Ever since attending the grand opening of Joe Keeper’s Silver Lake barware store in 2006, I’ve felt a connection to Bar Keeper, returning fairly often to buy unique gifts for family and friends. Keeper has managed to build a loyal following and a cool vibe, down to the molecular model logo and huge periodic table of elements on the wall, so it was no surprise to hear Bar Keeper was celebrating its two-year anniversary.
To help celebrate the landmark, noted mixologist Marcos Tello made drinks at the bar on the back patio, surrounded by tiki statues and shelves of vintage liquor bottles. Tello designed the drink menu at Seven Grand and now bartends at The Doheny, an exclusive private club downtown. Cedd Moses owns both spots. Bottom line: it was a rare opportunity to sample some of the best booze in town, for free.
Tello made sure to mix the Medicina Latina, his signature cocktail, combining Familia Partida Reposado Tequila (hecho en Mexico), ginger juice made in a “centrifugal juicer” and fresh lime juice. He finished the cocktail with a spritz of mescal from a perfume-like atomizer. When we arrived at the bar, he was mixing his final four Medicinas, and we managed to score one. Good timing. The drink was incredible, with a noticeable kick from the ginger.
Tello also produced a Tequila Old Fashioned, featuring Partida Reposado Tequila, Partida agave nectar for sweetness, Peychaud bitters and Angostura bitters from New Orleans (flavored with gentian, a bitter herb). He cut a swath of grapefruit peel and rubbed it along the rim of the glass before dropping it in the drink.
In case you can’t tell, the event was sponsored by Partida, which was arranged by Tello. However, he said that even if he had to pay for the tequila, he’d use the brand anyway, since he considers Partida one of the world’s two five-star distilleries, the other being Highland Park in Scotland, for their whisky.
Inside the store, a bitters tasting bar featured a tray holding bottles of Fee Brothers Bitters 1864: mint, peach, grapefruit, lemon, orange and old fashioned, plus Peychaud’s “Aromatic Cocktail Bitters.” A drop was more than enough, since each tasted powerfully medicinal. Bitters aren’t designed for drinking on their own.
Joe Keeper affixed an informational bitters fact sheet to the wall near the tasting station. According to the sheet, “A bitters is a preparation of herbs and citrus dissolved in alcohol or glycerine with a bitter or bittersweet flavor. Bitters are prepared by infusion or distillation, utilizing aromatic herbs, bark, roots and/or fruit for their flavor and medicinal properties.”
Looking around the store, it was staggering to see the selection of barware, glassware, and cocktail memorabilia that Joe Keeper has accumulated in only two years. Bar Keeper is without a doubt the place to come if you’re looking for a silver absinthe spoon, trout shaped bottle opener, or a set of vintage tumblers. There are even some great cocktail napkins and funny cocktail-themed greeting cards.
I asked Keeper if this is what he expected two years ago. He said yes, clarifying that he meant “something for the neighborhood.” He said instead of sinking money into advertising with the LA Weekly, he decided to host tasting events. I think this was the 18th in the series. Bar Keeper hosted an absinthe tasting about three months ago. He said every event up until tonight was a money loser, but at least it got people in the door. He mentioned that Bar Keeper was featured in Vanity Fair this year, along with Qantas’ in-flight magazine, and a Japanese publication, which caused a Japanese man to fly all the way to Los Angeles to buy a heap of barware. Keeper also said he’s become friendly with mixologists, who shop at his store. A guild of high-end mixologists, from establishments like Seven Grand, The Doheny and Bar Marmont have even met at Bar Keeper to talk shop.
Given the level of devotion that Joe Keeper has managed to foster in the neighborhood and beyond, it’s clear that Joe Keeper will have to get used to hosting anniversary parties.