July 9th, 2011
You probably noticed things haven’t been pouring around here lately. Sorry. I’ve been in the middle of a big transition that will, I’m sad to say, render drinkboston.com an artifact. This blogger is moving to L.A.
It’s a day-job thing. My career in university communications has progressed despite my second “career” carousing Boston bars by night and writing about the goings-on in them during lunch. So, hello, University of Southern California! Luckily, my new employer is close to downtown L.A., home of such luxe watering holes as The Varnish and Caña.
Will there be a DrinkLA.com? ‘Fraid not. My new position, along with explorations of my new city, will keep me plenty busy for a while. But I will keep this site online — and will continue to moderate comments — for those who want to browse any of the 450 posts I’ve written over the past five years.
It sounds clichéd, but it’s true: One of the best things about publishing this blog is the people I have met. Bartenders, barbacks, fellow customers, cocktail enthusiasts. Brand ambassadors, professional mixologists, other drink writers. And, of course, many, many of my fellow Boston imbibers. I thank all of you for the good cheer, the support you gave this endeavor, and the time you spent reading and commenting on the scribblings here. I’ll miss you, I’ll miss this town, and I’ll miss this labor of love. But I look forward to downing a round of Fernet with you when I visit. Cheers, y’all!
Posted in L.A. | 23 Comments »
April 16th, 2011
Little did I know that, as I was ordering the last drinks of my L.A. trip at The Varnish last month, Liz Taylor rolled a seven. Had I been aware of her passing at Cedars-Sinai just a few miles away, I might’ve gulped down my expertly crafted cocktail and rushed over to the West Hollywood gay bar Taylor frequented in her final years. Alas, I was oblivious until I caught Headline News at the airport the next day.
I’m not one to worship celebrities, but I loved Elizabeth Taylor. She was captivatingly gorgeous, elegant, slutty and vulgar (that last word being one she used to describe herself). No movie star has ever been bigger, and she basically said, “I’m having fun with this, bitches. Pour me another drink.”
An admirer of that attitude, I knocked L.A. back with gusto, not unlike the first time around. Oh my, but has the bar scene changed in five years — cocktail joints are everywhere now, and they’re the place to be. So I went…
La Descarga, East Hollywood. This was recommended to me as THE hot cocktail bar in L.A. We managed to slide in early on a Saturday night after chatting with one of the valets outside who informed us that Katherine Heigl had been there the week before. Up a flight of stairs … into an antechamber where a hostess with a mini-dress and a Slavic accent opened the doors of a wardrobe (complete with empty hangers) … onto a wrought-iron catwalk with a spiral staircase … and behold: a two-story back bar full of rum. The place is a Bacardi-backed venture (with other rums and spirits invited into the mix) launched by the same team responsible for the brand-spanking-new Harvard & Stone (below). Bartenders in white shirts and black ties serve classic rum drinks (and the occasional Red Bull and vodka) to a fashionable crowd entertained by live Latin jazz and burlesque performers. Think: Old Havana nightclub meets warehouse party. This being L.A., the look of the place is all expert set design, from the cracked plaster to the random-seeming burnt-out light bulbs. Yep, the name of this bar means “the discharge.” I have no idea.
Caña, Downtown. Yes, another hot rum bar. Intriguingly located in the back of a parking garage, Caña occupies the space formerly known as The Doheny, a private cocktail club with a $2200 membership fee. Caña is also a private club, but membership only costs $20, and all you have to do is check into the place on Foursquare to waive that. I was lucky enough to visit Caña with L.A. Drinking Ambassadors Chuck Taggart and Wes Moore, who know every good bartender and tippling joint in the city. We had a couple rounds of finely crafted drinks from this menu. The Royal Oil, Misti Dawn Swizzle and Good Word were particularly outstanding.
The Varnish, Downtown. We really, really wanted to have a French Dip at Cole’s (est. 1908) before heading to the back of the restaurant and opening an unmarked door into the speakeasy that put L.A. on the craft-cocktail map. But the kitchen closed at 10:00 — jeez, Downtown L.A. rolls up the sidewalks early on a Tuesday! So we headed to The Gorbels (a cool restaurant by Top Chef winner Ilan Hall) for some bacon-wrapped matzo balls before closing out the evening at The Varnish with Chuck, Wes and Ron “LushAngeles” Dollet. Vintage tile floor, wood-paneled walls, a saloon piano player and a compact bar make this a place that you’d want to be your second living room. Oh, and the drinks ain’t bad either. This is where I got my whiskey fix with a shimmering Emerald (Red Breast Irish whiskey, Carpano Antica vermouth and orange bitters) and a tasty Talent Scout (bourbon, curacao, Angostura bitters) from Chris Bostick. Unfortunately, I missed seeing Woburn native Devon Tarby, one of the top broads of L.A.’s cocktail scene, behind the bar. Next time.
