Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bar Keeper Bliss in Sunset Junction

Wander along Sunset Junction some sunny afternoon, and try to find the coolest store on the street. Yep, the Cheese Store of Silverlake is pretty rad, and Intelligentsia will boost both your caffeinated energy level and your java street cred. The vintage clothing
stores are fab and the bohemian café at the corner of Hyperion is a great spot for writing your next award-winning screenplay. Tucked in among all that, however, is the coolest of the cool places – according to top-notch tippling standards, anyway…

I’ve often referred to Bar Keeper as the “awesomest bar store in Southern California” and few could argue with that statement. The owners, Joe and Anna Keeper, are pillars in the cocktail-lovers community. They are major supporters of all who work in and around L.A.’s finest drinking establishments as well as staunch protectors of the Silverlake community where the store is based. While studying at USC in the mid-80’s, Joe moved into the neighborhood. After buying a house there in the early 90’s, he’s never left.

Joe opened Bar Keeper in what is now known as Sunset Junction three years ago. He describes his store as “a head shop for people who drink,” adding, “ergo, everything for drinking alcohol except the booze

Personally, I call it “the ultimate destination for the hipster sipster,” with the Bar Keeper inventory being split about 60% vintage home bar ware to 40% new. Clients obsessed with making authentic classic cocktails can find a range of specialty bitters ranging from the classic Peychaud’s for a true Sazerac; Gary Regan’s famous orange bitters; or peach, rhubarb or grapefruit-flavored bitters from Fee Brothers. His is also now the only spot to find the whole line from The Bitter Truth: celery, lemon and ‘Jerry Thomas “Own Decanter Bitters.” Yowza. Sign me up, NOW!

In addition to cocktail glasses, shakers and his mind-boggling array of bitters, Joe also sells specialty gourmet ice from Neve Ice. At $30 per pag, this is for the hard-core cocktail enthusiast who understands that the $3 bag from 7-11 just ain’t gonna fly. Now that its once again legal to search for ‘the little green fairy,’ the absinthe-curious can select from a wide variety of absinthe spoons and fountains. And, those taking home decorating to the extreme can pick up an old neon beer signs. (After all, nothing screams “party” like a “miller time” sign buzzing on the living room wall…)

Speaking of parties, Joe and Anna host at least 6 cocktail parties per year for their customers and Silverlake residents in the garden patio behind their store. They bring in mixologists and bartenders (I did it once – loved it) and provide drinks for free. Why? Joe explains, “The idea is that most people drink what they are familiar with. Barkeeper tries to educate.”

Prior to opening Barkeeper, Joe worked in the entertainment industry in reality-based programming. He remembers, “Television had a way of sucking the life out of me. I typically worked 80-hour days, sleeping in my office at least once a week and vomiting in the editing bay often. Ultimately I discovered that I really hated my job, and more importantly, I was embarrassed that this was the best I could do with my life. I fretted over what was next for me...”

He says that he reached out to his father for advice. Joe’s dad explained that providing for his eight children had never felt like work because he loved being an architect, and found his bliss in it. Joe exclaims, “This was the catalyst for my change of careers! I had to prepare for trading Financial Bliss for Spiritual Bliss!”

Inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal about young people currently coming of age and missing out on the cocktail resurgence of the 90's (ala indie film "Swingers”), Joe says, “I took my wife out to our favorite places on earth - Death Valley - woke her early in the morning, poured her a shot of Tequila, and told her of my plans!”

Not only was Anna supportive of Joe’s bliss but for his 40th birthday, she wrote to the (now) Tony Award winning artist Stew, who once called Silver Lake home, and explained that Joe was a big fan and owned a shop in the ‘hood. She asked if he would compose and record a song for him. Joe says, “The song explains my spiritual journey towards Bar Keeper.” Listen to it on the Barkeeper website and remember Joe’s words of wisdom:

“I believe it was Frank Lloyd Wright who said that to be extraordinary one must first find an environment where they are comfortable. Otherwise, the best a person can be is ordinary. I love my neighborhood. I am passionate about ritual and tradition. I am extraordinary.”

Indeed, you are Joe, and so is your store.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sipster Submission: Le Tapis Rouge

My good friend and DC blogger Jeff Surprenant and his partner Ray sent over this fabulous drink they created for their Oscar celebration. They are kind enough to share it with us (see below) and don't forget to check out his blog District Chatter to see what is going on inside the beltway of our Nation's Capital!

