The doors to Las Perlas opened last night at 7:30, signaling a new era in L.A.’s spirituous evolution. Three downtown bars from Cedd Moses and 213 Hospitality are now committed to specific spirits. Seven Grand is a whiskey bar, Caña focuses on rum, and Las Perlas is a haven for tequila and mezcal. The man who’s leading the mezcal charge for Las Perlas is general manager Raul Yrastorza, who molded El Carmen’s tequila program, spent eight years running Ivar nightclub in Hollywood, and most recently, worked at Cole’s Red Car Bar before crossing the street.
Downtown designer Ricki Kline was in-house to help celebrate the opening. Las Perlas is the eighth bar he’s designed for 213. He said his design was inspired by a 10-day trip to Oaxaca, where he soaked up colorful scenery both in-town and on the outskirts. The historic building dates to 1903 and held restaurants in the ’70s. The space most recently housed an art studio, but it’s been vacant for the past few years.
A blackboard menu features several dozen LOWLANDS, HIGHLANDS and EXTRA AÑEJO tequilas, which are aged for a minimum of three years. MEZCALS are listed in the center of the board. It’s hard to imagine ordering anything but mezcal or tequila at Las Perlas, but they have five beers on tap, including Dos Equis Amber, Negro Modelo and Cucapa Chupacabras Pale Ale.
Yrastorza and Rivera bartender Julian Cox collaborated on the handwritten cocktail menu, which lists eight options costing $12 apiece. The bartop wasn’t loaded with typical syrups, herbs and fruit. Instead, we saw dried chilies de arbol, pointy agave “leaves” and the burgundy-hued balsamic vinegar and piloncillo reduction that Yrastorza described in his Q&A.
It was impossible to cover every category in one visit, so we stuck with cocktails. All three of our choices incorporated Sombra, an Oaxacan Mezcal that imparted mezcal’s signature smoky flavor, which comes from pit-roasting the piñas prior to distillation. Also, tequila is made from a single variety of agave (blue weaver) and comes from a particular region of Mexico, whereas Mezcal is multi-regional and comes from 28 different possible agave plants. Those are a couple of the basic distinctions.
Las Perlas is part of a new breed of mezcaleria, which along with New York’s Mayahuel, are helping to bring this ancient spirit into the spotlight. And despite what you may have heard, there were no worms in sight.