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Little Black Book

In Good Spirits: A Cocktail Expert's Guide to LA Boozing

by Simon Ford

The Spare Room, Los Angeles
The Spare Room. Photo by Skandia Shafer.

It's not a bad idea to ask an LA cocktail connoisseur where he likes to drink in La La Land. Hence this comprehensive boozing list from Simon Ford, co-founder of The 86 Company, makers of mixologist-approved spirits. The honorary Angelino (by way of London) knows the ins and outs of drinking, eating, and working off a buzz in LA. (If you like his style, don't miss his partner Jason Kosmas' guide to the Best Boozing in Austin.)

LOS ANGELES – While living in London, I visited Los Angeles often enough that I could simply jump into a rental car at the airport and drive around without a map or GPS. It was always a dream to live in LA, and that became a reality three years ago when my fiancé and I left Brooklyn for a job she took in Studio City. Moving was relatively easy, given that I can sell my spirits in most major cities and that LA has so many top bars and restaurants. Here are my favorites, along with some of the city's best diversions.

GREAT COCKTAILS

The Varnish
118 E. 6th St.; +1-213-265-7089
Co-founded by some of the best in the game (Eric Alperin, Cedd Moses, Sasha Petraske), The Varnish does very solid craft cocktails made by bartenders with very solid technique. It's a small space, so expect a small wait that is absolutely worth it.

The Spare Room
7000 Hollywood Blvd.; +1-323-769-7296
One of the coolest bars in LA, located inside The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, has amazing cocktails from one of my favorite bartenders, Yael Vengroff, as well as two of the sexiest bowling lanes in the country. The owners are obsessed with good music and frequently host great DJs.

The Walker Inn
3612 W. 6th St.; +1-213-263-2709
One of the most talented and progressive bartenders I've ever met is Alex Day, who, along with the team at Proprietors LLC, put together the cocktail equivalent of experiential dining at the Walker Inn. There are seasonal cocktail tasting menus and great bar snacks — it's a taste of where the future of drinking is going.

Bar Clacson
351 S. Broadway; +1-213-265-7477
A genuine ground-up oyster-shell pétanque court sits aside a classic Italian deli where you can find cured meats, proper espresso, and cocktails from big-name bartender Eric Alperin.

Walker Inn

An orange accent. Photo courtesy of The Walker Inn.

Clacson Bar

The writing on the wall says it all. Photo courtesy of Bar Clacson.

La Descarga
1159 North Western Ave.; +1-323-466-1324
A Cuba-themed speakeasy with an excellent rum selection, a hidden cigar bar, Latin-style burlesque, and a live salsa band. Make a reservation online beforehand, mind the dress code, and prepare for a great time.

Seven Grand
515 W. 7th St., 2nd Fl.; +1-213-614-0736
Hunting lodge décor, classic and contemporary cocktails, and a massive whiskey selection. They're sure to have your favorites and a whole lot more.

THE BEST SPIRITS SELECTION ON THE PLANET

Old Lightning
2905 Washington Blvd., Marina Del Rey; no phone
For several years, bartender Pablo Moix has been obsessed with amassing one of the greatest collections of spirits on the planet, which he's made available to drink at his latest cocktail haven in Venice. The bar has a wonderful list of classic cocktails and a relaxed lounge (no cell phones allowed) where geeks can spend their entire savings on rare spirits. It's behind Scopa, a fantastic place for dinner and cocktails.

DRINKS WITH LIVE MUSIC

Harvard and Stone
5221 Hollywood Blvd.; +1-323-466-6063
They seek out the best of the best when it comes to great local bands, and they're one of the few live music venues I have ever been to where cocktails have as much place at the bar as beer. Their back bar, R&D, is dedicated to guest bartenders and has hosted most of the world's best bartending talent.

Harvard and Stone

The bar at Harvard and Stone. Photo courtesy of Harvard and Stone.

Wexler's Deli

Wexler's Deli in Grand Central Market. Photo courtesy of Wexler's Deli.


LA INSTITUTIONS AND MUSEUMS

Because you've got to do something when you're not in a bar or restaurant.

Jones Hollywood
7205 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; 1+323-850-1726
Italian-style comfort food, rock and roll, a bonafide juke box, and a fantastic bar program run by Eric Tecosky are a few reasons why this place is still going after roughly 25 years. That, and the really good pizza.

The Hollywood Bowl
2301 Highland Ave.; +1-323-850-2000
My favorite live music venue. Bring cheese and wine and watch the sunset before musicians take the stage. They put on great collaborations and have a penchant for the unexpected. I've seen everyone from Sting and Peter Gabriel to Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble to Sigur Rós and Block Party.

Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway; +1-213-624-2378
There's so much to choose from, so decide wisely. Eggslut is great, but expect a line. Madcapra has the best falafel. Wexler's Deli does excellent pastrami and an even better bagels with lox. Belcampo Meat Company combines restaurant and retail in one.