Le Tapis Rouge (The Red Carpet)

1 Ounce of Surreal Red Berry Creme Vodka.
Fill 3/4 of the way with Champagne.
1/2 Ounce of Acai Juice.
1 Raspberry for garnish.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Drinking Oscar

The most glamorous award show of the season calls for celebrity-worthy sips to enhance your viewing delight. As you’re A-List friends arrive to your red carpet event, greet them at the door with this Oscalicious libation (fyi – this recipe is a sneak peek from my next book due out Fall 2009…)

1/2 ounce Chambord
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 edible hibiscus flower in syrup (could be bought at Whole Foods)
3 ounces very chilled dry sparkling wine

Pour champagne into a chilled champagne flute. Slowly add St. Germain, then gently drizzle in Chambord. Drop in edible hibiscus
. (a raspberry could be substituted if edible hibiscus can’t be found)

Also check out Moët & Hennessey’s signature cocktail:

Red Carpet Fizz
1/2 ounce Pomegranate Juice
1/3 ounce Crème de Peche
1/4 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
Dash of Campari
Top with Moët & Chandon White Star

And, be sure to have some sumptuous hors d’oeuvres for your guests. Avoid the usual hummus-and-pita chips or salsa-and-tortilla chips. This is the Oscars – not the Superbowl! “Class it up” but stick to a budget at Trader Joe’s (for example) with some easy-to-prepare puff pastry chicken bites; steamed vegetarian dumplings with sweet-n-sour dipping sauce; and a platter of shrimp with cocktail sauce. To me, a perfect cheese platter has at least 3 cheeses: one goat cheese (I like the kind rolled in herbs), a creamy blue ch
eese (a blend of brie and Roquefort) and a Spanish Manchego with a drizzle of honey. Serve that along with a basket full of mixed crackers – wheat, multi grain, poppy seed – and a thinly sliced baguette.

Next, its time to break out some wine. Last year, I received a fabulous bottle of Sterling Vineyard’s Red Carpet Reserve numbered, limited edition wine. I had my own little Oscar celebration and reveled in the decadence of watching the Oscars in fuzzy slippers with a special glass in my hand. This year, they sent me the Gold Standard Reserve Chardonnay, the fourth vintage of a limited edition white wine. The stars will be sipping these wines paired with Wolfgang Puck's famous cuisines. Meanwhile, I look forward to opening up my bottle in time for the show – and toasting my top Oscar picks... (Go Kate Winslet!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

'Blow Me Up, Tom' Blows Up

Love him or hate him, Tom Leykis is one of those radio personalities who leaves you talking. His show gives advice to men, largely centered around the following topics:

- Don’t get married

- Don’t commit to one woman
- Don’t take a woman out on expensive dates to get laid
- Feel free to try to manipulate women at every opportunity

These are the hallmarks of the Tom Leykis show and the reasons women call him a misogynist, some men call him “dad” (I know, kinda weird but they do look to him as the man with all the hard-and-true advice, like the father figure those lost souls wish they had.)

Thanks to my friend Adam The Wine Guy, and to Tom’s producer Gary Zabaranski, I have been a guest once on his nationally syndicated daily drive home talk show “Blow Me Up, Tom” (not really my audience) and several times on his other weekend show called “The Tasting Room with Tom Leykis.” Tom has always been very courteous and kind to me. He plugs my website and book like crazy. (This could possibly endear me to an ax murderer more than likely, but I digress…)

Most people base their opinion of Leykis off of his (now defunct) daily show which, granted, is very male based and somewhat sexist. While the bulk multitude of Blow Me Up’s listeners are dumb-ass buffoons who actually take all the dating tips seriously, Tom dishes out some hard-core life lessons, as well. He gives advice how to get out of debt, he encourages condom use and he is a no-nonsense-take responsibility-for-yourself kind of fellow. I like that, and have found myself nodding in agreement on many-a-drive along the 101 Fwy with the radio tuned 97.1.

As far as that ridiculous dating advice is concerned, I also think that if a woman has such little self worth that she’d date a guy who treats her like crap… well, she should probably start looking within and figure out why she’d choose losers to begin with…

The Tasting Room with Tom Leykis – the weekend show – shows a different side of the radio host’s personality. The side that appreciates fine wine, fancy cigars, good bourbon and tequilas – and even great cocktails. Just like reality TV, radio jockeys are public figures who play a role to talk to their target audience. And judging by the millions of people who listen to Tom Leykis, he has a big one.

97.1 changed its format today from all-talk, all day to yet another bubble gum sell out playing the same 40 or 50 songs we hear everywhere else. Yawn. With 103.1 recently going off the air, too, I pose the question – how can a city like L.A. the “center of the entertainment universe” have such crappy, bland, one-dimensional, sell-out radio stations – and take away the only ones with something interesting to listen to. These days, all I want to blow up is my radio.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Will Work For Booze?

I'm just sayin'...

I was taking inventory of my liquor the other day and felt a mixture of pride over a healthy collection, and worry that people would wonder why I have so much liquor in my home office!

(The Liquid Muse goes Mad Men or something like that.)

And, this isn't all of it... I have more in boxes waiting to be opened, sampled, blogged and put away. (And, don't forget, in another part of the house, there's wine.

