Los Angeles was built for brunch. Sunny skies and (mostly) mild weather provide a breezy backdrop for long Sunday soirees with family and friends, fabulous food, and delicious drinks. The meal entices various stripes of Angeleno: Wealthy sophisticates with expensive wardrobes, ambitious creatives with massive dreams, and regular folks trying to slow the march toward Monday morning can all be found indulging in cocktails or sipping from bottomless Champagne flutes come the weekend.
At the center of this brunch-time bliss are some of the most outstanding members of L.A.’s bartending community. They control the chaos that can emerge from a sudden slew of tickets or one too many Mimosas, sometimes through eyes made bleary from a closing shift the night before. These troopers work hard to make the art of whipping up drinks seem effortless, and in exchange, they receive tips and the opportunity to witness a wide swath of brunching behaviors. We caught up with four members of the city’s brunch bartending scene to find out what goes on behind the stick during this weekly feast.
Location: A swanky restaurant in downtown L.A.
Our brunch service starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with bartenders coming in at 8 a.m. to open the bar. In the past, bartenders would come in around 7 a.m., but we now have a dedicated bar prep position which eases the burden on our opening bartenders and allows them to focus better on setting up the bar for success at service.
For us, brunch prep mainly involves emphasizing prepping liters of grapefruit and orange juice, Bloody Mary mix, along with cold brew and tea which we serve on draft. We typically juice everything for the weekends on Friday night or Saturday morning. The higher sugar content in orange and grapefruit juice allows for a longer shelf life than that of lime or lemon juice.
Drink-wise, coffee is king when it comes to brunch, and everything else follows suit. It’s not uncommon for tables and large parties to order coffee and tea in lieu of any alcoholic beverages. Typically, drink culture during brunch here is more subdued and less voluminous than at dinner service. Our best-selling brunch cocktails by far are our signature Bloody Mary and the clarified Mimosas that we serve on draft. We also sell quite a bit of our non-alcoholic cocktail options as well, which fits in with the growing trend of NA cocktails that has seemed to explode around L.A. within the last year.
Our brunch crowd varies from families with young children to large groups of young people. Brunch in L.A. is a trendy option for young people to socialize, dress up, and document on social media — they almost treat it like a religion. The restaurant is a particularly popular brunch spot for someone to celebrate their birthday with friends, and these large parties of people imbue the restaurant with much more of a communal vibe than dinner service.
Check averages during brunch are almost always a lot lower than those during dinner service, mainly due to the fact that people typically are not drinking as much and not ordering multiple courses of food. More often than not, the brunch server and bartender is making less money than the dinner service crew, even if brunch has substantially more covers.
Location: Tulum-inspired rooftop Mexican restaurant in downtown L.A.’s Arts District
We get in around 9 a.m. to set up the outdoor bar and make sure prep is all set for service. We run our regular specialty cocktail menu all day long on the weekends since we have such a huge space. This doesn’t mean we don’t make a million Aperol Spritzes and Micheladas — who wouldn’t want that on a sunny rooftop in L.A. after a regretful night out? Doors open at 11 a.m. and we typically get a heavy turn around 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., which leaves us steady all morning. We take a break of service at 3 p.m. to set up for dinner and rotate everything out for a smooth transition.
Our cuisine is very L.A.-meets-Mexico City, resulting in a non-traditional take on a lot of staple dishes. We have our brunch menu on top of our all-day menu, which includes a massive portion of Chilaquiles. Add eggs and carnitas to that, and your hangover will thank you. With our steady warm weather, I’d offer you a Raspado — our house shaved ice — to finish off your meal. I’d also offer you a Carajillo, which is Licor 43 Spanish Liqueur and espresso shaken then poured on ice. Oh yes, it is way better than an Espresso Martini.
Our brunch is all fun and good vibes with cumbia and bachata playlists rolling all day long. The music draws the crowd in, and I just try to get guests through the morning. But last call is at 3:30 p.m., and I’ll generally insist that they skedaddle and wander around the district so I can get the hell outta there, too. Brunch has its moments, but don’t we all?
Location: An upscale-casual rooftop restaurant in West Hollywood
I consistently open every weekend for brunch. My day starts around 7 a.m. with a small commute to work and the unfortunate L.A. struggle of trying to find parking. At my restaurant, we have two bars: one indoor and one outdoor. I clock in by 9 a.m. and get started opening four wells. Opening brunch can be hard and stressful, especially because I’m opening by myself until the barback clocks in when we open at 11 a.m.. For the most part every Saturday morning, you’re playing catch up due to a busy Friday night service behind the bar. Time management is really important, or else you will fall behind very quickly. I’m running and sweating from the moment I clock in.
During the summer season, working at that patio bar is rough. It can only seat about eight guests and is extremely tight. Two to three people max can be working at a time, and the sun outside can kill you. It’s a true challenge working at this restaurant because we are a part of a members-only club that has an outdoor pool adjacent to the bar. While we have family brunches and graduation parties going on, you’ll also see women in bikinis and men in Speedos asking impatiently where their Aperol Spritz and Vodka Sodas are.
Prosecco-based drinks are our biggest sellers during brunch. We also offer rosé all day for only $30 a person, so that definitely affects sales. We have to order about 10 to 15 cases of sparkling rosé a week to ensure we don’t run out for brunch service.
Lucky for me, I work in a restaurant that offers happy hour on the weekends. So, at 3 p.m. when brunch service is over, I’ve got about an hour to reset and get ready for happy hour. This transition is probably the hardest and longest part of my day. We get a good amount of people coming in just for happy hour, plus people who have been hanging out and drinking all day by the pool and are equally as ready for happy hour to begin.
During happy hour, most orders we see are passion fruit Margaritas and a ridiculous amount of truffle sliders. We’ve recently reduced our happy hour offerings, which makes it a lot easier to manage, but it’s still a challenge with both bars being open. Plus, as soon as happy hour is over at 6 p.m., we immediately roll right into dinner service.
I honestly don’t love working brunch. But compared to closing on Saturdays, I’d much rather make good money at brunch, enjoy the rest of my night, and do it all again the next day.
Location: A New Mexican restaurant and bar in Loz Feliz
Brunch is rough! There, I said it. There is nothing fun about coming in from the night before and seeing so many 86s in the morning. Since we are a relatively new restaurant and the talk of the town, we are busy. Catching up on morning prep can be exhausting, especially if we closed the night before, but our brunch menu is bomb. Chilaquiles, breakfast burros, steak and eggs — need I say more? We highly encourage sharing plates family-style to get the full experience.
We do offer brunch cocktails and a decompressed version of the dinner cocktail menu. You can enjoy a Negroni, a Michelada, or Mimosas, but nothing beats a refreshing Margarita. That takes the win for the most popular cocktail, I’d say. From solo brunch dates to a full family-size reservation, it’s a place for everyone, including dogs.
I’ve encountered numerous weird things here. I should say this building is haunted, and that takes the cake for unusual experiences. However, the “Hey look who it is, it’s that actor from that one movie or show” moment that you get in L.A. never gets old. Just like any other person might, I forget that actors go out for brunch just as much as anybody else. This is cool. But as cool as it may be, the fact is that during my shift, I’m serving people who are hungry, impatient, and probably haven’t had coffee yet. What can I say? That’s brunch for ya.