Where to drink great cocktails in Los Angeles

It’s hard to believe that just over four years ago, Los Angeles was a (relative) cocktail wasteland.

The city had yet to recover from the near-death of bartending and mixology, the nadir of which gave us the once-ubiquitous artificially-colored and -flavored green “apple-tinis,” and more often than not the best you could do (other than drink beer, wine or straight spirits) was an overly-sweet (and equally ubiquitous) Cosmopolitan.

Things began to look up for us in the early ’00s, when Wes and I became regulars at a wonderful (and now-closed) restaurant in Glendale called Cinnabar. Our friend Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh worked with them to put together an amazing menu of classic cocktails, and on our first visit we were thrilled to see it. Finally, a place where we could go out and get a really good classic cocktail! We also quickly became thrilled with the food, and drank and dined there regularly until they closed in 2005.

For me, the moment when the switch got flipped was at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2007. I had just finished participating in a seminar on homemade and defunct cocktail ingredients in which I did a presentation on my homemade allspice liqueur when a young bartender approached and introduced himself. “I just helped open a bar in Los Angeles — we’ve been open for three months now, and I really want you to come.” I had actually heard about this bar, although being God Emperor of Procrastination I hadn’t made it over there yet. The bartender was Marcos Tello, the bar was Seven Grand, and the rest is history. Los Angeles’ cocktail renaissance — for me, at least — had begun.

Now … we have such a mindbogglingly large number of truly wonderful cocktail bars (many of them world-class) in this city that I cannot keep up with them all. I thought it was about time I made a list of them, and I’ll make it sticky somewhere on the site so that it’ll be easy to find.

These are bars in which bartenders (and their trusty barbacks) squeeze their own juices (which is now de rigueur in a bar in which I’ll drink cocktails, as far as I’m concerned). These are bars in which you won’t have to ask if they have rye whiskey, unless you want to know how many different ones they stock. You won’t have to remind the bartender that a Manhattan contains bitters, and you’re unlikely to get a muddled Old Fashioned in which the orange slice and fake neon red artificially flavored cherry are mashed into a nasty pulp. They’ll have menus of classic and creative new cocktails. Many if not most of them use large, clear ice cubes and crack their own ice for stirring or shaking; some actually make their own ice. Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are used. Housemade syrups and bitters are not uncommon.

This is where to drink in L.A. (and environs). Most are free-standing bars, some are restaurants, all of them will serve you a really good drink. Many of them will serve you an amazing one.

View Where to Drink in Los Angeles (and thereabouts) in a larger map

320 Main, 320 Main St., Seal Beach, CA 90740. (562) 799-6246. Jason Schiffer, co-proprietor. Erik Trickett, Matt Robold et al., bartenders.

A-Frame Restaurant, 12565 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90066. (310) 398-7700. Bar program by Brian Butler.

Areal, 2820 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 392-1661. Rich Andreoli.

Bar 1886 at the Raymond, 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105. (626) 441-3136. Cocktail menu by Marcos Tello & Aidan Demarest, and the crew of 1886: Head bartender Garrett McKechnie and bartenders Danny Cymbal, Brady Weise, Greg Gertmenian, Lacey Murillo, et al.

Bar | Kitchen, O Hotel, 819 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 623-9904 x105. Bar program by Alex Day and David Kaplan.

Bar Bouchon, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 281-5698. Small and casual, downstairs from and to the right of the restaurant’s main entrance.

Bar Centro, The Bazaar at SLS Hotel, 465 S La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 246-5555.

Bar Marmont, 8171 W. Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90046. (323) 650-0575.

Big Bar at The Alcove, 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 644-0100. Juan Sevilla et al., bartenders.

Black Market Liquor Bar, 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604. (818) 446-2533. Tricia Alley, Ray Ewers, et al., bartenders.

Bottega Louie, 700 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 802-1470. Across the street from Seven Grand.

Bouchon Bistro, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 271-9910. The upstairs bar in the bistro has a separate staff and menu.

Caña Rum Bar, 714 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 745-7090. Enter at the first private driveway south of Olympic on Flower St. Members only; membership is open and is $20 annually. Allan Katz, general manager.

Church & State Bistro, 1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 405-1434.

Cole’s Red Car Bar, 118 East 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 622-4090.

