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Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour Photo courtesy of Accomplice

10 Innovative Takes on Tired Old Cocktails in Los Angeles

You can trust these new takes on old standbys

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In this age of craft cocktails, artisanal cocktail bitters and celebrity bartenders, a bad cocktail is getting harder to stumble across. And yet there are still some drinks you instinctively stay away from no matter where you are because you’ve never had a good experience with them. (Cough—Blood & Sand—cough). But in Los Angeles, these are the 10 best versions of those historically disappointing cocktails, from renewed dive bar staples to crafty classics.

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Love & Salt’s White Russian

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The White Russian is unrecognizable at Love & Salt. Barman Vincenzo Marianella has transformed it into a multi-layered and complex coffee cocktail with bourbon, amaro, cold coffee and cream. The daytime-friendly #INeedCoffee was created to pair with brunchy dessert items like the warm Nutella-covered Italian doughnuts.

Love & Salt’s White Russian
Love & Salt’s White Russian
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

Michael's Santa Monica’s Grasshopper

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Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler was the first to redeem the Grasshopper, a sickly sweet, neon green after dinner drink, with a crafty Fernet-spiked version. But that doesn’t mean you can still order one at any bar without fear of regret. At Michael’s Santa Monica, bartender Meredith Hayman takes a cue from Morgenthaler using branca menta to balance out the sweetness and richness of the creme de menthe, creme de cacao and cream and serves it up in a coupe.

Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini

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The Dirty Martini has fallen out of favor ever since the cocktail renaissance inspired drinkers to trade vodka for gin and olives for twists in their martinis. But who can say no to this fun variation by barman Josh Goldman at Belcampo Meat Co.? For his Dirty he infuses the vodka with olives and salt, spritzes the glass with olive brine, and serves it with a side of olives as well as a tea bag filled with even more olives and salt so you can control just how dirty you want it.

Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Photo courtesy of Belcampo Meat Co.

The Corner Door’s Negroni

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The Negroni may be a bartender’s favorite post-shift drink but can be intimidating to the uninitiated for its embittered potency. Yet, Negroni newbies are clamoring for The Corner Door bartender Beau du Bois’ mezcal rendition, Taco Truck. With its blend of mezcal, sweet vermouth and pineapple and cinnamon-infused Campari, the potent potable balances smokey with bittersweet, its scent makes you long for a taco truck’s al pastor and pineapple.

The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
Matthew Kang

accomplice bar’s Whiskey Sour

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For something completely different, there’s bartender Gabriella Mylnarczyk’s Whiskey (Sweet +) Sour at Accomplice. Think sesame ginger noodles as a cocktail but in a good way. Amaretto is added to the classic for a sweet complexity while also complementing the sesame. Ginger syrup gives the cocktail a bit of heat and depth while a pinch of smoked salt provides a light savory finish. Best enjoyed with an order of Little Fatty’s orange chicken or, my personal favorite, the walnut shrimp.

Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Photo courtesy of Accomplice

A.O.C.’s Blood and Sand

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No one likes the Blood & Sand. Because turns out equal parts of scotch, Cherry Heering liqueur, orange juice and sweet vermouth are really not good. Fortunately AOC barman Christiaan Rollich decided to take on the horrible classic. For his version, which sticks to the original recipe, he actually made his own sweet vermouth and cherry brandy, allowing him to not only balance the flavor notes but give it a unique freshness and complexity. His housemade cherry brandy possesses the sweetness of fresh cherries and the acidity from lemon, and is rounded out by black cardamom and cassia bark. While his sweet vermouth actually has the brightness of a dry white wine with notes of burned sugar and dried fruit.

AOC’s Blood and Sand
AOC’s Blood and Sand
Photo by Aaron Cook | AACK Studio

The Ponte’s Lemondrop

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Winningest bartender Ryan Wainwright (he’s won three cocktail competitions within the past year) didn’t really want to do a Lemondrop for Chef Scott Conant’s The Ponte. “I had to battle with what I was going to do with the lemondrop that was even worth saying,” he explains. Wainwright chose to highlight the lemon, making it the focal point by using every aspect of the fruit. He made a lemon bitters with Eureka and Lisbon lemon peels as well as a California lemon infused vodka. Limoncello from the Amalfi Coast is the sweetener and a glass rimmed with lemon peel infused sugar is the finishing touch. “All of this comes together to sing the praises of one of California's greatest stars. It also ends up being a zero waste drink as literally every aspect of the lemon is incorporated into the drink.”

