Top Cocktails in Los Angeles

Cocktail Los Angeles

Los Angeles cocktail culture is thriving for a variety of reasons, including the passionate contingent of exceptional bartenders and mixologists who aren’t just rooted in the past, but strive to create new classics. Southern California also offers a nearly unrivaled bounty of fruit, vegetables and herbs and a full spectrum of global influences. Given that, it should come as no surprise that alcoholic creations at establishments like The Varnish, Rivera, the Roger Room and Copa d’Oro can be inspiring. Here are some of the top cocktails in the city, which demonstrate geographic and flavor diversity. This list will be updated with continued exposure and consumption.

Library Bar “Breeder’s Cup” – Hollywood

Bartender Matt Biancaniello has slowly built a name for himself at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s intimate Library Bar. He spends five days per week shopping at local farmers markets for seasonal fruits and herbs to incorporate into his cocktails, many of which you simply won’t find at other L.A. bars. The Breeder’s Cup is his take on the lime and cucumber flavored Gordon’s Cup. Both cocktails contain gin, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Biancaniello mixes aromatic Hendrick’s Gin with colorful beet juice, spicy horseradish and bracing pickling liquid, which includes white wine vinegar and Serrano chilies. The garnish is a toothpick speared with a duo of pickled Bermuda onions.

The Bazaar “Spanish Coffee” – Beverly Hills

Cocktail Los Angeles

To make the best coffee cocktail possible for weekend brunch, The Bazaar beverage director Lucas Paya (a fellow El Bulli alum) and former head bartender Ben Browning worked with Intelligentsia’s Nick Griffith to redefine the Irish Coffee.

Spanish Coffee ($14) is a variation on Irish Coffee that uses premium Spanish brandy (Duque d’Alba) instead of Irish whiskey. Brandy fits better with The Bazaar’s Spanish theme and according to Paya, “It’s a much more delicate drink with brandy, softer, more integrated,” They begin by rimming a martini glass with orange juice and rolling it in orange zest-infused sugar. Add 2 oz. fresh brewed coffee, 2 oz. fresh espresso and 1 oz. brandy to the glass, then allow 3 rocks of brown sugar to dissolve in the hot liquid. Whisk cold cream until it develops a thicker texture, then layer it on top of the coffee. Finish with fresh-grated orange zest. The balanced cocktail delivers a remarkable textural and temperature contrast.

Rivera “Barbacoa” – Downtown [CLOSED]
Cocktail Los Angeles

Skilled Rivera bartender Julian Cox has a firm grasp on the classics, but what distinguishes his cocktails are the pan-Latin influences and spicy flourishes, which complement chef John Rivera Sedlar’s cooking. The Barbacoa ($14) is a cocktail with layers of spice from chipotle, jalapeño and ginger. Agave syrup provides a natural sweetener, and the garnish is hilarious but effective: beef jerky. The cocktail is available with tequila or mezcal. Choose the latter since mezcal adds a smoky element.

CLOSED The Tar Pit “Jamaican Firefly” – Hollywood [CLOSED]
Cocktail Los Angeles

The Tar Pit is a new Art Moderne restaurant and bar from Campanile chef Mark Peel, Campanile GM Jay Perrin, noted bartenders Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and Manhattan cocktail impresario Audrey Saunders from Pegu Club. Head bartender Marcos Tello (The Sporting Life bartender’s guild, The Edison, The Varnish) helps to ensure that the cocktails meet the all-star crew’s exacting standards. The Tar Pitters make their own ginger beer and use it in their version of a Dark and Stormy, which they’re calling a Jamaican Firefly. The spicy, carbonated soda seamlessly melds with the molasses-rich Goslings dark rum, lime and sugar to form a high impact cocktail. Rising from the glass, you’ll find a wooden toothpick spearing a lime slice and a raft-shaped cut of candied ginger.

If you’d like to nominate a cocktail as L.A.’s best, please list it in the Comments section below.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

I love this post. I was just working on an asparagus bloody mary.
Merry Christmas Josh!
Lori Lynn

Lori Lynn,

An asparagus bloody mary sounds really interesting. Have a great holiday.

very cool. LA’s cocktail scene is certainly at a high point right now, especially with the opening of The Tar Pit. I wonder how it would stack up against the best in SF and NYC.

Based on my experiences, it seems like L.A. has become competitive with SF and New York, though those cities certainly have great cocktails.

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