Whether you call them bartenders, barsmiths, mixologists or cocktail chefs, the men and women behind the bars across the city have been busy stirring and shaking unique combination of ingredients into luscious libations. When thinking about the best unique cocktails in LA, the name Matthew Biancaniello rises to the top of many cocktailians lists. His recent departure from The Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel has left him more time to attend to his consulting projects and private events. Booking Biancaniello to bartend a party ensures that guests will be treated to custom crafted drinks made with quality spirits, combined with farmers market fruits, vegetables, and herbs as well as bitters and other ingredients made by local companies and around the world.
Biancaniello’s favorite new unique cocktail ingredient is something hard to get. “It is kind of cool that I am trying to get this birch liqueur from Iceland distributed in LA,” says Biancaniello. “It’s not for sale, yet I can offer it my private parties with fuji apples, cinnamon, hachiya persimmon, honey syrup and fresh lemon juice. I call it Into the Woods. A regular of mine from the Library Bar, who is a private chef, brought back a bottle from one of her recent jobs in Iceland. I fell in love with it.”
Michael Voltaggio’s Ink
8360 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Bartenders Gabriella Mlynarczyk and Brittini Rae create cocktails that live up to the creative dishes coming out of Chef Michael Voltaggio’s kitchen at Ink. That tall order comes across the bar in collins glasses filled with red wine, bourbon, allspice, orange flower water and Mexican Coke or rocks glasses filled with Buffalo Trace, cognac, sortilage (a house made maple liqueur by Rae, who is from Canada), and Miracle Mile Yuzu Bitters. Each cocktail is named for the spirit inside. The White Whiskey, crafted by Mlynarczyk, is made with popcorn-infused Hirsch Selection White Whiskey, house made corn milk, lemon juice, and Bob’s Liquorice bitters. From the cocktails to the food, a night at Ink is always an adventure.
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
At Drago Centro, Chef Celestino Drago is not only known for his menus of Italian specialties, both traditional and modern, but also his love of wine and spirits. The bar at Drago Centro has become a gathering spot for cocktail aficionados. Jaymee Mandeville crafts her Night and the City with an inspired recipe of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Bittermens Hellfire, Miracle Mile Candy Cap Mushroom Bitters, heirloom tomato shrub, black pepper, squid ink syrup, and fresh horseradish. Mandeville’s Growing Roots cocktail is made with Campo de Encanto Pisco, beet juice, Miracle Mile Pho Bitters, lime, and Fever Tree Ginger Beer. With her growing number of fans, look for new and even more unique combinations to make an appearance at Drago Centro.
8384 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Daniel Djang covers Los Angeles’ cocktail culture for his own website Thirsty in LA. During his thorough research of the subject, he has become friends with many of the city’s most beloved bartenders, so much so that Mia Sarazen created a cocktail to celebrate Djang at The Churchill. The Thirsty in LA cocktail is a boozy concoction of Corralejo Reposado, Aperol, CioCiaro Amaro with a mist of mezcal. This tequila-based, negroni-style drink is the kind of spirit forward cocktail that Djang loves. Sarazen has added more unique combinations of ingredients to The Churchill bar menu including a vodka-based version of an Aviation with Ketel One, lemon, St. Germain, Crème de Violet, blackberries and The Statesman made with Famous Grouse, apricot, lemon, baked apple bitters, sparkling wine.
6333 West 3rd Street #110
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Caroline Pardilla aka Caroline on Crack can be found out and about almost every night in the city, sampling the best offerings by LA’s best bartenders. When asked about a recent favorite, Pardilla says, “I like the Breakfast with the Duke that I had at Short Order. It’s made with Templeton Rye, Fair Cafe Liqueur, Connemara Irish Whiskey, mole bitters, and tobacco aromatics. The tobacco aromatics are made from actual tobacco infused with vodka and then sprayed on the cocktail. It was like smoking a cigar without the danger of cancer. You get the cigar taste of chocolate and smoke and yet it was a smooth Manhattan-like cocktail and REALLY delicious.” The Short Order cocktail menu, created by Julian Cox, pairs well with their gourmet burgers made with Magruder and Stemple beef, Sonoma grass-fed lamb, Creek Ranch beef, or free range turkey.
8752 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Aaron Tell writes about LA cocktails and food for his website The Savory Hunter. Tell recently found a drink that combines his love of cocktails and coffee, The Mexican Iced Coffee by Dave Kupchinsky at the Eveleigh. Kupchinsky fills a tall collins glass with Reposado Tequila, Licor 43, Amaro Cio Ciaro, Cayenne Pepper, Housemade Cold Brew Coffee, with a cinnamon, orange and Angostura Bitters cream. “The cocktail is well balanced and the coffee does not overwhelm it,” Tell says. “There is a nice hint of spice from the cayenne and a creamy top. Dave said that when people see it go by, they ask what it is and order it.” Also on the Eveleigh cocktail menu, Kupchinsky makes tonic in house for gin and tonics and a drink he calls the American Trilogy with Whistle Pig Rye, apple brandy, house made apple gomme syrup, and orange bitters.
1114 North Pacific Avenue
Glendale, CA 91202
Known in LA to be a titan of mixology, Aidan Demarest opened Neat in Glendale in 2011 with the concept of serving spirits in their purest form, neat. Their wood serving trays offer up the chosen spirit with an option to have the mixer, juice or other complimentary beverage on the side. Thus his deconstructed version of a cocktail makes a fitting conclusion to a list highlighting the diverse way to order a drink in LA bars. On a recent visit to Neat, bartender Carrie Hah whipped up one of her favorite combos: Casa Noble Tequila and Del Maguey Vida Mezcal in one glass and sangrita made with fresh orange, lime and grapefruit juice mixed with pomegranate molasses, red chilies, and a sprinkle of salt. The result was a delicious smoky duo of spirits accompanied by a refreshing and slightly spicy sangrita that literally means “little blood.”
Julie Wolfson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers travel, lifestyle, art, pop culture, cocktails and food for Cool Hunting and several other media outlets. Most days you’ll find her out and about in Southern California and around the world tracking down stories about talented people doing amazing things.