On October 25, 213 Hospitality Operations Manager Skyler Reeves invited some local cocktail writers, including me, Elina Shatkin (LA Weekly), Jessica Gelt (LA Times), Daniel Djang (Thirsty in LA), Aaron Tell (The Savory Hunter), Yolanda Evans and Lanee Lee Neil to judge eight of the downtown group’s bars (sans The Varnish), with our opinions counting 80% toward determining the bar with the best Halloween inspired showing.
Every bar received an equal budget to develop a theme incorporating zombies. We also got the first taste of a $5 punch, which will be at each bar through Halloween. We judged based on categories like bar decoration originality and execution, drink taste and presentation, staff effort and “zombieness,” and an overall Halloween experience. 213 planned to announce a winner on Halloween (October 31), with the bar receiving the bulk of the bar’s earnings for the previous Saturday night (October 29).
We started at Casey’s Irish Pub, which had cobwebs, skulls, ghosts and a smoking gravestone near the entrance. Manager Gina Alcaraz, who’s worked at Casey’s for four years, prepared Zombie Punch, featuing Jameson, Apple Pucker, cranberry juice (aka “blood”) and an elusive cherry.
Cole’s touted New Orleans jazz, plenty of cobwebs, a bag of rats near the door and a Union Soldier (Don “Max” Maxey) with gaping hole in the side of his face. Bartenders served a concoction from new bar manager Brent Falco, previously with First & Hope. Her aromatic Dead Rose Punch combined Hendrick’s gin, blood orange juice, Maurin, rose infused simple syrup and lemon juice.
Las Perlas General Manager Raul Yrastorza went with a Day of the Dead theme, decorating the Mexican-inspired bar with colorful skull pinatas and a “Mexican” luchador, and zombies sported sombreros with Two-Face like make-up. Las Perlas’ “punch” involved homemade passion fruit puree, amaretto, tamarind pulp, housemade orgeat, dry shaken and served over ice with pomegranate molasses.
Tony’s Saloon General Manager Plex Lowery and his bar staff covered the bar floor to ceiling with plastic tarp and blood spatter, a la “Dexter.” The TV show even played on a flat screen TV in the corner. “Payback” appeared in “blood” on the bar, alongside a dismembered arm and hand. Aluminum foil, blood and restraints lined the pool table, just like Dexter, only he would have been cleaner.
Plex based his Halloween Punch on Etophin Sodium Chloride, which is apparently what Dexter would use to sedate his victims. However, the bartender opted for vodka, fresh strawberries, white peaches and Martini & Rossi champagne.
Caña Rum Bar touted a lot of store bought skeleton figurines and skulls, some in cages, some not, some on the hands of a clock.
General Manager Allan Katz said their Fiending Frenzy punch was a “twist on an old Don the Beachcomber drink,” featuring “a pagan threesome of Don Q rums, the freshest citrus on Dope Island, spices of temptation, a few drops missionarys blood, garnish w/broken dreams.” Broken dreams evidently taste like nutmeg, allspice and vanilla.
Broadway Bar featured skulls, cobwebs and skeleton figurines hanging from chandeliers, plus “paintings” that changed from humans to devils as you pass.
Speaking of Devils, manager Marcos Menendez came up with Sympathy for Devil, which he described as “a drink that’s from hell” that will get hotter throughout the weekend, as Fresno chiles continue to soak in tequila. The smoking punch also contained green chartreuse, lemon, lime, tangerine and “blood of the innocent” (blueberry pomegranate) with a lime garnish.
Golden Gopher sported the standard cobwebs and skulls, but the bartenders went all out on the “zombieness.” Their gory Disney characters included Snow White, a foxified Robin Hood, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland (or was it Cinderella?). A bartender named Lauren came up with Zombie Punch, involving Sailor Jerry spiced rum, raspberry liqueur, simple syrup, lemon and orange juice.
Seven Grand featured Scottish zombies in kilts, a hunting panorama with the hunter sporting a gunshot wound to the head, and a beheaded Scot (in kilt) on the pool table. A live funk band played Thriller and the bartenders danced in unison behind the bar, a nice touch. Seven Grand served The Undead Horde Punch, which combined Devil’s Cut Bourbon, pomegranate syrup and orange juice, finished with soda water and simple syrup.
After visiting eight 213 bars, my favorite Halloween vibe was either Tony’s Saloon, Las Perlas or Seven Grand, my favorite Zombies were at Golden Gopher, and my favorite punches were either at Las Perlas or Caña Rum Bar. Whatever 213 bar you choose for Halloween, expect it to get creepy.