Comme Ça Restaurant, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 782-1104.

Copa d’Oro, 217 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 576-3030. Vincenzo Marianella, proprietor.

Craft Los Angeles, 10100 Constellation Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (310) 279-4180.

La Descarga,1159 North Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 466-1324. Steve Livigni, general manager. Pablo Moix, Ken Arbuckle, et al., bartenders.

Drago Centro, 525 S Flower St., Suite #120, Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 228-8998. Michael Shearin, sommelier & beverage director. Jaymee Mandeville, Jen Len, Mark Blackhart et al., bartenders.

The Edison, 108 W 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 613-0000.

El Carmen Restaurant, 8138 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 852-1552. Large selection of tequilas.

The Eveleigh Restaurant, 8752 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (424) 239-1630.

First & Hope Supper Club, 710 W 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 617-8555.

Harvard & Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd. (at N. Harvard), Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 466-6063. Bar program by Steve Livigni & Pablo Moix of La Descarga. Matt Wallace, head bartender, with bartenders Rich Andreoli, Nathan Oliver, Francois Vera & Mia Sarazen, opening crew.

Hemingway’s Lounge, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. (323) 469-0040.

The Hungry Cat, 135 N Vine St. at Sunset, Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 462-2155.

Jones, 7205 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 850-1726. Eric “E.T.” Tecosky et al, bartenders.

Las Perlas, 107 E 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 988-8355. Across the street from Cole’s. Tequila & mezcal.

Library Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Matthew Biancaniello, Ryan Green, Brady Weise et al., bartenders.

Malo Taqueria, 4326 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029. (323) 664-1011.

Mixology 101 at Planet Dailies, 6333 W. 3rd St., Ste. O20, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (323) 370-6560. Bar manager Joseph Brooke.

Musso and Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 467-7788.

Neat, 1114 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale, CA 91202. (818) 241-4542. Owner Aidan Demarest. Bartenders Cari Hah, et al.

Next Door Lounge, 1154 N Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 465-5505. Head barman, Joe Brooke.

Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 297-0100. Finest collection of Italian amari in Los Angeles, perhaps anywhere.

The Parish, 840 S. Spring St. at 9th, Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 225-2400. John Coltharp, head bartender. Leo Rivas, Edwin Cruz, Brian Summers, et al. Chef Casey Lane.

Picca Peru, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133.

Plan Check Bar, 1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 288-6500.

Playa, 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 933-5300.

Pour Vous, 5574 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004. (323) 871-8699. Pablo Moix, Dave Fernie, et al.

Providence Restaurant, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 460-4170. Zahra Bates, bartender.

Rivera Restaurant, 1050 S Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 749-1460. Julian Cox et al., bartenders.

The Roger Room, 370 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. (310) 854-1300. Damian Windsor, Jason Bran et al., bartenders.

Seven Grand, 515 W 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 614-0737.

Sotto Restaurant, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133. Cocktails by Julian Cox and team.

The Spare Room, Mezzanine Level, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Two bowling alleys, backgammon and chess tables, board games.

Sunny Spot, 822 Washington Blvd. at Abbot Kinney, Venice, CA 90292. (310) 448-8884. Brian Butler, et al.

The Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. (310) 392-6644. John Coltharp, Justin Pike et al., bartenders.

The Thirsty Crow, 2939 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA. (323) 661-6007.

Tiki-Ti, 4427 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 669-9381. Mike Buhen Sr. & Jr., bartenders.

Tlapazola Grill, 11676 Gateway Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064 (310) 477-1577. Edwin Cruz, bartender and co-proprietor.

Tony’s Saloon, 2017 E 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 622-5523.

The Varnish, 118 E Sixth St., Los Angeles 90014. (213) 622-9999. Entrance through a non-descript door in the back of the dining room in Cole’s French Dip. Eric Alperin, co-owner & bartender. Chris Bostick, manager & bartender. Devon Tarby et al., bartenders.

Villains Tavern, 1356 Palmetto, Los Angeles, CA 91003. (213) 613-0766. Dave Whitton, co-owner & bartender, et al.

Westside Tavern, 10850 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. (310) 470-1539. Kylee Van Dillen, Dan McClary, et al., bartenders.