The Ponte’s Lemondrop
The Ponte’s Lemondrop
Photo by Dustin Downing

Mama Lion’s Blue Hawaii

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Mama Lion bar manager Todd Eames created his Royal Hawaiian, a variation on the Blue Hawaii, as an ode to the L.A. nightclubs and lounges of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The fresh juices, cinnamon syrup and the house rum blend make all the difference here for a fuller flavor version of the 1957 classic. Bonus is that it’s lit on fire.

Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Photo by acuna-hansen

Here's Looking at You’s Mai Tai

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The Mai Tai is one of the most consistently misinterpreted cocktails out there. But for a prime example of it, splurge on the $26 Almost-Original Mai Tai at Here’s Looking at You. That’s actually a deal considering it’s made with a now-discontinued and hard-to-find rum. “We agreed to sell it at a low markup as an endeavor of Tiki love and in response to people gouging for hot/rare spirits with abandon,” says Katz. Why make it with that rum? “It’s the closest thing to the [one used in the original Mai Tai] since it was 86’d in 1946. It’s likely the same age or older and stronger.” This is like tasting history.

Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Photo by Dylan + Jeni

Big Bar’s Piña Colada

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For her Piña Colada, Big Bar drink creator Cari Hah ingeniously reinterpreted the tropical libation as a fizz. Meaning no ice is sitting in your glass diluting your beautiful drink during those warm summer nights. Instead of an ice-blended slurry, the Do You Like Piña Colada cocktail is a light and fluffy mixture of pineapple vodka, white rum, pineapple syrup, coconut liqueur and cream, topped with soda and garnish with brûléed pineapple.

Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Photo by eugeneshoots

Love & Salt’s White Russian

Love & Salt’s White Russian
Love & Salt’s White Russian
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

The White Russian is unrecognizable at Love & Salt. Barman Vincenzo Marianella has transformed it into a multi-layered and complex coffee cocktail with bourbon, amaro, cold coffee and cream. The daytime-friendly #INeedCoffee was created to pair with brunchy dessert items like the warm Nutella-covered Italian doughnuts.

Love & Salt’s White Russian
Love & Salt’s White Russian
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

Michael's Santa Monica’s Grasshopper

Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler was the first to redeem the Grasshopper, a sickly sweet, neon green after dinner drink, with a crafty Fernet-spiked version. But that doesn’t mean you can still order one at any bar without fear of regret. At Michael’s Santa Monica, bartender Meredith Hayman takes a cue from Morgenthaler using branca menta to balance out the sweetness and richness of the creme de menthe, creme de cacao and cream and serves it up in a coupe.

Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Michael’s Grass-hop-over
Photo by Caroline Pardilla

Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini

Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Photo courtesy of Belcampo Meat Co.

The Dirty Martini has fallen out of favor ever since the cocktail renaissance inspired drinkers to trade vodka for gin and olives for twists in their martinis. But who can say no to this fun variation by barman Josh Goldman at Belcampo Meat Co.? For his Dirty he infuses the vodka with olives and salt, spritzes the glass with olive brine, and serves it with a side of olives as well as a tea bag filled with even more olives and salt so you can control just how dirty you want it.

Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Belcampo Meat Co.’s Dirty Martini
Photo courtesy of Belcampo Meat Co.

The Corner Door’s Negroni

The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
Matthew Kang

The Negroni may be a bartender’s favorite post-shift drink but can be intimidating to the uninitiated for its embittered potency. Yet, Negroni newbies are clamoring for The Corner Door bartender Beau du Bois’ mezcal rendition, Taco Truck. With its blend of mezcal, sweet vermouth and pineapple and cinnamon-infused Campari, the potent potable balances smokey with bittersweet, its scent makes you long for a taco truck’s al pastor and pineapple.

