It's a lot more fun to drink in LA now than it was when I lived there in the Nineties. For a lightweight like me, that's thanks in part to services like Lyft and recent public transportation advancements like the Expo Line that runs from the Santa Monica Pier to the heart of DTLA. But it's also more fun because there's a healthy contingent of bartenders doing their best to intoxicate this metropolis in ever more creative ways. I've spent a lot of time reconnecting with Southern California this year, hanging out with old friends and discovering new bites and sips, and these are the cocktail experiences along the way that have helped me fall back in love with the area:
Pump and Glory at PUMP
I’ve been writing entertainment stories for my favorite guilty pleasure cable channel Bravo for about a year, which is validation for all the time I’ve spent studying the network’s programming. The guiltiest pleasure of them all has to be Vanderpump Rules, a spinoff of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that features Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood establishments SUR and PUMP. I went to the latter earlier this year to toast my new contract and was charmed by the outdoor bar area with its infinite chandeliers and flowers. I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Pump and Glory, a cocktail made with Vanderpump’s own vodka as well as St. Germain, cucumber and mint muddled with lemon simple syrup and fresh cracked black pepper. Shout out to the cute bartender who whipped out an impromptu tasting of LVP sangria when I mentioned my new gig. It's a perfect WeHo happy hour choice, especially now that the show is back in season.
Spiked Cereal Milk at Nighthawk Breakfast Bar
Jeremy Fall’s Nighthawk Breakfast Bar got off to a bit of a shaky start, relocating from Hollywood to Venice after just a few months in operation, but is really thriving now that it’s found a home on the Westside. I have quickly become a fan of both their savory and sweet offerings; both benefit from an accompaniment of spiked cereal milk. There’s Honey Nut Cheerios with bourbon and Froot Loops with gin, but the real gangster standout is a mix of Reese’s Puffs-infused milk with cognac. Boozy milkshakes often fail with me, but this is a lot of fun. Fall has big plans to expand Nighthawk, so you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about it in the coming year.
Sour T-iesel at Gracias Madre
I’ve eaten in dozens of restaurants in LA this year, but one real lasting impression is how the West Hollywood branch of Gracias Madre surpasses its San Francisco counterpart in every way possible, from the atmosphere to the food and the beverage program. It’s tempting to just order their rainbow-colored alcoholic snow cones all night, but don’t miss out on the unique cocktails made with CBD oil, the non-psychoactive, pain relieving cannabis extract that you’ll probably hear more about now that California has voted to legalize recreational marijuana. The showstopper is the Sour T-iesel, made with tequila blanco, lime juice, mint, agave nectar, salt, aquafaba (chickpea liquid) and CBD oil, garnished with an instantly Instagrammable pot leaf made from matcha powder.
Avocado Daiquiri at Georgie
I stopped into the bar area of Geoffrey Zakarian’s lovely new Beverly Hills restaurant Georgie en route to another restaurant opening in the 90210, but wished I could stay and explore the food menu more after I got some awesome Parker House rolls to go with a luscious avocado daiquiri. I think avocados are great in ice cream and smoothies, but I think this was the first time I had tried it in a cocktail, a mix of Bacardi Light rum, avocado puree, beet sugar water and lime. It’s by far my new favorite daiquiri right now.
English Milk Punch at Faith & Flower
It was super smart to take the Expo Line to Faith & Flower for brunch this summer, because after I had about a third of the English Milk Punch, I was certifiably drunk for the rest of the day. I had never tried clarified milk, which turns clear when you separate out the fat, but it puts a real knot in your brain when you try it — especially when it’s also got like two zillion kinds of alcohol in it: Navy-strength rum, aged Spanish rum, white rum, bourbon, brandy, curaçao, Batavia Arrack and Pernod along with sencha green tea, cinnamon, clove and coriander. Dangerously delightful, just like Los Angeles.
I write stories and books for myself and other people (shh!), and have nearly a quarter century of bylines in publications ranging from Associated Press to Zagat.