I simply had to take a step back and ponder what ever got me into this crazy, wonderful business - then smile with contentment at the "liquid" commodities I've acquired!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Get Lucky in Beverly Hills

Ever had one of those days where it seems like you can’t catch a break? Like, you get caught in a sudden downpour as you’re leaving the hairdresser (good bye smooth-n-silky blow dry, hello frizzy mess). Or, some jerk cuts you off and snags the only available parking spot in sight? Life’s little frustrations can take a lot out of a person. It may b
e time to refuel at the most stylish sushi spot to hit town in recent memory.

I have to admit that when I imagined a Kaiten restaurant (self-serve sushi on a conveyor belt) smack dab in the middle of our ritziest sip code, I was a bit wary. I’d had mediocre experiences with the ‘sushi go ‘round’ in a London airport between planes, and in a shopping mall restaurant in Washington DC. Somehow it felt like ‘fast food sushi,’ and I wondered how fresh the fish was given that it could have been rotating there for who-knows-how-long. Luckyfish changed my mind forever.

Now, let me start by telling you that Luckyfish is part of the Innovative Dining Group (Katana, Sushi Roku, Boa) so I was immediately reassured as to the quality of the sushi. A restaurant group with that kind of buying power gets the pick of the litter when it comes to fresh fish purveyors. And, upon taking one step into snazzy Luckyfish, you can feel your luck take an upturn.

The pristine white rotating sushi belt is loaded with delicacies (such as spicy tuna atop crispy rice) against a backdrop of cherry blossoms in a breezy open space typifying Southern California. More than 80 color coded ($3.50 - $7.50) specialty dishes waft past the tables, and guests can simply pick out the ones they like. No waiting for a server, no need to ask questions – just see, grab and eat. Additionally, each plate has a RFID tag embedded into it, so that once it has rotated for 60 minutes, it is automatically discharged from the belt, ensuring freshness.

There are cocktails, too, of course. I had the soju Strawberry Fizz martini. The ginger lychee is also worth a try, and Luckyfish also serves those fruit infusions we got to know and love at Katana. Sake is served by the glass or bottle, and there is a decent variety of Japanese beer and standard red, wine and sparkling wine.

Dining at Luckyfsh is like hanging out with Katana or Sushi Roku’s “mini me” with a more accessible appeal – its simple, fun, light and unpretentious. A playful flirt with no strings attached. A great place to stop in with the girls after work, grab a bite at lunch or a cool place for a hot date. On your way over, pick up a lottery ticket. You’re about to get lucky!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Girl Friday Happy Hour Feature
by Kylee Van Dillen, The Liquid Muse Girl Friday

There are many fans of the number 8: the octopus, the spider, and the octuplet mother. And while the folks behind 8 oz Burger Bar can't make like The Beatles and deliver "Eight days a week," their Happy Hour proves that 8 is the new "7" when it comes to lucky numbers.

Monday-Friday from 4-6pm, 8 oz the classic Aviation and Gimlet are a friendly $5, as are creative originals such as the Lavender Mojito or Blackberry Collins. Beer drinkers get Pabst Blue Ribbon for a cool $2 and selected micro brew bottles like Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout and Victory Prima Pils are only $4 each. Select quality wines such as 4 Bears Chardonnay or Cline Zinfandel are $4 as well which means, (you guessed it!) you can have one of each for a total of $8!

If drinking whets your appetite, $3-5 gets you
Mini Kobe Corn Dogs or Fried Olives off the “Happy Bites" menu. The regular menu features a "killer" Tuna Melt; the "Melrose" burger dressed garlic roasted tomatoes and red onion marmalade; or (for a warm salty treat) a basketful of their famous fried pickles dipped in the house made ranch or spicy BBQ sauce! All for, (you guessed it,again!) an economically delicious $8 each! Looks like Friday is your lucky day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

My latest creation for Pinky Vodka is a little bitter, a little sweet... just like love. (And if you're a Campari nut, too, this is a the perfect Valentine for you!)

Sipster Submission - Skittles(R) Vodka

Every once in a while, I deviate from "high-end" mixology to bring you something just plain fun. I'm particularly prone to doing this if it comes from one of YOU! A sipster submission means that you are taking the time to send in something you find interesting... so that means more of you out there in cocktail-loving-land might find it a good read, too.

This Sipster Submission comes from Ben G. in Los Angeles. He came across these directions to infuse vodka with skittles candy. I personally suggest that this "candied vodka" only be used in the same proportions you would use a liqueur (about 3/4 of an ounce, tops). And, for crissakes, don't as 7-up as suggested in this post. I'd be inclined to shake it with an ounce of plain vodka, and a swirl of cream, maybe... or use it to make jello shots.

At the end of the day, bringing whimsy to alcoholic beverages never hurt anybody. Drinking is fun, remember?

