The Varnish Shines in Downtown LA
Polish up your spats and spiffy up your moll, our very own speakeasy-style cocktail bar has arrived in Los Angeles!
Tucked into the back of Cole’s (home of the French Dip sandwich), there is a non-descript wooden door. It almost looks like its part of the wood paneling, except for the dim light coming from behind the cracked doorway. There is a bronze cocktail glass emblem - and that’s about all indicating that within are some of the best drinks Los Angeles has to offer.
I – like many of you – have been waiting with baited breath for Eric Alperin and Sasha Petraske (of NYC’s Milk & Honey and Little Branch fame) to finally crack some ice and shake up L.A. with The Varnish. Anyone in the hospitality biz knows that if a restaurant or bar is due to open in, say, November, we should plan on the opening party in, oh, March, at best. So it goes with this one.
Last night, the first rounds of cocktails were served to guests, and I just had to be among those christening our coolest drinking hole to date. Who else was sipping drinkies and slapping the proud papas on the back? Mainly a gathering of friends and fellow Angeleno cocktailians, among them - John Colthorp (recently featured on The Bartender Diaries) and his lovely lady Maria; Vincenzo Marianella and wife Stephanie, also a Bartender Diaries feature a couple of years back and currently proud papa of Copa D’oro in Santa Monica; Silamith Weir of Martin Miller’s gin and Rachel Shaw, a bartender at Silverlake's Malo.
Another fun surprise was seeing Marcos Tello (yep, past Bartender Diaries too) and Chris Ojeda behind the bar! Where don’t those two pop up? Seriously, Marcos – do you work at every cool bar in Los Angeles? (The boy doesn’t sleep!)
I walked in with the best of intentions – one drink – oh, ok, two max, then home early. However, once I saw the cocktail list, I came to my senses, and knew I’d be around for a while. The first drink I had is called Remembering the Maine, made with some of my favorite things: vermouth, heering, absinthe and rye. It was oh-my-God-good,… and I wound up having 1 1/2 of them. (I shared the second with Silamith.) We also couldn’t resist a round of Pink Ladies. (Our glasses were garnished with red apples but Sasha said that by the next time we come the garnish would be a tart green apple…I leave it in your hands, maestro.)
The décor is dark, wood, red, vintage – everything we would want, need and expect in this style bar. The guys dress in ‘period barman chic’ (suspenders and white shirts). Meanwhile 20’s and 30’s music swoons the crowd. I love a theatrical feel in a very real, high-quality experience.
Finally, after some nice tippling and girly chats, I was heading out the door when I ran into the mack-daddy of the downtown cocktail revival, Cedd Moses. While he was waiting for a pork French Dip sandwich (things that make you go mmm), we chatted about his upcoming ventures (Did you know he has two more downtown bars already on the horizon?)
I also decided I could manage one more fabulous drinkie, this time from Cole’s outstanding classic cocktail list, and the skilled Brazilian barman, Francois, made me a pretty damn perfect Sazerac. (Yesterday was Mardi Gras, after all!) Cedd also tempted me with a piece of ridiculously good bourbon pecan pie ala mode. (Worth a drive into the 213 all on its own.)
It is exciting to see L.A. blossom into one of our country’s premiere drinking cities, and the people mentioned above are major forces in the movement to make that happen. Spruce yourself up, City of Angels, and pull up a barstool. The cocktailians are here to stay.