R&D bar at Harvard & Stone. Photo: Caroline on Crack
Harvard & Stone, East Hollywood. Another craft cocktail bar amid an Oscar-worthy interior designed to look like, as the L.A. Times put it, “a mix of industrial steampunk warehouse and a 1940s boiler room.” Also responsible for the rum-focused La Descarga (above), the team behind Harvard & Stone decided to skew domestic for its booze selection and minimalist for its cocktail menu. The night we were there, the smaller back bar, aka the R & D bar, was featuring Aviation gin from Portland, OR, and offering a list of about five not-too-complicated drinks. I appreciated that kind of limitation, as well as the casually hip staff and clientele.
Notable cocktails were also had at:
- Comme Ça, West Hollywood. A Penicillin and a Doe-Eyed Doll (cognac, Aperol, lemon, straight-up).
- Library Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The buzz about this place generally focuses on head bartender Matthew Biancaniello, but we got perfectly delicious libations from his colleague Chris Hewes, most notably a Mexican Rocket (tequila, agave syrup, lime and arugula shaken and served over a big rock). I was delighted to find out that Chris is the son of Jim Hewes, who has tended bar at Washington D.C.’s famous Round Robin bar (which I visited last spring) for many years.
- Hungry Cat, Hollywood. I loved the Coney Island High: Applejack, rosemary caramel syrup, lemon, a few drops of absinthe, on the rocks.
In between cocktails, quality beer drinking occurred at the wonderfully retro Red Lion Tavern in Silver Lake — a German beer joint with an outdoor garden and a neighborhood vibe — Father’s Office in Santa Monica and the Venice Ale House on the beach. Finally, an early afternoon and an early morning were spent at the louche Kibitz Room in the famed Canter’s Deli.
Thanks, L.A. It was fun.
Tags: Cana, Elizabeth Taylor, Harvard & Stone, Kibitz Room, La Descarga, Red Lion Tavern, The Varnish
Posted in Cocktails, L.A. | 3 Comments »
June 17th, 2007
Scott and I recently spent a week in L.A., riding bikes along Venice Beach, going to the Tonight Show (Don Rickles!), catching a Dodgers game and visiting as many bars and restaurants as we could. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin account of our Week in Drink: L.A. Edition.
Note: We did not go to any of the bars featured in the movie Swingers. I’m sure that the Dresden Room, the Derby, etc. are fun places, but they just didn’t fit into our schedule or travel routes.
Father’s Office, Santa Monica
The walls in this place are that blond-colored wood paneling that you’d imagine finding in a typical 1950s-era office in southern California. We were there for a full-on Sunday brunch crowd that couldn’t have been friendlier — a couple at a table noticed us standing and invited us to sit with them. They were eating sweet potato fries “a la cart” — literally served in a miniature grocery cart with wheels. Excellent draught microbrews from Ale Smith, Anderson Valley, etc., plus one of the most genius things I have seen in any bar: a tap handle topped with a little fire hydrant that dispensed water.
The Library Alehouse, Santa Monica
A convenient walk from where we stayed in Venice. Good brews on tap, including a lovely, crisp Kolsch-style ale from the Alaskan Brewing Co. Narrow, sky-lit pub in front, private patio out back.
The Other Room, Venice
Hip beer and wine bar on hip Abbot Kinney Blvd. (The street is named after the tobacco mogul who founded Venice in the 1890s.) The bar is the latest in a slew of similarly named establishments (The Room, Another Room, etc.) begat by New York restaurateur Craig Weiss. High brick walls, low light, little nooks for group seating, black & white, urban-themed art on the walls, good beer and hot barmaids in tube tops.
Bar Marmont, West Hollywood
“No, John Belushi died next door in the hotel,” the bartenders at the Bar Marmont frequently must explain to clueless customers. This is a really exotic, odd, cool bar that sits adjacent to but not in the famed Chateau Marmont that has housed many a debauched celeb. To paraphrase one web reviewer, the place has a Vietnam-in-the-1930s feel. There’s bamboo, a giant stuffed peacock, and, on the ceiling, hundreds of butterflies. Our bartenders, Joe and William, had the unflappable, dry manner of those who are accustomed to dealing with the antics of celebutantes, and this well behaved couple from Boston enjoyed an entertaining rapport with them. William actually lamented the sudden absence of customers like Lindsay (rehab), Paris (jail) and Britney (Crazytown), saying, “It’s like all the bad kids had to go away to summer school” — leaving the rest of the kids to find their own fun. The cocktails here were pretty decent, even though a Martini and a Manhattan had the bejeezus shaken out of them (stirring remains a forgotten concept in most bars). I had a tasty, well executed Sunset Sour: Wild Turkey Rye, fresh lemon, splash of OJ, egg white and a splash of red wine served in a tall glass over large, sturdy rocks. (When I asked about this unusual ice, Joe informed me that the bar had recently invested in a $40,000 ice machine. Formidable!) Finally, we had the most awesome bar food here, including Boozy Bacon Prunes (!).
