It’s a chicken/egg kind of question—does Georg Riedel love wine, or does he love the glass it’s poured into? The answer is both, but which came first? Riedel is a 10th generation Austrian glassmaker who temporarily left behind his beloved grapes to show the world that spirits have glass too. Riedel, who has an aristocratic air to him and the appearance of a Bond villain (Dr. Pinot?), has designed a trio of spirit glasses—cognac, scotch whiskey, and tequila—to seduce optimal taste and aroma from the glass and into your sense receptors. Listening to Riedel discuss his new creations, and the fluids they cradle, is akin to hearing Shakespeare muse on love. The medicinal smell of a whiskey reminds him of a childhood pharmacy in the Austrian plains. Tequila in the wrong glass has lost its maturity, become cold, and narrow. For Riedel, drinking a spirit from the wrong glass is like watching Lawrence of Arabia on an iPhone. But if it’s the right one, then bliss. So as he would say, pick up your glass, tilt your head back, and initiate flow.
Summer’s here, which means blockbuster movie time. In Hollywood, that means making a big night out of going to the Arclight (a fantastic movie theater where you can reserve a specific seat), followed by dinner at the Hungry Cat. The chic, intimate restaurant is known for its raw bar and extra-fresh produce; there’s no proper bar, though there is a raw bar where you can sit on a stool and order food and drinks. Plus, the Cat’s got some of the best mixology around, enhanced by local produce from Schaner Farms, McGrath Family Farms, and Vicki Bernard of Bernard Farms.
Created by David Lentz, the cocktail menu is downright exciting. There’s the mint julep, which is pretty standard but consistent. Other favorites include the Hot Tamale (tequila, orange, and lime juice with chili simple syrup) and the Pimlico (whisky, orange and lime juice, fresh mint). I’ve been to the Hungry Cat three times for dinner — or rather cocktails plus some food. Each time, the crowd-pleaser at my table was Luke’s Lemonade, a selection from the “Classic Cats” part of the menu. (Other categories: “Seasonal Cats” and “Virgin Cats.”) What’s so special about spiked lemonade? I think it’s really the house-made lemonade itself, which tastes perfectly balanced between sweet and sour without shocking the system with a ton of white sugar. The fresh mint gives it a summery splash. “It’s tart, but not too sweet. It’s absolutely refreshing and reminds me of sitting outside on a Nantucket chair,” says my movie exec friend.
On each occasion, my friends ordered a bunch of different drinks, but everyone opted for Luke’s Lemonade for the second round after sampling it from the person smart enough to order it first. After trying a spring seasonal cocktail that had coconut syrup and tasted like a sour creamsicle, and another with pink lemons that my friend said prompted her to “make the Renee Zellweger face,” I was sold on Luke’s. Just try to see the movie before you start drinking.
• 2 oz. vodka • 1 oz. lemon juice • 1 oz. simple syrup 10-12 mint leaves
Shake and serve on the rocks, garnish with a lemon wheel. $12.
Premium tequila 1800 Silver curated nine artists from such mezcal-friendly ports as, uh, Atlanta, Oakland, and Detroit to dress up their new limited edition 1800 Essential series. The best of the bunch—naturally—hails from Mexico City. Jorge Alderete’s devilish piece, he says, is meant to “evoke the effect of Tequila in us—and in some instances, this has to do with making the monster we carry within. Tequila will take us to that place where we transform ourselves and we externalize, and in some cases we will see the devil.” Hell, yeah! ($35).
There are many reasons to visit Comme Ca in LA’s West Hollywood, but the best is the beverages. Trained by the school of Milk & Honey, the bartenders blend fresh produce and top-shelf liquor into dreamy combinations. Cocktails take such importance at the restaurant that they are featured on the main menu, listed between “Fruits de Mer” and “Sides.”
The “Dealer’s Choice” is an adventure rather than a gamble. If you’re really going for it, stake out a seat at the (unfortunately cramped) bar to chat up one of the bartenders and let him show off. Some oysters help it all go down nice and smooth. My favorite is the Queens Park Swizzle; I first tried it when accompanied by my friend Jeff Zarnow, who owns Starr African Rum, which is served at Comme Ca. (Translation: he gets dealt good hands.) The bartender and Jeff decided I must have the Swizzle, a bright, mojito-inspired concoction. I was convinced of their cocktail-choosing prowess by the Swizzle’s bartop appeal: a pretty, colorful tower of a drink, it reminded me of a Sno Cone, one of my first great loves. Sweet, pretty, and refreshing, the Swizzle is probably best girly drink around. It’s a thinking woman’s cosmo, in the age of Sex and the Movie, when cosmos are so over they’re new again, which makes them over again. Got that?
Queens Park Swizzle
• 10 mint leaves • 1 oz. lime juice • 3/4 oz. simple syrup • 1 brown sugar cube • 2 oz. white rum • Crushed ice • 5 douses Peychaud bitters • 5 douses Angostura bitters
Add mint, lime juice, simple syrup, brown sugar cube, and rum; muddle. Add to glass. Add crushed ice until 3⁄4 full. Douse with Peychaud, then douse with Angostura. $14.
