Friday, October 03, 2008

The Historic Los Angeles Cocktail Pilgrimage

This invite-only cocktail tour took place at the end of August, and I am terribly remiss in not yet telling you about one of the best days I’ve spent in Los Angeles, sooner. Not only did our busload of happy tipplers get to experience our fair city with fresh eyes but every stop we hit had cocktailian significance.

David Wondrich, respected cocktail geek, I mean, historian, created the tour, and acted as head storyteller and imparter of liquid wisdom & lore. I know I was not the only one who reveled in this unique experience, and hung on his every word… even as cocktail by cocktail, those words became the teeniest bit foggy in backward recollection. (We even took home signed copies of his book “Imbibe” for our libraries!)

Plymouth gin funded the daylong journey, fed us and lubed our senses with historic cocktails. Plus, they sent Simon Ford their charming Brand Ambassador to act as host. (If you’ve met Simon, you know he gave us a hellova good time.) Even Jacques Bezuidinhout came down to L.A. to mix up Partida drinks along the way with fellow Brand Ambassador Damian Windsor. (sidenote: After reigning supreme on the West Coast mixology scene for so long, the impressive strides in So-Cal bartending has caught San Francisco's attention…Yee-hah! A united California.)

We assembled at Cat & Fiddle (6530 W Sunset Blvd, Hwd) for a lunch of shepherd pie and Moscow Mules, a vodka and ginger beer drink created in Hollywood in the early 20th Century, traditionally served in a copper cup. Marcos Tello helped assemble our motley crew from members of his bartender association called The Sporting Life.

Bellies full, and ready to soak up a full day of drinking, 20+ high-end barkeeps from around the city, LA-based cocktail bloggers: Chuck Taggart form GumboPages, Marleigh from Sloshed and yours truly, as well as the venerable Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh and Joe of Barkeeper fame piled into a full sized bus to the original site of Don the Beachcomber’s first bar (1727 N. McCadden, Hwd).

Sadly, the home of tiki favorites is now – sigh – a parking lot. However, we stood on the sidewalk and raised our Zombies to the chain link fence, toasting a dead man who helped put the pink umbrellas and rum in tropical fruit juice.

Our next stop was in front of a construction site on Wilshire Boulevard, once home to the legendary Coconut Grove (3400 Wilshire Boulevard) where the Rat Pack and other Hollywood greats once swizzled and sipped their way into the gossip pages. The Brown Derby’s iconic sign now sits atop a strip mall across the street.

Next, our tour went “high-brow” and we sipped drinks inside the Polo Lounge at the “Pink Palace” (aka: Beverly Hills Hotel 9641 Sunset Blvd, BH) It shouldn’t surprise you that a classy group like ours finished our visit with our own cocktails on their front lawn before re-boarding the bus.

We careened down into town, catching sideways glances from snooty residents when our bus pulled into the parking lot of a fancy food store. Formerly the site of the legendary Chasen’s restaurant (where I was lucky enough to attend the 1995 Pulp Fiction Oscar party when I worked at Miramax Films) it pained me to see expensive produce where movie stars once mingled.

A few blocks away, we stopped at 140 Rodeo Drive and "ooh’d" while cocktailing on the sidewalk across from where Mike Romanoff once served fancy drinks to Los Angeles elite. Cocktail history buffs may also remember Tail O’ the Cock (477 South La Cienega) as the place where the “tequila daisy” or margarita gained popularity back in the 1930’s. Now a rental car parking lot across from Norm’s, we didn’t hold back enjoying daisies of our own.

We drove past several more historic sites, a blur by now, truth be told, and ended with dinner at West Hollywood’s Formosa CafĂ© (7156 Santa Monica Blvd) frequented by movie stars since 1939.

This experience was an incredibly generous gesture on the part of Plymouth gin, and a bonding experience like no other for our L.A. crew. Many thanks to all involved!

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