British Invasion: The Pimm’s Cup Takes Over L.A.

The Pimm’s Cup has a long and proud history in Britain, one of tennis and big hats and dressing in summer whites. A polo match practically doesn’t count if there isn’t any Pimm’s on hand to sip whilst stomping divots. Pimm’s No. 1, the liquor the drink is built around, was first assembled in the 1860s, a heady mixture of gin, a liqueur, fruit, and various spices. To make a Pimm’s Cup, one adds something sparkly (like ginger ale or carbonated lemonade) plus citrus and cucumber. Unsurprisingly, this concoction is popular in the grand hotels lining the beach in Santa Monica (aka California’s Little England). But over the past couple of months, it’s become the cocktail to order amongst L.A.’s coolest imbibers.

Perhaps it was this year’s World Cup that spurred the lust for Pimm’s on the West Coast. Such was the demand for the stuff that there was a rush for Pimm’s No. 1 at the Whole Foods in Venice Beach, where they actually sold out of the previously dusty, neglected bottles.

The traditional preparation of a Pimm’s Cup makes it an excellent day drink, perfect for quaffing on a balcony at Shutters or the Shangri-La, two hotels with tried-and-true versions. Coming into L.A.’s real summer (August to October, where nights can reach 80 degrees), it’s a perfectly acceptable evening cocktail, too. And with all the fruit and liquid additions that go into a Cup, the drink is a good match for L.A.’s current mixology obsession.

The most interesting bars in the city are experimenting with their own, updated renditions. At Varnish, the drink is called the Fruit Cup. The bar mixes its own base (gin, Grand Marnier, cherry Heering, and CarpanoAntica Formula) and adds muddled fruit, cucumbers, and Sprite to finish it. The not-quite-native When in London is Drago Centro’s contribution — their version adds straight gin to the Pimm’s-and-fruit base. Now we’re moving quickly away from sparkly drink territory and into the land of serious boozing.The Brits would appreciate the gesture.

Drago’s Pimm’s Cup, in addition to increasing the alcohol content, makes use of strained berries for a deeper flavor. At First & Hope, the barkeeps stick to citrus but make their own Pimm’s, and add ginger beer for a darker, spicier flavor.

With lingering World Cup fever, a hot Indian summer, and a city-wide passion for complicated cocktails, L.A. has made itself a Pimm’s Cup town.