I asked 8 prominent L.A. bartenders one question: “What’s your best selling cocktail, and why do you think that’s the case?” Their responses provide insight about both clientele and bar programs, just as they did in Part 1. This time, some bartenders even supplied recipes!
Julian Cox (Playa, Picca, Sotto + Short Order)
Rivera – Barbacoa: This was one of the first mezcal cocktails to break out and make the spirit more popular and mainstream. It was a first. Savory cocktails hadn’t really made their mark yet and the idea of chipotle and beef jerky in a cocktail was cool and funky and very fitting for downtown. You could order it with tequila, but if you were cool, you got mezcal.
Playa – A Diving Bell: People tend to want spicy, savory drinks at my bars (thanks to the Barbacoa!) and people coming to Playa on the heels of Rivera are looking for them. The inspiration for this was a spicy daiquiri made with mezcal. It’s a different riff on the spicy notes, but nothing like the Barbacoa.
Picca – Zarate Tomahawk: It’s all about the name. The visual is hilarious. And damn, this is another spicy mezcal cocktail.
Sotto – Grappa Don’t Preach: Sotto’s Beverly Hills adjacent location attracts a west side clientele that tends to order what they know. This is the only vodka cocktail we do and it’s definitely the less adventurous crowd pleaser.
Short Order – ???: I’m already changing the menu here, so who knows what will end up our top seller. I’m rooting for Grandma’s Boy.
Well it goes in generations. When I start working here, it was everything gin martini, Manhattans, Rob Roys. Nobody drink wine. Now people change. Nobody drinks gin anymore. Then it’s 80% vodka martinis. Now it’s 80% wine. So people change. The most popular drink today is vodka martini. It used to be, for six or seven years, it used to be gin martini, what most people drink.
A Negroni. I think because of our concept here, and I think it’s a damn good cocktail. I love Negronis. It’s my cocktail when I go out, too. But yeah, I think because we’re modern Italian, I think this is the place, if you’re not going to have wine, and you’re not going to do something else, I think that really is the course of action to take.
Our best selling cocktail, regardless of season, is:
Hot Day in South Central
muddle 3 slices cucumber and 5 sprigs cilantro
2 oz Fortaleza Blanco
1/16 tsp. Arbol chile
1/16 tsp. salt
shake, double strain into coupe
garnish with cucumber/cilantro “palm tree”
Our clientele is especially fond of tequila, as well as spicy drinks so they naturally gravitate towards this one. It transcends the seasons and is a wonderful little waker-upper around eleven pm when your day is getting started. The arbol provides a lot of chile flavor without being too high up on the heat scale, simply perfect for the balance in this drink.
Our best selling cocktail is The Dirty Sue martini… surprise, surprise. I am pretty confident that it is #1 because as much as people are getting into the cocktail scene, they still like what they like. Dirty martinis have been around since the 40’s and people enjoy the salty flavor of the martini, which pairs well with food. It is also a drink that is enjoyed by both men and women. So that gives it a double audience. Finally, it may have something to do with the arsenal of Dirty Sue coasters strewn about the bar…
Our second best selling cocktail is The Hendrix – a fresh pear and basil margarita.
The most popular cocktail of all time at 1886 is something called the Bourbon Peach Smash. I had Chris, the GM, look it up, and out of all the sales all year, that’s definitely the most popular. It launched with our summer list, so in the past six months, it just kept getting requested. I think it kind of speaks to that perfect marriage of bourbon and peach, but at the same time, it’s not based off of any seasonal ingredients. It’s based off of a peach liqueur, so it’s super refreshing. I kind of think it speaks to the client. A lot of people come to 1886 that are whiskey drinkers, so it’s a really good marriage.
I’d say two are almost equally popular.
Grapefruit Rickey–It’s vodka based and people tend to gravitate towards what they know. the flavors of lime and grapefruit are bright and the St. Germain complements well but doesn’t over-sweeten it so it’s bright and balanced. people tend to like grapefruit 🙂
Moscow Mule–a take on the classic, again vodka and lime but rather than ginger beer we use a ginger puree with club soda, it gives it a spicy ginger flavor but with a fuller mouth feel than a ginger beer would. the candied ginger garnish is fun to eat too!
I just ran the number for the entire year of 2011 and to my surprise it was hands down the “Spiced Daisy.” In second place it was the “Los Muertos” and in third place the “Poblano Escobar.”
The spiced daisy speaks to the most people. I believe that the ingredients are understood, as most people have a hard time wrapping their heads around bitters and Amaro based cocktails. The Spiced Daisy is served with your choice of tequila or mezcal and is our English(translation) version of a jalapeño margarita. Margarita translated into English is daisy our interpretation of the jalapeño is actually a Breville juicer juiced mixture of jalapeños, cucumber and cilantro. I made the choice of using the juicer for consistency, to many bartenders and mixologist make the mistake of muddling pieces of jalapeño that are too much or too big. This makes the margarita usually to spicy or not. By juicing, the heat, the cucumber and the cilantro are balanced. We use a house made salt mixture of ground dried chipotle chili morita for the rim of the glass. We garnish with a Kaffir lime leave for nose and pomegranate seeds for color and a bit of sweet and tart to nibble on.
Everyone understands the drink and it’s easy to explain to each other and to friends outside of Las Perlas.
2oz Siete leguas Blanco
1oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2oz Royal Combier
1/2oz Agave nectar
1/2oz jalapeño, cucumber and cilantro mix
Rim glass with chili morita salt
Shake and strain over fresh ice or single large ice cube
Garnish with a Kaffir lime leaf and pomegranate seed