I asked 6 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.
I would say the popular drinks at The Varnish are:
Gold Rush. When I came out to LA and did Mozza I put it on my opening menu. It’s still on there. At The Varnish we do a version of the Gold Rush (fresh lemon juice, Honey Bourbon, shaken, served over a large rock w/ a lemon wedge).
Also the Penicillin. That is due to Sammy Ross when he did Comme Ca. Such a seminal drink of the present culture.
Our Old Fashioned style drinks go like hot cakes. Two of our more popular are the Monte Carlo (Bitters, Benedictine, Rye over a rock of ice, lemon peel.) and the Fancy Free (Bitters, Maraschino, Bourbon, over a rock of ice, Orange peel).
Also mint & cucumber are quite popular requests, which we make into Eastsides.
The Last Tango in Modena. [gin with strawberries, balsamic vinegar and St. Germain foam] It is the most unique drink and has been in the bar for over two years so people have known about it for a long time, plus Greg’s drink the Seriously Dangerous, tomato basil bourbon is right up there. Our best whisky drink.
Our sales-leaders are a tie between the Brazilian Necktie and Rum & Coconut Water. I’ve tried to remove both from the menu and received numerous threats and pleas from our members as a result. It was like I canceled Arrested Development or something.
Southern California bears with it an acclimation to genuinely spicy fare that say, Suffolk County, New York, doesn’t. So a cocktail like the Necktie with its visceral spice cooled by cucumber is an easy sell. Then there’s the cucumber thing: People still can’t get enough of it in their drink! We tried to take some folks out of their cu-comfort zone over the summer with Jewel of the Nile, an agricole swizzle with mint and a shot of fresh zucchini juice, but despite the love it received, we still sold three Neckties to each Jewel.
Then there’s Rum & Coconut Water. This hearkens back to Fatty Crab. They were doin’ it with Wray & Nephew when I took on their bars, and though Native Wayne and I drink that shit by the quart when we’re occupying LA, it’s pretty unapproachable to most people. After a marathon of “testing” every rum available in NYC at the time it was decided Black Strap was the rum that best complemented the delicate flavor of the young coconut, making it richer. Instant monster. I had some supply issues with coconuts for a while this year and people got pretty mean about not getting their fix. So now Danielle or I drive to a little market in Chinatown every day lest anyone makes good on a coconut-related threat. Yes, this is my life.
Vincenzo Marianella (Copa d’Oro)
I have 2 cocktails that sell very well.
For the ladies it’s the…
2 oz Grapefruit Vodka
3/4 oz St German
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
10-15 mint leaves
1″ inch red bell pepper
Muddle the bell pepper and the mint with the ingredients shake and fine strain in a cocktail glass.
For men it’s…
SMOKE OF SCOTLAND
2 oz Laphroaig Cask strength
1/2 oz Martini Extra Dry
1/2 oz St Germain
2 bar spoon amaro Averna
Stir and strain on a rock glass over a big ice cube. Garnish with grapefruit peel.
It’s the Braveheart, then the Crazy Horse, but I feel like the Braveheart is a funny story…
We haven’t even had the Braveheart on the menu for a month and it’s still the best seller. It’s scotch, ginger, lemon, honey, and bitters shaken. We juice down the ginger and make a juice. People love the ginger…one group of 4 have 26 Bravehearts last month…That’s the record …That’s a lot of frickin ginger!
The funny thing is that a lot of people actually order the same drink with tequila, bourbon, or even vodka. Regulars have named each of these (I am sure you can guess the theme…)
Bourbon: Lethal Weapon
Vodka: Man Without a Face
To be honest, a few of them have even made up hand signals:
Braveheart: fist in the air
Bourbon: gun to the head
Vodka: wiping your face off with your hand
Damian Windsor (The Roger Room)
It’s a very tight race between the Tijuana Brass and the 4 Aces. Tequila and cucumber or vodka and lime? People are really curious about the cucumber foam and underneath it’s basically a Tommys Margarita, and the 4 Aces is a great introductory drink. Vodka is safe, and grapes and basil are relatively familiar and the Domaine de Canton liqueur, just the right amount of ginger. I once had a guest ring up a check with 37 ‘4 Aces’ on it for he and 3 friends, they drank quite a few but insisted on buying the guests to either side of them multiple rounds of the cocktail as well.