The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
The Corner Door’s Taco Truck
Matthew Kang

accomplice bar’s Whiskey Sour

Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Photo courtesy of Accomplice

For something completely different, there’s bartender Gabriella Mylnarczyk’s Whiskey (Sweet +) Sour at Accomplice. Think sesame ginger noodles as a cocktail but in a good way. Amaretto is added to the classic for a sweet complexity while also complementing the sesame. Ginger syrup gives the cocktail a bit of heat and depth while a pinch of smoked salt provides a light savory finish. Best enjoyed with an order of Little Fatty’s orange chicken or, my personal favorite, the walnut shrimp.

Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Accomplice Bar’s Whiskey Sour
Photo courtesy of Accomplice

A.O.C.’s Blood and Sand

AOC’s Blood and Sand
AOC’s Blood and Sand
Photo by Aaron Cook | AACK Studio

No one likes the Blood & Sand. Because turns out equal parts of scotch, Cherry Heering liqueur, orange juice and sweet vermouth are really not good. Fortunately AOC barman Christiaan Rollich decided to take on the horrible classic. For his version, which sticks to the original recipe, he actually made his own sweet vermouth and cherry brandy, allowing him to not only balance the flavor notes but give it a unique freshness and complexity. His housemade cherry brandy possesses the sweetness of fresh cherries and the acidity from lemon, and is rounded out by black cardamom and cassia bark. While his sweet vermouth actually has the brightness of a dry white wine with notes of burned sugar and dried fruit.

AOC’s Blood and Sand
AOC’s Blood and Sand
Photo by Aaron Cook | AACK Studio

The Ponte’s Lemondrop

The Ponte’s Lemondrop
The Ponte’s Lemondrop
Photo by Dustin Downing

Winningest bartender Ryan Wainwright (he’s won three cocktail competitions within the past year) didn’t really want to do a Lemondrop for Chef Scott Conant’s The Ponte. “I had to battle with what I was going to do with the lemondrop that was even worth saying,” he explains. Wainwright chose to highlight the lemon, making it the focal point by using every aspect of the fruit. He made a lemon bitters with Eureka and Lisbon lemon peels as well as a California lemon infused vodka. Limoncello from the Amalfi Coast is the sweetener and a glass rimmed with lemon peel infused sugar is the finishing touch. “All of this comes together to sing the praises of one of California's greatest stars. It also ends up being a zero waste drink as literally every aspect of the lemon is incorporated into the drink.”

The Ponte’s Lemondrop
The Ponte’s Lemondrop
Photo by Dustin Downing

Mama Lion’s Blue Hawaii

Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Photo by acuna-hansen

Mama Lion bar manager Todd Eames created his Royal Hawaiian, a variation on the Blue Hawaii, as an ode to the L.A. nightclubs and lounges of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The fresh juices, cinnamon syrup and the house rum blend make all the difference here for a fuller flavor version of the 1957 classic. Bonus is that it’s lit on fire.

Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Mama Lion’s Royal Hawaiian
Photo by acuna-hansen

Here's Looking at You’s Mai Tai

Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Photo by Dylan + Jeni

The Mai Tai is one of the most consistently misinterpreted cocktails out there. But for a prime example of it, splurge on the $26 Almost-Original Mai Tai at Here’s Looking at You. That’s actually a deal considering it’s made with a now-discontinued and hard-to-find rum. “We agreed to sell it at a low markup as an endeavor of Tiki love and in response to people gouging for hot/rare spirits with abandon,” says Katz. Why make it with that rum? “It’s the closest thing to the [one used in the original Mai Tai] since it was 86’d in 1946. It’s likely the same age or older and stronger.” This is like tasting history.

Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Here’s Looking at You’s Mai Tai
Photo by Dylan + Jeni

Big Bar’s Piña Colada

Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Photo by eugeneshoots

For her Piña Colada, Big Bar drink creator Cari Hah ingeniously reinterpreted the tropical libation as a fizz. Meaning no ice is sitting in your glass diluting your beautiful drink during those warm summer nights. Instead of an ice-blended slurry, the Do You Like Piña Colada cocktail is a light and fluffy mixture of pineapple vodka, white rum, pineapple syrup, coconut liqueur and cream, topped with soda and garnish with brûléed pineapple.

Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Big Bar’s Piña Colada
Photo by eugeneshoots

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