*photo and skittles(R) vodka come from Mix That Drink

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Bartender Diaries

Barman John Coltharp Piques Our Curiosity

Whether you are a whiskey aficionado or merely whiskey-curious, get yourself down to Seven Grand, and sidle up to John Cotharp at the bar, if you are lucky enough to catch him on a slow night. He carries around an encyclopedia of whiskey knowledge in his head, which he’s willing share with a brown-spirits enthusiast, and he’ll mix you up a damn fine drink. (Personal Aside: John made the best Blood & Sand I’ve ever had!)

Coltharp has chosen the hospitality industry since he was 13, and spent the last 4 years behind the bar. Prior to Seven Grand, John worked at respected spots such as Sona and La Frite, and explains that he’s unable to get away from restaurants: “Every time I did something else for work, I always wanted back in the service industry.”

In addition to honing his skills on the job, he credits Sammy Ross with kick-starting his education on classic drinks and bartending style. He also recently graduated from the prestigious B.A.R. Ready training program led by some of John’s other mentors: Dale DeGroff, Paul Pacult, Steve Olsen and David Wondrich.

We all know that its take more than a good cocktail to make a great bartender. What is John’s secret? “Make your guest feel comfortable. Not everyone knows a lot about spirits or cocktails. Some people want to learn. Some people just want a drink. Don't get on a high horse.”

So what does a great bartender want when he’s the one on the barstool?

In his opinion, the ideal bar “looks old, and is well stocked with well trained staff.” Some of his current faves include Cole's and The Association, in downtown, and he also adds an unexpected hotspot: “One of my of all time favorites is The Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill in Sherman Oaks. Just a regular bar, but a good place to get some well needed drinking done.”

His describes his perfect night off as hanging with his girlfriend Maria sipping cocktails made by his buddy Matty Eggleston at The Hungry Cat. (Personal aside, again: I concur, Matty rocks and will soon be a Bartender Diary feature, too.)

How does working night and weekends affect a devoted bartender’s personal relationship? “It strains some while improving others,” John explains. “I've made a lot of good friends, that's for sure.”

What keeps a guy like John up at night? “How to make my bar better,” he says. “I'm not kidding. It's sad.”

If he could meet one historical figure, Coltharp would choose Carrie Nation, (in his words): “So I could sit her down and tell her what was going to happen during and because of prohibition.”

Although his ideal drink is “ice cold, balanced, and made in under ten minutes,” he says that his favorite cocktail is the one in his hand, waxing poetic and citing the wise turtle in Kung Fu Panda: "Everyday is a gift, that's why they call it the present.”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Preggatinis... Under Examination

If you like to stay on top of the food scene in Los Angeles, you surely take a peek at LA Food Examiner, penned by columnist Dee Long. She covers all sorts of insider tips from around our fair city, and today she decided to include a review of Preggatinis! Read below to find out her thoughts:

LA Food Examiner: Preggatinis offers healthy refreshment for expectant moms

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, February 06, 2009

Raise A Glass To A True Good Time Broad...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

We Have A Winner!

This was hard to judge!! Not only because sipping-n-spitting 42 cocktails leaves a little alcoholic residue in the body... but because we had many worthy entries. We were looking for 4 seasonal highlights and one overall winner. Big congrats to all who submitted drinks and especially to the top rung:

Pink Vesper: Overall winner, John Valorsi of Luna Park, San Francisco
Velvet Violet: Spring Cocktail, Sean Serino of Bar Lubitsch, West Hollywood
Jamaican Rose: Summer Cocktail, Gabriela de Luma of Organic Panificio, Marina del Rey
Pinky Couture: Fall Cocktail, Mike Rose of Ma'Kai, Santa Monica
Pinky Palmer: Winter Cocktail, Chuck Meyer of Luna Park, San Francisco

Monday, February 02, 2009

Are You Multi-Functional?

Vital Action Performance Water burst on the scene late last summer touting itself as a multi-functional beverage. Equipped with herbal-based supplements such to boost Energy (Panax ginseng), Stamina (Arginine), Immunity (Echinacea) and Recovery (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine), it also claims to have 100% of recommended daily intake of B3, B5, B6, B12, otherwise known as the “feel good” vitamins.

VAPW comes in a rainbow of fruit flavors (cherry, tropical, strawberry, etc.) and has only 45 calories per serving. Although bright, not-so-natural colors aren’t usually my first choice, this vitamin-enhanced water actually tastes pretty good. It is not sweet or tart but rather refreshing and lightly flavored making it a good take-along for hikes, the gym, road trips, picnics or pack lunches, or any combination thereof… keeping you functioning at optimum level.
Have you been drinking in the dark? If not, check out my article on Grey Goose's "Blind Tasting" at SLS Hotel, as featured in the February issue of The Tasting Panel Magazine: