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Food

15 Bars for the Best Cocktails in L.A. Made by Real-Deal Mixologists

December 11, 2014 by Jeannette Swanson

What’s the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?

Well, the former just serves you drinks, while the latter is a craft artist who innovates, refines, and perfects their techniques to make the best potables possible.

It takes something special to be a called a true mixologist, but we’ve found 15 establishments in Los Angeles where the cocktail drinking experience is elevated to a truly exceptional level, combining elite levels of skill, ingredients and creativity.

So check out below our picks (in no particular order) for where to get the best cocktails in L.A. made by some of the city’s finest bartenders mixologists.

And of course most importantly after you read the list, go try ’em! 🙂

Thirsty Crow Cocktail

Credit: Thirsty Crow on Facebook

Blue Collar

Vinny Laresca recently opened a bar on Fairfax that’s an ode to the “Golden Age” of cocktail programs. You won’t find a cocktail list here; instead the cocktail program that’s run by Aaron Stepka is based on memory and personalization. The bartenders here will remember your favorite drink just like a restaurant will remember your favorite order.

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The Thirsty Crow

Head bartender Cooper Gillespie’s cocktail program includes homemade shrubs, sherbets, jams and in-house fusions. Check out the cocktail menu on their website and pick a drink based on your favorite bartender from The Thirsty Crow. Try the Ernesto Hemingway by Geoffrey Smyser or the Grapescape courtesy of Rahad Coulter-Stevenson.

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The Exhibition Room

The best-kept secret in Long Beach is connected to Roxanne’s Lounge through a 1940s-era phone booth. David Valiante, Bar Director of The Exhibition Room and owner of Elevated Mixology, brings 20 years of industry experience to the bar’s cocktail program. Stay turned to their social feed for updates on Liquid Lessons from experts in the field.

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Exhibition Room Cocktail

Credit: The Exhibition Room on Facebook

Black Market Liquor Bar

The Black Market Liquor Bar opening in 2011 gives people an escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. The Valley’s premier destination for cocktails has a menu that changes weekly and a group of the area’s top mixologists to create creative change.

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1886 Bar

Mixologists showcase their creativity in a cool space behind a South Pasadena restaurant. A 100-year-old house holds the Raymond restaurant in the front and 1886 Bar in the rear. Head barman Brady Wiese brings expertise from his time bartending in the Bay Area and Tangier in Los Feliz. Only open since 2010, expect the cocktail list to change with the seasons. And in celebration of their four year anniversary they’ve introduced a Greatest Hits cocktail list that includes 13 of the tastiest cocktails ever created on Fair Oaks Ave.

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The Edison

This underground architects dream sets the stage for artisanal cocktails and a new drought-friendly cocktail list. They’re also in their 5th year of partnering with The Midnight Mission’s toy drive. The scoop- bring a toy and receive a complimentary cocktail between now and the 20th of this month.

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Cocktail at The Edison

Credit: The Edison on Facebook

Bar Centro

Located inside Beverly Hills’ SLS hotel is a lounge that was the first in Los Angeles to offer liquid nitrogen. The open lounge is a forum for superb mixologists to craft exceptional modern creations. Expect a playground of cocktails, all molecular-inspired and the appearance of cotton candy.

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Harvard and Stone

Come in for Asian-flavored cocktails at the cocktail bar that was a finalist in the Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s most well known cocktail conference. Jill Webster, Harvard and Stone’s current bar manager, has won two Speed Rack regional competitions in San Diego and San Francisco. This is the place to visit for speed cocktails.

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The Roger Room

Matt Wise from the bar on La Cienega told me it’s “a collaborative effort at the Roger Room.” The Roger Room’s three main creative mixologists Jason Porter, Tai Bennett, and Bruce Hood create a “very well balanced menu that appeals to a variety of palates,” Matt adds. From the recently released Winter Menu Matt suggests trying the Straw Man and The Long Goodbye:

Straw Man

Twelve Five Overproof Rye, Pumpkin & Spice, Old Fashioned Bitters, Rosemary, Orange Peel, rocks

 The Long Goodbye

Vida Mezcal Rinse, Herradura Blanco, Ancho Reyes Liqueur, Fresh Carrot Juice, Fresh Lime Juice, Agave Nectar, Lime Zest, up

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Roger Room Cocktail

Photo Credit: The Roger Room

Library Bar

Not to be confused with the book-lined indoor lounge at The Redbury or the one at the Roosevelt Hotel, mixologists from the Library Bar in Downtown Los Angeles craft their own bitters, foam and garnishes.