If I’ve missed any, shout at me in the comments. Also … I know it’s fraught with peril to list any bartenders in bar listings — it’s almost a full-time job keep track of where my bartender friends are working. I’ve thrown in a few more well-known names of people that I know are relatively settled, for the time being at least.

Next stop … where to get a great cocktail in New Orleans.

Do you remember?

I do.


And for your Election Day amusement, here’s a new election-themed short story by one of my favorite writers, John Scalzi:

“An Election,” a short story presented by Subterranean Press.

Continue reading …

Cocktail of the Day: The Perfect Pear

(Catching up yet again with stragglers that never made it into the big Cocktail Index …)

I first tried this cocktail in September of 1999 on our first visit to Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco. I liked it a lot, and came across the original recipe somewhere (now apparently lost in the depths of the web).

It was fairly typical of the type of cocktail I was drinking at the time (vodka-based, oy) but a pretty good use of vodka. As much as we may deride vodka in cocktails, it has its place and uses, one of which is to smooth out and extend the flavor of a sweet liqueur while cutting the sweetness (such as in the Gypsy cocktail), or in this case taking a strong fruit brandy and maintaining that flavor while lightening and extending it somewhat. A bit of lime juice for tartness, a touch of orange juice for smoothness and a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. Nice cocktail. In fact, at a cocktail party Wes and I threw the following year, this was one of the most popular drinks we made all night, and even then I was tweaking the recipe. “More pear brandy!” cried my friend René.

I put this cocktail aside for years, and as I was going through my old Gumbo Pages cocktail and beverages page looking for stray recipes that hadn’t gotten integrated into the Looka! cocktail index I came across this one. I do love pear brandy (or eau-de-vie; these are the clear, dry fruit brandies, not super-sweet liqueurs that are called “brandy” as a misnomer), and I love the crisp flavor of pears in the fall. I also wondered what I could do to bring this drink up a bit, more in line with my current tastes.

Well, first thing — replace the vodka with gin. Guh. That always works.

Except … it doesn’t. Not always.

It’s true, there are myriad vodka cocktails that can be vastly improved by replacing the vodka with gin, and I do it all the time. It’s bitten me in the ass on a couple of occasions, though. I recall a dinner at MiLa in New Orleans a few years ago in which I read the ingredients of a particular drink on their cocktail menu and instantly knew that it would be much better with gin than vodka, and I ordered it with that substitution.

Guess what. It wasn’t that good.

I finished it and asked for another, this time made by the original recipe. It was a lot better.

Given that experience I approached a vodka-to-gin tweak of the Perfect Pear with an arched eyebrow. So the other night I substituted Plymouth gin, a wonderful English gin with a lighter profile than a London Dry, and sipped the result.

Holy hell. That was really, really good.

This cocktail has been on the menu at Absinthe for many years, but a check of the current cocktail menu on their website shows that it’s dropped off. I suspect that this is because they have a new bar manager, now that longtime Absinthe bartenders Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin have moved over to the restaurant’s new venue, the Comstock Saloon. (I’ll bet they’ll still make it for you if you as, though.) If you want to make this cocktail at home the way it was originally done at the restaurant, use vodka … and lemon juice instead of lime.

(Note on the vodka: Don’t spend a fortune on something like Grey Goose or any of those so-called “premium vodkas” if you’re just going to mix it in a cocktail. If you’re a vodka connoisseur and you drink it chilled and neat, that’s one thing. If you’re going to mix it, I guarantee that you won’t be able to tell the difference between a fifty dollar premium vodka and a good quality vodka almost a fifth its price. For the money and the quality I highly recommend Sobieski vodka from Poland.)

The Perfect Pear
adapted from Marco Dionysos, original created for Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, San Francisco, c. 2000

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce pear eau-de-vie (I used Purkhart).
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice.
2 teaspoons orange juice.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.


Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

Yes, three posts in 24 hours. Try not to have a hawt attack ‘r somethin’.

Hallowe’en weekend is upon us! I love Hallowe’en! What’re we doing for Hallowe’en?


Wes is gone all weekend for work, I’m exceedingly lazy and don’t feel like coming up with a costume and have grown weary of all the hassle of going out to Santa Monica Boulevard. I’ll probably get stuff done around the house, and in the later evening we’ll have some seasonally appropriate cocktails, such as the Corpse Reviver No. 2, Satan’s Whiskers and the Zombie. (Hm. It occurs to me that I’ve never written up those last two. *make note for later*)

To make matters worse, for years we haven’t bothered decorating the house for Hallowe’en because for the first three years in a row at our house there were no trick-or-treaters. Either the few kids in our neighborhood don’t go out, or they’ve already finished by the time we get home. Now we don’t even bother with decorations or even buying any candy. (Last thing we need is big bowls of candy around the house with no one to eat them from us.) It’s a bummer — it’s fun to have trick-or-treaters come over. In Silver Lake near our friend Steve’s house there’s a block that gets hundreds, if not over a thousand kids trick or treating! What do we get?

Standing on our water meter, not a single trick-or-treater
Knocking now to put an end to my loud, horrendous snore
Nary even just one nipper dressing up as Jack the Ripper
Underneath the great Big Dipper, seeking candy at my door
“Zero visitors,” I muttered; the no-ones at my green front door
Will find candy … nevermore!

Oh wait, that reminds me … in a special treat from the shiny, shiny folks at Quantum Mechanix, we present you with a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven” — produced, directed and performed by John De Lancie:

We’ll also undoubtedly watch some scary movies this weekend (we have many), plus Sunday is the premiere of the new AMC series adaptation of the graphic novel The Walking Dead, which I’ve been looking forward to for months! I’ve been reading Robert Kirkman’s ongoing series for six years now, and the show has a lot going for it — director Frank Darabont, plus the great track record for dramatic series on AMC (“Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men”). Tune in on Sunday at 10pm (Eastern & Pacific), 9pm Central, and check out the above link for a ton of behind-the-scenes documentaries.


Yellow With Envy

My friend Zane Harris bartends at the outstanding neighborhood bar Rob Roy in Seattle Dutch Kills in Queens, New York these days, among other places. Besides being a great guy, he’s a constant source of inspiration on cocktails, spirits and hospitality. (Incidentally, of all the Seattle bars I love, and that’s a lot of ’em, Rob Roy is probably the one I wish were in my neighborhood, within walking distance of my house.)

Zane is always challenging my expectations, and did so again with a recent visit to Los Angeles and a guest turn behind the stick at The Varnish, one of the L.A. bars I love. (I still enjoy quoting my friend Chris from Denver, after I brought him to that bar for the first time: “I wish that I had a wardrobe in my bedroom which, Narnia-like, would transport me to The Varnish on demand.”) Unfortunately the only recipe I remember from that night (when you’re drinking, write recipes down à la minute, you idiot, or you’ll forget them!) is this one, which Zane was kind enough to share with me.

Using Chartreuse as a base spirit isn’t something you come across all that often. It’s certainly powerful enough — 40% alcohol for the yellow variety, and a whopping 55% for the green — although most of the time it’s used in smaller quantities as an accent, given its even more powerful, even pungent herbal flavor.

One of my favorite cocktails is the Chartreuse Swizzle, a magnificent creation by Marco Dionysos with a whopping two ounces of green Chartreuse as its base. Zane’s drink uses the same concept — a tall, Chartreuse-based swizzle — but it’s the first time in my life I’d ever had a drink with yellow Chartreuse as its base. An additional boost to the spice is from a spicy peppercorn syrup, which would be pretty versatile once you’ve got it on hand.

Yellow With Envy

Yellow With Envy
(by Zane Harris, Rob Roy, Seattle)

1-1/2 ounces (45 ml) yellow Chartreuse.
1 ounce (30 ml) fresh lime juice.
1 ounce (30 ml) fresh grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce (15 ml) black peppercorn syrup (see below).

Shake vigorously with cracked ice until the shaker is too cold to hold (12 seconds or so). Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Black peppercorn syrup

2 cups (400 g) sugar.
1 cup (250 ml) water.
1/4 cup (use a 60 ml measure) cracked black peppercorns.

In a saucepan, heat the peppercorns until they become fragrant. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer to remove all of the peppercorn particles. Add a splash of vodka as a preservative, bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 1-1/2 cups syrup

NOTE: Zane may end up correcting me on the amount of pepper in the syrup, but this is what my pickled brain recalled from the evening.