Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ryan Green: Smooth as Blue Velvet

This native Angeleno began his bartending career while waiting for his big break in show biz. Ok, that’s not so unusual in this town. But, what makes Ryan unique, among those whose “day job” is the nightshift, is the creativity that goes into his high-quality cocktails. This guy brings a head-full of knowledge, a armful of recipes and a shaker full of luscious nectar to the cocktail glass!

While studying theater at UCLA in 1999, Ryan worked at Wally’s Wine & Spirits as a cashier, then floor manager, while learning about wine and spirits before he was even 21. When Ryan became “of legal age,” he took his talents to a downtown bartending gig at Kendall’s Brasserie. Soon after that, he moved to the rooftop bar at The Standard.

Seeking a change of pace, in 2004, Ryan headed to New York where he was a manager at The QT. He and buddy Ben Lerer (who later founded built the hotel lounge “from the ground up.” He recalls, “We had a lot of success with that bar.”

The following year, Ryan returned to LA and was soon
recruited by the Blue Velvet team. “T Elliot was one of original owners here, along with (former high-end chef turned restaurateur) Robert Hartstein. They both worked with me at The Standard and knew I had a lot of cocktails in mind (to bring to) a specific place.” Green also works closely with madcap Sommelier and Bar Manager Matthew Latham, a transplant from Atlanta, who also has a hand in Mixology.

Nestled into the bottom of The Flat, an all-studio apartment building, Blue Velvet caters to power lunchers, "legal eagles" and hipster urbanites. The restaurant / bar is modern and slick with surprising little nooks and crannies. Texture and color play with shapes and light as one moves deeper through the space.

The sexy red room – which also features a fireplace and its own bar – is available for private parties… (Where better to sit on Santa’s lap?)

In line with modern movement in bartending, Ryan uses fresh ingredients, and likes to push the limits of his imagination (yes, he even employs fire, occasionally). He explains, “I like trying things that haven’t been done before.” Ryan sets the mood for customers at the bar with liquid inspiration explaining, “You want that first cocktail to really kick the night off and leave people thinking, ‘This is gonna be a great night!’” He likens the opening cocktail to an amuse bouche before a fine meal.

Like many cocktail connoisseurs in the City of Angels, Green observes that LA lags behind San Francisco and New York when it comes to cocktail culture. He notes, “The LA scene became very bottle service oriented," referring to the trend where buying a bottle of liquor, which comes with mixers like red bull and cranberry juice, gets guests past the velvet rope. Ryan wonders, “Where does that leave the cocktail?” Still, he feels that the quality of drinks (and ability to walk, instead of drive) in downtown is helping LA to catch up.

Ryan’s long-term goal is still acting and writing, although his talent and passion for the
drink shines through, and he is dedicated to all of his pursuits. As he puts it, “I spend most of my time at the computer, in the gym or making drinks.”

When writing The Bartender Diaries, I usually ask my interview subjects what they like to drink when not at work. Inevitably some people who make the most incredible cocktails find satisfaction in the most unlikely places. Ryan told me that there are days when all he feels like drinking is a Miller Light… but then he turns around and whips up a cocktail like the Burnt Fennel, whose wonderful flavor combination blew my mind! (The recipe is below but I strongly suggest you get down to Blue Velvet to check it out for yourselves.)

There is also an array of holiday cocktails on the list, these days. Persimmonable made with Grey Goose Citron and fresh persimmon; Squash of Nog blended from Meyer’s rum, brown sugar syrup and Kabocha squash; and Barbed Rhu-ade containing holiday-friendly rh

The Burnt Fennel

Ryan says: Muddle some shaved fennel, tbs sugar and a lime wedge in a glass, then add 1/2 oz Sambuca Romano. Next, light these ingredients on fire and let them burn for a few seconds. Put ice over the burning ingredients and add:

1 1/2 oz 10 Cane Rum
1/4 oz Cointreau
and fill with pineapple juice and a splash of 7up

Shake all ingredients and serve in a rocks glass with a fennel top for garnish.

*Photos: Claire Barrett Photography

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