question his cocktail menu would bring the heat, it is nice to see how nicely it fits with the Belcampo philosophy. The must order is clearly the BBQ Old Fashioned, inspired by the smell of the dry rub Goldman used to barbecue pork one day. A brown sugar cube is saturated with peppered bitters, bacon fat-washed bitters, and smoked bitters, and mixed with the aged corn whiskey Balcones Baby Blue bourbon that stands up well to the smoky seasoning. Topped with Belcampo's own beef jerky and the smoke from BBQ aromatics, it is the archetype of a masculine cocktail. Beefy, smoky, and peppery in a way that stings the back of your throat, there is no better way to kick off the meal of carnivorous glory that is to follow.
For the Healthiest Cocktail in Town: Barrel Down
The Drink: Ginger Kombucha Mule
The Scoop: While Barrel Down is certainly more of a craft beer lover's haven than anything else, the tight cocktail list is no slouch. The most interesting of the offerings is the ginger kombucha mule, a blend of Treaty Oak Starlight vodka, kombucha, lime, Bundarberg ginger beer. At first blush, kombucha sounds like a rather off-putting addition to a cocktail; however, the effervescent, fermented taste of the health drink actually works quite well to cut through the sweetness of the Bundarberg, and pairs nicely with the ginger. This take on the Moscow Mule, perhaps more appropriately named the LA Mule, would find a happy home at the more progressive wellness centers that continue to pop up around the city.
For an Aromatic Addition to a Northern Italian Meal: The Factory Kitchen
The Drink: Vinny's Backside
The Scoop: With so many exceptional restaurants opening Downtown these days, some of the original pioneers sometimes get overlooked. Located in an industrial warehouse in the Arts District, The Factory Kitchen feels very of the moment, but has been turning out top notch Northern Italian fare since 2013. Here the cocktail menu is a consorted effort of the restaurant's bar team, and pairs with the outstanding pastas and flatbreads well. Go for the Vinny's Backside, a libation of Amaro Meletti, lime, ginger beer, and rosemary. Amaro, the traditionally after-dinner digestif, is subtly bitter, which is countered by the sweetness of the ginger beer. The most appealing element of the drink, however, is the flamed rosemary that manages to remain strongly aromatic throughout the length of the drink, adding a pleasant herbaceous counterpoint to the Northern Italian meal.