Bar at the Hotel Bel Air, Bel Air
You walk underneath the green-awninged entrance, past the swans floating in a tree-shaded pond, through a pink, sunlit dining terrace, and on to the bar: a dark, hushed, cool gentlemen’s library. If you need a therapeutic break from the hubbub of L.A., have a drink here in the middle of the day. As we sipped our Manhattan and Kir Royale, we chatted with an incredibly pleasant barman from Minnesota who topped up our water glasses with Evian. You will pay a lot for your drink here, but it will be a drink to remember.
Shutters, Santa Monica
Shutters is a pretty, luxury hotel on the beach that often gets compared to hotels on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a little bar there that overlooks the many-windowed dining room, called 1 Pico (Shutters’ address is 1 Pico Blvd.). If you want to have a glass of champagne and watch the sunset, this is the place to do it.
The Brig, Venice
A 50-year-old bar that, I’m guessing, used to be pretty rough before Abbot Kinney Blvd. turned into a hip commercial district. The place apparently underwent a makeover in the last year or so, and it has a sleek, updated retro-lounge feel that works well. The wide-open room has a long bar, a DJ booth, a pool table and low-lit, funky bathrooms. Our bartender was a laid-back gem of a guy who mixed up a decent Negroni and got us a dinner reservation at Dan Tana’s (see below) through a friend of his who works there.
Chez Jay, Santa Monica
Great, tiny, historic haunt on Ocean Ave. Sawdust on the floor, dusty nautical decor, delicious cheeseburgers and cold Bud in bottles. Magazine articles covering a wall near the restrooms describe Chez Jay’s celebrity encounters over the decades, including tales of Marlon Brando absconding with a waitress and Warren Beatty filming a scene for Shampoo in the back room.
Dan Tana’s, West Hollywood
We walked into this classic, early-1960s-era L.A. landmark at 9:30 on a Wednesday night, and it was packed. The entryway was its own little party of people drinking Martinis and red wine, waiting for their turn to enter the small dining room and order Spaghetti Carbonara and Dabney Coleman Steak. The food is a tad overpriced, but you know that going in, because you’re here for the whole package of the history, the vibe and the likelihood of spotting the famous — from movie stars to politicians. (No we didn’t spot any celebs that night.) Dan Tana’s greatest asset is its staff, whose speed, attention to detail and ability to control chaos is a lot of fun to watch. The head bartender, Michael, has worked here for 40 years. Every time I looked over at the bar, he was pouring shots of Averna and Fernet. He joined in on several of those rounds himself without ever diminishing his lightning speed. Awesome.
Musso & Frank’s, Hollywood
The oldest of the Old Hollywood joints, this place opened right after WWI. Like Dan Tana’s, the staff here dresses formally, even if the clientele doesn’t. There are two large, high-ceilinged dining rooms with dark wood walls, one with a long, diner-style counter, the other with a traditional cocktail bar. We sat at the latter and ordered whiskey sours, which were good although inexplicably mixed in a blender. Meanwhile, I saw a few trays of Martinis and Gibsons go out to the dining room, and I’m here to report that these cocktails were stirred, not shaken. They were also served in the old-style, small glasses you never see anymore in this age of the Big Gulp candy-tini.
Tiki Ti, Hollywood
What a tiny, kooky, fun place. Twelve barstools, a half-dozen small tables, 86 kinds of tiki drinks. We were in a rush to get to Dodger Stadium, so I only had time to down half a Puka Puka (no idea what was in it, other than rum), but I managed to soak up the spirit of the place. According to Tiki Ti’s website, “The bar was opened in 1961 by master mixologist Ray Buhen, who was there at the start of the Tropical Drink craze at Don The Beachcomber’s legendary restaurant. His son and grandson, Michael and Mike Buhen now carry on his tradition; together, they practice the “Lost Art” of Exotic Cocktail mixing in the last of the great neighborhood tiki bars.”
Posted in L.A. | 8 Comments »