This month, we’re heading outdoors with the best drinks for the backyard, beach, and beyond. In Take It Outside, we’re exploring our favorite local spots and far-flung destinations that make summer the ultimate season for elevated drinking.
Once upon a time — read: from the early 1910s until the late 1940s — people routinely walked in Los Angeles, particularly downtown. Then, suburbanization happened, freeway-induced car culture killed the city’s world-class public transportation, and a well-earned perception of how Angelenos got around the city’s sprawl was born. By the time new- wave band Missing Persons released its anti-pedestrian anthem “Walking in L.A.” in 1982, most people remaining in the area known as DTLA were office workers or small business owners who hopped in their cars and split before sundown.
But now, almost 30 years later, a foot-fueled revival is occurring downtown, thanks in large part to a vibrant cocktail scene that’s erupted in the last decade. This is especially evident in the blocks surrounding downtown L.A.’s Historic Core, where a compact cluster of drinking excellence intersperses between reinvented century-old structures, trendy hotels, and hip restaurants. Admittedly, the area’s Covid scars run deep these days — plenty of terrific tippling establishments such as Birds & Bees and Bar Clacson either permanently closed during the pandemic or currently exist in a vague state of “temporarily closed” limbo. Yet enough excellence still exists within its packed confines, and putting together a proper bar crawl like the one that follows is not only possible, but thoroughly encouraged. So if you’ve been fearful of what your Uber bill may look like after a night of L.A. bar-hopping, it’s time to put those anxieties aside.
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Otium’s acclaimed bar program draws inspiration from the Broad Art Museum next door. This spark gives the bartenders ample license to experiment with color and composition to craft creative if not slightly edgy cocktails. “Sometimes, we’ll get a little wild doing R&D, which is great because it keeps me on my toes,” says bar manager Ryan Silva. Eat dinner here before crawling; executive chef Timothy Hollingsworth has serious chops, and his contemporary dishes like lamb belly en croute, grilled branzino, and dry aged duck breast strike a balance between comfort and elegance. What to Drink: The Ancho Awaken features mezcal, charred pineapple, poblano, lime, and a cricket salt rim. It’s L.A.’s Hispanic cultural energy in a glass.
Dimly lit and festooned with strategic color pops and late-1940s ephemera, Shoo Shoo, Baby’s throwback style hints at what DTLA may have been like right before the wiles of suburbia came calling. The noirish retro-cool decor and classic cocktails will appeal to your inner Phillip Marlowe, but don’t sleep on the menu’s innovative new creations. What to Drink: The Clovis combines Japanese blended whisky, fresh lime juice, mint, and a spritz of Angostura bitters to form a drink for modern times.
“We have around 800 unique whiskeys on hand,” says Seven Grand’s whiskey curator and resident “spirits guide” Pedro Shanahan. This impressive stash augments a gorgeous space whose aesthetic riffs on Dublin’s historic pub the Stag’s Head, so take a moment to admire its beauty when you’re done ogling the inventory. What to Drink: Seven Grand specializes in the classics. Order an Old Fashioned with a single-barrel label you’ve never seen before.
Famed bartender Sasha Petraske’s lone foray into the Los Angeles bar scene occupies a converted storage closet inside Cole’s, a 113-year-old restaurant and former mob-friendly Prohibition speakeasy. The Varnish’s location within a venue with so much local history may overshadow its stellar drinks at first. Then you order something, and you instantly understand why it won American Bar of the Year from Tales of the Cocktail in 2012. What to Drink: “Bartender’s Choice” is on the menu — ensuring inventive concoctions built around your preferred spirit and flavor profiles. If you’re going to play that card on your crawl, do it here.
Angelenos take their tequila and mezcal seriously, so any agave-based cocktail in L.A. should be enjoyed at a place that acknowledges this tendency. Mezcalero checks this box in a big way, as witnessed through its R&D. “We’ll periodically take trips to Oaxaca and soak in as much influence as possible,” says beverage director Nathan McCullough. The fruits of these travels are beverages that are bold, memorable, and exquisite. What to Drink: The mezcal-based Burnt Offerings uses juiced nopales (cacti), smoked chipotle, lime juice, and a burnt croissant tincture to round out its complex profile.
Connecting the Dots
DTLA’s blocks are surprisingly tight. If you make the trek from Otium to Mezcalero in the above order, you’ll walk around two miles according to Google Maps — hardly a cumbersome slog over the course of an evening.
Bonus round: If your designated driver finds parking near Otium, your group will be able to walk back to your car from Mezcalero in 0.7 miles. Take that, Missing Persons.