Having just celebrated their 8th year anniversary, Library Bar still provides a beautifully lit ambiance with a genuine bookcase that customers just adore.

The cocktail menu was developed by Andrew All, Makeda Teachout and Dylan Synder. If Dylan Synder rings a bell it’s because he’s the Beverage Director for Acme Hospitality. Andrew All suggests trying the Big Bad Wolf, a cocktail developed by Makeda Rose. “It is a raspberry tequila sour with a stenciled paw print sprayed on with bitters,” Andrew All explains.

Says Andrew:

“We have an elevated cocktail program and still get our cocktails out fast, we have an excellent cocktail hour from 3-7p.m. Monday through Friday that brings in a lot of business men and women from all over the Financial District.”

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The Varnish

There’s a lot to be expected from one of Los Angeles’ original cocktail bars and The Varnish consistently puts out classic cocktails with loads of style. Eric Alperin, lead bartender and owner of The Varnish is kind of a big deal and he places a strong emphasis on historical accuracy. One might call their rotating cocktail list a boutique list since it includes about five or six drinks. If you’d like to be daring, go with the bartender’s choice cocktail, after all they did earn the title of Best American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2012.

Insider seasonal tip: The Varnish offers an off-menu (request only) Warm Milk Punch- prepared with dark rum, a full-bodied cognac, oleo-saccharum, whole milk, simple syrup and lemon juice-throughout the winter months.

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Caña Rum Bar

To become a member of the Caña Rum Society you’ll need to pay a $20 membership fee, but it’s worth it. Caña’s mixologist Allan Katz doubles as general manager and cleverly calls himself “The Hank Moody of Mixology.”

On style:

“I’m an expatriated lifelong New Yorker. I got lucky to start out when there was such a wealth of talent behind the town’s cocktail bars. It informed how I work, and as a result there isn’t anything I do that doesn’t share DNA with a tried and true classic. Respect for your roots is a very NY thing,” Allan shares.

On a perfect cocktail:

“I have many colleagues that will make a drink 30-100 times before it’s just right. I think that’s ridiculous. Imagine having sex with someone 100 times before it’s worth an orgasm. Exactly,” Allan tells me. I don’t think anymore could have put it more eloquently than that.”

Allan believes a cocktail should be the result of harmony and arithmetic: “If the flavors involved aren’t off the bat delicious, then it’s a pointless exercise. If they are, it only takes a little math to ensure they’re optimally balanced.”

On a seasonal note:

“Danielle Crouch [my partner and acting GM at Caña while I await neurosurgery] is a big fan of old cookbooks when we’re seeking some seasonal inspiration. If it works in a pie then it’ll make a great cocktail. That’s where the Joy Ride came from. When she highlighted pears and granny smith apples with rosemary in a tart recipe it made me think of Karen Grill’s [Sassafras GM] Granita Applebum cocktail that paired Tequila & green apple soda at Bestia. Since we knew everything would sing together, the Joy Ride was raring to go in one take:”

Here’s the recipe:

1.5oz Blanco Tequila

.5 pear puree

.5 fresh granny smith juice (it’ll brown quickly, but still awesome taste)

.5 rosemary syrup

.75 lemon j.

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Shake all ingredients w/ a few pellets of crushed ice or a cracked cube until ice is dissolved. Then pour over crushed ice in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

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Cana Rum Bar Cocktail

Credit: Cana Rum Bar on Facebook

Copa D’ Oro

Lead by Head Barman Vincenzo Marianella, guests are encouraged to create their own cocktails from premium ingredients and are reminded to “keep it simple and keep it fresh.” Vincenzo tailors his cocktail list to what’s fresh at the Farmer’s Market.

You’ll get your choice of spirit, herbs, fruits, organic juices and nectars, vegetables and jams and marmalades. If you’re feeling especially daring and most importantly if your pockets are lined with cash, try a cocktail from the “Because You Can” menu. For $85 you can sip the Gold Plated Sidecar, made with Hennessey XO Cognac, Grand Marnier Cinquantenarie and fresh lemon juice.

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Providence

Providence may be one of the area’s premier dining spots, but they’re also known for their amazing cocktail program. This is place to be to for a superb cocktail drinking experience that doesn’t attract the typical bar crowd. Recommendation: try the Angry Angeleno, a a combination of blanco tequila, Fernet Branca, ginger, lime and jalapeño bitters.

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Where do you get your favorite cocktails in Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below!

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