The Broad
221 S. Grand Ave., +1-213-232-6200
Popular for its selection and free admission, The Broad is now a landmark of serious LA culture. Check out the Infinity Room, a mirror chamber with an endless LED light display.

LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd.; +1-323 857-6000
You'll find all types of art from some of the world's best artists. Spend the whole day (there's an outdoor area for sunshine) and the $15 ticket will feel like a steal.

The Eveleigh

A seating situation at The Eveleigh. Photo courtesy of The Eveleigh.


RESTAURANTS WITH GREAT BARS

This town knows how to soak up — er, balance — its alcohol in very tasty ways.

The Eveleigh
8752 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; +1-424-239-1630
Rustic, comfortable, and not pretentious — my home away from home when I want a delicious bite and a good drink. I can come most nights without a reservation and fit in with the crowd, whether I'm wearing a tux or dirty jeans and a T-shirt. The open-air atmosphere created by the retractable roof is always relaxing.

Bestia
2121 E. 7th Pl.; +1-213-514-5724
Ingredient-driven Italian food, great service, stellar wine selection, and an awesome cocktail menu by Julian Cox. Make a reservation at least a week in advance.

Gwen
6600 Sunset Blvd.;+1-323-946-7513
Curtis Stone's newest venture is named after his grandmother and has an in-house butcher shop that supplies the restaurant and also sells to the public. Food is tasting menu only and the low-waste cocktail program from Mitch Bushell turns throwaway items into drink components.

Cannibal
8850 Washington Blvd., Culver City; +1-310-838-2783
A meat-centric restaurant with an awesome selection of cured meats and charcuterie (and options for vegetarians as well). Try back bacon, 'nduja, and guanciale. Oh, and did I mention they sell a 96 oz. ribeye?

NOTABLE DINING SPOTS

Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.; +1-323-297-0100
The osteria puts out some of LA's best Italian food, and the attached pizzeria is no joke either. A+ wine menu and rotating seasonal food options means Mozza never gets old.

Petit Trois
718 N. Highland Ave.; +1-323-468-8916
A wonderful French bistro from Ludo Lefebvre serving high-quality versions of French bistro classics like Burgundy escargot, steak frites, mussels marinière, and omelets cooked to perfection.

Petty Cash
7360 Beverly Blvd.; +1-323-933-5300
My go-to spot for tacos and tequila in Los Angeles.

Petty Cash

A taco a day (almost). Photo courtesy of Petty Cash.

Winsome, Sierra Prescott

Southern California vibes. Photo courtesy of Winsome.

BRUNCH

Winsome
1115 Sunset Blvd.; +1-213-415-1818
The menu pays homage to the flavors of Southern California with really, really spectacular brunch. Save room for coffee and pastries after your meal — they're phenomenal.

Republique
624 S. La Brea Ave.; +1-310-362-6115
You've probably heard great things about this game-changing opening in Los Angeles. The food is better than you'd expect. Truly a can't-miss experience, if you can get in.

HEALTHY EATING

Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.; +1-323-939-0151
A very LA experience, in a good way. Order breakfast or lunch at the counter, take a number, and eat on the amazing outdoor patio. Make sure to try the pastries.

COFFEE & PASTRIES

Hermanos Coffee
5616 San Vicente Blvd.; +1-310-111-1213
The brick-and-mortar location of this former mobile coffee cart makes a great java and has an impressive pastry selection.

COFFEE AND TACOS

HomeState
4624 Hollywood Blvd.; +1-323-906-1122
My favorite coffee in town comes from a taco bar. Enough said.

HomeState, Los Angeles

Hangover cure: outdoor seating, coffee, tacos. Photo courtesy of HomeState.

Jinya Ramen Bar

Fourth meal material. Photo courtesy of Jinya Ramen Bar.

ASIAN EATS

Jinya Ramen Bar
3334 Burton Ave., Burbank; +1-323-930-2477
Everything I've tried here I've loved. Spicy chicken ramen is delicious and green tea mochi is a hit as well.

Jitlada
5233 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd.; +1-323-667-9809
Find some of the city's best no-holds-barred southern Thai cooking among the endless selection of curries on the massive menu.

Parks Barbeque
955 S. Vermont Ave.; +1-213-380-1717
Upscale Korean BBQ means marinated ribs (galbi) are on order, but there are other items worth trying, like spicy cod and brisket.

Asanebo
11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; +1-818-760-3348
A great sushi spot that goes beyond expectations. In a city with no shortage of sushi joints, the food and service here stands out.


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE

Fathom's Los Angeles Guide
Where to Eat in Los Angeles After Midnight
A Heathy and Wholesome Guide to Malibu

Simon Ford is the co-founder of The 86 Company, makers of Fords Gin, Caña Brava Rum, Tequila Cabeza, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. He travels for culture, food, and drinking rituals.

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