By Patrick Comiskey
The drink is called the Chin-Up, which seems inadequate as solace, halfhearted as a name. It blends Beefeater’s gin and Cynar, a peculiar digestif containing cynarine, the active ester that gives the artichoke its odd aftertaste. It is finished with muddled cucumber, a splash of vermouth, a pinch of salt.
It is not a drink you would ever in your life ask for, and yet there it is before you, miles from a martini. When you walked into the Varnish, the bar next to the bar at Cole’s sandwich shop downtown, and said to the bartender, “Surprise me,” you certainly weren’t anticipating this sort of surprise. But now it’s here, and in the next 30 seconds you’ll learn whether you’re anywhere near as adventurous as the drink you just ordered.
Such is the state of things in the cocktail scene in Los Angeles, 2012. The initial flurry of activity came toward the end of the last decade, when the Doheny, the Varnish and the Edison opened; when restaurant programs at Providence, Comme Ça and Rivera kicked into high gear; when bar talent from New York and elsewhere swooped in on pop-up venues like the ephemeral Test Kitchen, or elevated the brilliant and short-lived Tar Pit. In the three years since Jonathan Gold declared this “the Cocktail Moment in Los Angeles” in these pages, the Moment has become a Movement — one that shows no signs of slowing down.
Many of the city’s most successful cocktail impresarios — Cedd Moses, Julian Cox, Mark and Johnny Houston, Vincenzo Marianella — have established consulting companies that routinely fire up new recipes, new techniques, new disciplines and schools of thought, employing a bewildering array of new products, served up in venues as thematically diverse as Paris is to Havana. If Los Angeles is one of this country’s great melting pots, its bar scene is rapidly becoming its mirror.
Photo by Anne Fishbein