The Toy District Cocktail

This is my entry for the Downtown Los Angeles Sub-District Cocktail Competition. (Wow, that’s a mouthful.) Cocktail competitions are fun — sometimes they’re only ways for the spirits company sponsoring them to get their brand out there, but a lot of the time it’s a great way for a bartender to get a little recognition and maybe even win a prize. Marcos Tello of The Edison is organizing a new one not for a spirits company, but for our own fair city. What we hope to get out of it in a month’s time is seventeen new signature drinks for Los Angeles. Let’s have him tell y’all about it:

New York has for some time had The Manhattan, The Brooklyn, and The Bronx — benchmark cocktails named after their native regions. A short while back a couple of bartenders from New York got together and decided to finish naming cocktails after their beloved neighborhoods. Cocktails such as The Bensonhurst, Greenpoint, and Little Italy. Beautifully stirred cocktails using a spirit base and vermouths, liqueurs, amaros, bitters, etc. Being a native Angeleno, I have always wanted a set of cocktails named after my own city or its neighborhoods.

Recently I bellied up to the bar at Seven Grand in downtown Los Angeles. (As you may or may not know, downtown is trying desperately to become a “full-fledged” city.) My buddy Leo Rivas served me a delicious concoction, stirred, and served up. And I thought to myself, as he was still searching for a name, why don’t we name it after a one of the sub-districts in downtown? And then I thought, why doesn’t L.A. have its own set of sub-district cocktails? This first one we decided to name it the Arts District Cocktail.

The point of all this is that we should have our own set of cocktails named after the city that needs our help in developing a true cocktail culture, in order for it to truly be called a “city”! So in February will have a cocktail competition in which name cocktails after the 17 Sub-districts in Downtown Los Angeles.

I know this is kind of closing the barn door after the bandersnatch has run away, but the deadline for entries was yesterday. (Glerp. Sorry.) Eligibility is bartenders who reside in the Los Angeles area, or who are L.A. natives but now tend bar elsewhere, and also serious non-professional enthsiasts and cocktail nerds. We might have picked up three or two more of yas from the readership here, but oh well.

The Rules: A stirred cocktail using a base spirit, modifying vermouth, liqueur (i.e. Bénédictine, Curaçao, etc.) or sweetening agent, and some type of bitter. No citrus. (Citrus is plentiful in L.A. and it’s too easy; we don’t want a whole bunch of sours either.) Also, ingredients have to be readily available, meaning no homemade ingredients or extremely, obscure hard to find ingredients. We want to be able to make these on a regular basis and promote making them around the city, so they should be somewhat approachable. Entrants are encouraged to do some research on the history of the district they’re aiming for, to help the drink reflect both the past and present in that district.

The competition will be on the first Sunday of February. If we can coax him into town for the weekend from his until-April out-of-town gig, we hope Dr. Cocktail himself will be judging. (I’m sure Marcos has a Plan B just in case.)

I decided to go for the Toy District, bordered by 3rd Street on the north and 5th Street on the south, Los Angeles Street on the west and San Pedro Street on the east. It’s filled with myriad shops for inexpensive toys, trinkets, and you-name-it. It’s also pretty bustling, at least during the day. For years one of my best friends lived in a loft in the Toy District, and there we did lots of eating, drinking and carrying on. (Good, good times.) Besides the personal inspiration, I did a bit of digging and found out some interesting things about the neighborhood.

Before the wave of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere in Asia arrived to make the Toy District into what we know it to be today, the neighborhood was “filled with the colorful sights and fragrant smells of old Greece”, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was known as Greek Town. The city’s first Greek restaurant was on 4th Street, with Kalamata olive oil importers a few doors down. There were 65 Greek businesses clustered in the area, although few remain today and all but two of the original buildings have been razed.

I chose one of my base spirits, Metaxa, to reflect the flavors of the community in old Greek Town, augmenting it with rye whiskey to give it balance, a sturdier backbone and to reflect my love of the downtown drinking scene (I like to drink whiskey in downtown bars). The bitter component is Amaro Ramazzotti, complementing the floral notes of the Metaxa with bitter orange and fragrant spice (plus, the Romans had pretty much all the same gods as the Greeks). Lillet is there to help bring the flavors together, and to reflect the presence of fabulous French dip sandwiches a few blocks away. A muddled slice of ginger, as well as the ginger garnish, reflects the current Asian population of the Toy District and gives the drink a bit of brightness and zing.

Okay, I’m being silly with some of the symbolism there, but I wanted a Greek spirit and thought it’d taste good with the Italian amaro (wonderful stuff, which I want to use more often), and the other ingredients were chosen solely for taste and balance. I worked on this for about three days, and Wes and I drank most of the not-quites. (Hence, we were fairly shitfaced on Friday and Saturday and stayed home.) I’m pretty happy with the result. If you’ve a mind to, give it a shot and tell me what you think.


1 ounce Metaxa 7 Star.
1 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce Amaro Ramazzotti.
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc.
2 slices of fresh ginger.
1 orange peel

Combine liquors and 1 slice of ginger in a mixing glass. Muddle the ginger slice to extract flavor. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Double-strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with additional ginger slice and orange peel.

Here’s hoping I win my district! [UPDATE: I did. Yay! Although I think I had one, maybe two competitors for this district, and good luck ordering this anywhere.]