S. Hector Bury, bartender at Joe’s Restaurant, likes to name his cocktails after David Bowie songs. Rightly enough, his “Lady Stardust” seems like a song in a glass—one popular on the radio during summertime, like Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” The combination of top-shelf champagne and fresh citrus makes for a light, crisp cocktail that’s deceptively light. Use it as a chaser between “strong” drinks at your peril. (I did, and I have the hangover to prove it.)
The first sip is a little sweet, then it mellows out to something all too palatable. Lady Stardust seems like West Side of Los Angeles’ answer to the Cipriani bellini: a perfect party treat, or a way to start an evening. Or nightcap! You can’t go wrong. And it’s not too metrosexual for a straight guy (if he’s on a date). Served chilled, it’s particularly refreshing after a hot beach day, so the time is now. Or go for the “Jean Genie” (Ketel One Citron, Tuaca, and sweet lemon) or, if you’re champagne-averse, the “Moonage Daydream” (St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Ketel One Citron vodka, pineapple, and lime). Joe’s is a beloved Venice hangout; the décor may seem a bit stuffy or stale, but the food is among California’s finest, served by some of the nicest semi-employed actors in the business. It’s best to go during the week to avoid crowds. And that’s the only time you can eat at the bar anyway.
Joe’s Lady Stardust
• 1/4 oz lemon juice • 1/4 oz lime juice • 3/4 oz simple syrup • 1 1/2 oz Grey Goose Pear vodka
Mix all in a pint glass. Add ice to 3/4 full. Fill to top of ice with equal parts 7-Up and soda. Shake lightly 2 or 3 times. Pour in a Collins glass; garnish with lemon wedge. $10.
On a recent Friday night, I headed to downtown LA bar Seven Grand with some friends in the know who swore by the cocktails. I was surprised to see a velvet rope and line outside—it was almost enough to make me turn around and go home. I’m of the strong opinion that patience is a virtue best untested when it comes to nightlife. My cohorts convinced me stick around, and after about five minutes (what was the point?), we were granted access. It was worth it after all. Seven Grand’s exceptional cocktails fit right in with the bar’s gentlemanly hunting club theme: strong, classic, distinct. There’s nothing girly about the combos of fresh fruit, top-tier liquor, and expert mixology. It doesn’t come cheap, though. The cocktail menu includes $10 juleps plus a $15 deposit required for the silver cup, crustas, punches, fizzes, and sours.
Sammy Ross from New York’s Little Branch and Milk & Honey bars—which seem to be emerging as a kind of Montessori school for the country’s best mixologists—created the Big Mak, a mix of blackberries and bourbon that manages to be both sweet and sour, girly and manly. I can’t think of a season or occasion where this drink wouldn’t be appropriate, even perfect. It seems like the right idea at a bar downtown, but could also work at say, at a polo match in the Hamptons or apres ski in Aspen. “He let me borrow and simplify the recipe,” said bartender Damian Windsor. You’ll need a drink to deal with the potential line outside the door, particularly on the weekends.
Seven Grand’s Big Mak
• 4 blackberries • 2 oz Makers Mark • 1 oz Cranberry Juice • 0.75 oz. fresh lemon juice • 0.75 oz. simple syrup Muddle blackberries at the bottom of a mixing glass. Add rest of ingredients, shake and strain over ice into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with blackberries on a pick. $12.
On Tartan Day, April 6th, we remember the Scots, who like two things naked, and one of them is malt whiskey. Here, a taste of the highlights of the Highlands and the Lowlands, neat. With sweet, delicate notes, the 18-year-old Johnnie Walker Gold ($85), best drunk chilled (sincerely), lives up to its name—pure, mellow alchemy. Lagavulin 21-Year-Old ($300) tastes of licking a fireplace (without the creosote aftertaste). It’s a glorious thing on some people’s tongues, but requires a braver heart for others—it’s a barefoot hot-coal walk, over a smoldering peat bog.
Oban, The Distillers Edition ($80), is one seriously smooth ride, and Glenkinchie 12-Year-Old ($50) is a best buy for the fiscally grounded connoisseur. Aye, we love scotch. But when it comes to the price tag on that bottle of rare single malt, Brora’s 30-Year-Old, which retails for $400? Um, we’ll go Dutch.
Bedell Cellars, owned by Co-CEO of New Line Cinema, Michael Lynne, recently released a new red wine. Called Musée, it’s sort of a Merlot, kind of a Cabernet, and a bit Petit Verdot. It’s this unexpected combination that makes the potable so unique—that, and the fact that all the grapes were harvested from the winery’s vineyards on Long Island. Bedell Cellars is known for collaborating with contemporary artists to design their artful labels—Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, and Ross Bleckner have all contributed. Musée’s label was designed by Chuck Close and features a bunch of grapes in Close’s photorealist style.
In the celebratory frenzy of uncorking a bottle of bubbly, little thought is given to the name on the label. However, as Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte introduces the latest addition to its family of fine wines, the name gracing the bottle becomes more than a product, but an innovation. Their new trio of champagnes—brut, extra brut, and ultra brut (the latter being sugar-free)—is recognizing “current lifestyle philosophies constantly on the lookout for purity, natural products, and authentic cuisine.”
With a soft palate of contrasting aromas and hints of citrus and vanilla, the champagne is perfectly paired with both heavy meals and desserts. Bottom line: It’s the crème de la crus.
Photo by Grant Symon