Best Undercover Tiki Bar – 2011
714 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
Caña doesn’t sport moai, tappan cloth or any of the decorative signifiers that scream “tiki fetish,” but bar manager Allan Katz makes a convincing case that tiki drinks are the missing evolutionary link between America’s golden cocktail era and its swinging cocktail revival. The drinks are precise, nuanced and clever, full of creative riffs on classic recipes. The sharp Tennessee Isle, a rum-based twist on the Sazerac, is made with coconut bitters and overripe mango–infused absinthe. The Misti Dawn Swizzle, a dolled-up gin swizzle, plays passion-fruit and lime juice against each other in perfect tart-sweet balance. With its cheeky drink descriptions,
Caña’s cocktail menu, organized by increasing potency into three sections (Daggers, Pistols and Cannons), makes for some of the city’s best bar literature. At the boozy end of that menu, you’ll find the Twenty-Eight Days Later. Inspired by Don the Beachcomber’s original Zombie, it contains mescal, Tuaca and no less than three kinds of rum swimming in pineapple, pomegranate and passion-fruit juices. It’s classic yet thoroughly modern and, like the rage-filled zombies of the Danny Boyle film for which it was named, it hits hard. 714 W. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn. (213) 817-5321, canarumbar.com.
Best Cocktails to Set Your Mouth on Fire – 2011
107 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA
If there were a sixth taste, one that came after the elusive umami, it might be named Yrastorza after Las Perlas’ manager. Inspired by both his taste for tequila and his Filipino roots, Raul Yrastorza’s cocktails are characterized by ingredients like fresh curry leaves, cumin, mole, smoky chipotle and jalapeño juice. The result of his flavor play is a surprising amount of heat in Las Perlas’ tequila drinks, mellowed by sweet agave syrup and accompanied by the bite of the Mexican spirit; the bar excels at this combination of sweet and spicy. Both the chile-laced Juquila and the bar’s signature Spicy Margarita accomplish a fiery taste that regulars return to. Las Perlas’ tequila- and mezcal-influenced menu changes from week to week, but the peppery cocktails are as consistent as a tequila-infused room spin. Expect your taste buds to be doing the mariachi. 107 E. Sixth St., dwntwn. (213) 988-8355, 213nightlife.com/lasperlas.
Best Man Cave Downtown – 2011
515 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA
Before spirit-themed bars were all the rage, there was Seven Grand. It may not be the biggest or sexiest bar downtown, but it’s the best goddamn place to do the following things, at your leisure, in your own time: Sip a real Old-Fashioned (no cherries whatsoever in sight); puff a cigar, which can be purchased from the bartender and smoked on the patio; and play the part of pool shark. All without having to explain yourself to anybody. Why? It might be the animal trophies mounted on the walls that help make Seven Grand the ultimate mantuary (these include a boar and a bunch of jackalopes). It might even be the small décor details in this dimly lit joint, like the hunting-scene wallpaper in the corridor. But it’s most likely the massive whiskey list, which would excite even the most dyed-in-the-wool dude (or lady) to try ordering something other than a Black Label on the rocks. The fact that the bartenders can chat for hours about the selections doesn’t hurt, either. 515 W. Seventh St., 2nd floor, dwntwn. (213) 614-0736, 213nightlife.com/sevengrand.
Best Bloody Mary – 2011
118 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA
A good Bloody Mary will cure your Sunday hangover, send a shock of vitamin C to your system and offer a glimpse into your future as a virile, vegetable-eating individual. Or at least the splash of vodka will make you feel like the latter. Cole’s makes its day-altering Bloody Marys in-house. Created by Cole’s bar manager, the Southern-raised Brent Falco, the brunch cocktail mix is made of pickle juice from Cole’s infamous atomic pickles, horseradish, meat rub from the kitchen and blended tomatoes, along with a handful of other spices. The Bloody Mary mix marinates for 24 hours and is made fresh every week. The resulting Bloody Mary is a savory blend, thick and rich with a kick of spice, served with a stalk of celery and Cole’s signature pickle. The brunch cocktail is particularly coveted among regulars, perhaps because it is only available on weekends until 6 p.m. After finishing three rounds, Bloody Mary drinkers have been known to leave the bar with the strength of Popeye — or at least that’s how they remember it. 118 E. Sixth St., dwntwn. (213) 622-4090, 213nightlife.com/colesfrenchdip.