Worth A Trip
Posted by Glenn Gritzner on May 8, 2009
Hello Enthusiasts –
I hope you all had a nice weekend. Weekends are a good time to venture out, see more of what this great City has to offer, get out of our comfort zones a bit.
This little blog is obviously focused on Downtown, and I do believe that Downtown is the epicenter of what’s new, different, and exciting in Los Angeles right now. But word is spreading. New restaurants are affecting a more urban vibe, and – near and dear to this Amateur Enthusiast’s heart – starting to serve decent cocktails. Older restaurants are refreshing themselves and realizing that even people who live east of La Cienega can afford a decent night out. It’s all very heartening.
Of course, we have a long way to go. My heart still sinks every time I go into a promising place, open a drink menu, and see a long lists of drinks that end in “-tini”. And even some places that mean well just don’t get it yet. Just last night, I was at a newish gastropub called Boho, near the Arclight in the old Charcoal space. Great space – all brick and indoor trees and books on the shelves. Great and unexpected beers on tap. Really good food – definitely my new pre- or post-movie spot. And, surprise upon surprises, they even had a decent cocktail list. Except. It included an “inverted manhattan”. The ingredients listed R1 rye, which is a good rye. It also listed sweet vermouth and, the oft-missing ingredient, Angostura bitters. I asked the waiter why it was inverted, and he said it was because they flipped the ratio of vermouth and rye – it’s usually (about) twice as much rye as vermouth, and they apparently reverse it and do twice as much vermouth. Which is just disgusting and uncalled for. So the road to hell is still paved with good intentions.
But all this got me thinking. If you are an Enthusiast – which we all are, right? – and you’re looking for a good, professional cocktail outside of downtown, where should you go? As usual, I’m here for you. This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good way to get you started. (and if you are already a cocktail aficionado, you can stop reading because you already know all these places, unless you can’t get enough of my witty repartee):
Where: In the Sunset & Vine development, across from Arclight. Tucked in behind Cafe Wa s.
When to go: After a movie at Arclight.
What to expect: Small, busy place full of delighted foodies and pleasant chaos.
Commentary: Since I mentioned Boho above, I’ll mention a nearby place that knows how to do real cocktails. It’s also a great mostly seafood restaurant, co-owned by Suzanne Goin of A.O.C. and Lucques fame, but it’s *really* hard to get a table because it’s tiny. But next time you just got out of a movie at Arclight and you want to go somewhere for a drink, go here. They have a great “standard” cocktail menu, a usually-interesting “seasonal” menu, and an always-intriguing special or two. Sit at the bar, order a couple of snacks, and marvel at how a bar this small in front of a kitchen that small can do what they do. Pretty incredible.
Where: Melrose, just east of La Cienega
When to go: When you’re looking for “a place in the middle” to meet that friend from the Westside for dinner.
What to expect: An upsacle-but-accessible version of a French bistro. A little loud, but convivial.
Commentary: Comme Ca is the somewhat more reasonably priced version of its big sister, Sona, around the corner. (Confession: Sona also does great cocktails, but I haven’t been there … yet.) I’ve eaten at Comme Ca a number of times and have never been disappointed (get the roasted bone marrow and oxtail jam appetizer, even if that seems gross to you – you won’t be disappointed). But sitting at the bar and letting the bartender have their way with me never disappoints. Don’t let the measly 4 cocktails on the menu fool you (though they are all very good) – this place knows its drinks. If there’s something on the chalkboard that looks even mildly good, get it. Or, just let the bartender do their thing. Get there 1/2 hour before your friend is supposed to arrive, order a cheese plate from the fromagerie at your back, and you’re in for a nice time.
Where: Melrose, between Highland and Vine
When to go: On a Sunday night, after dinner, when you want one more little blurb of fun before the weekend ends.
What to expect: Civility. Comfort. Exquisite service, even at the bar. (I tried to get a picture of just the small bar, which is really inviting, but the restaurant picture gives you a sense)
Commentary: I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Providence the great seafood restaurant on Melrose in the old Citrus space? And the answer is yes – but what fewer people know is that they do absolutely incredible cocktails. If you’re lucky, Zahra will be working. The drink program was co-created by Zahra and the legendary Vincenzo Marianella, but Zahra is the master here. She doesn’t come to many of the “cocktail community” events – she just pleasantly works away at Providence, serving exquisitely created drinks for foodies, few of whom know the craftsmanship they are getting. I ordered a whiskey panna cotta for dessert, and before I knew it, she was whipping me up a whiskey cocktail with coffee, homespun vanilla sugar, and drizzled with fresh cream. She knows exactly how many stirs make a perfect manhattan (27, if you’re wondering, but only if you haven’t let the drink sit too long in the ice). She knows both the classic and the updated way to make every drink you can think of. Anyone there will make you a good drink – but Zahra will make a transcendent one.
Where: Broadway, between 2nd & the 3rd St. Promenade, in Santa Monica.
When to go: Saturday afternoon, after a day of shopping and strolling on the beach. Or, whenever you can get that far west.
What to expect: A revelation.
Commentary: Boy do I love Copa D’Oro. So you’ve just finished cruising around 3rd St. Promenade. You’ve had enough of the jugglers and the chain stores and the tourists, and you come across the storefront you see above. Unassuming enough.
But then you walk in, and you see this:
This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s the best I could do. It’s warm and inviting and even a little seductive. All soft yellow light with just a twinge of mysticism, but all in a way that says “come in, sit down – we’ll take care of you.”
The aforementioned Vincenzo Marianella – one of the godfathers of L.A. cocktails – ventured west to open up this truly innovative concept: a Farmer’s-Market-fresh cocktail bar. They troll the nearby Farmer’s Market for the freshest fruits and herbs to mix in their drinks. So, on the first page of the drink menu, you can simply choose your spirit, choose what fruits or herbs (or even veggies) you like, and they’ll concoct something. Or, better yet, ask them what’s fresh, tell them what you usually drink, and let them rock something out for you – that’s how I got a Tangerine Rye Sour that was to die for. The freshness of the tangerine came through so strongly, it made the entire drink that much more enticing. This is the kind of place that will put a little egg white in your drink without telling you, just to add a little creamy foam to the top.
Of course, they also have an absolutely incredible drink menu that handily divides up the drinks into sweeter, more sour, more refreshing, or more “innovative” selections, and they are all made with ingredients as fresh as they come. (The sandwiches are pretty good too, so that those drinks have something to stick to).
I saved the farthest – and best – for last. It took me awhile to visit Copa because I live and work so far away, but it’s absolutely worth a special trip. But the rest of these are, too.
So see? Downtown is still the best, but the rest of the City is catching up. There are more places than this, but this is a good way to get started.
Keep your enthusiasm up, and happy travels.
Short cuts of the places I mentioned:
6372 W. Sunset Blvd. (at Ivar)
The Hungry Cat
1535 N. Vine (and Sunset, in Sunset & Vine development)
8179 Melrose (just east of La Cienega)
5955 Melrose (between Highland and Vine)
217 Broadway St. (between 2nd & the 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica)