One of the last of the original generation of tiki joints, which some assert are L.A.’s real contribution to the cocktail universe, Bahooka is the kind of place you’d expect to find near a scruffy tropical seaport, all rusted nautical gear, stolen street signs and scarred dark wood, lit like a Navy-base bar and with more bobbing tropical fish than you’d find in a Jacques Cousteau special. Lifeboats hang out back — after the bar closes on weekends, you’ll always find a giggling kid or two waving from inside of one. The drive back home from Rosemead seems halfway to Samoa some nights, especially when you’re on the outside of a Monsoon or a Jet Pilot, a Shark’s Tooth or a Cobra Strike, and the mostly deep-fried cuisine isn’t something you’re going to be happy to have eaten the next day, but Bahooka is one of the better places in the metropolis to stoke a craving for demon rum. Because is there anything more romantic than two straws in a single Flaming Honey Bowl? I thought not. As a bonus, it is very close to the Glendon Hotel, where the KoGi taco truck sets up shop for a couple of hours early on Saturday evenings. 4501 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, (818) 285-1241.
Campanile has always been a few steps ahead on the beverage front. It was among the first restaurants in Los Angeles to feature obscure super-Tuscans, ahead of the curve on Swiss eaux de vie, and definitely the first local grappa list to break into triple figures. There was a time when Campanile was probably in possession of every single bottle of Piemontese freisa in the United States, and it cornered the market on the odd hand-labeled liquors of Romano Levi. The wine list is legendarily deep in Barolos and in Rhônes. So it makes a strange sort of sense that Mark Peel, the chef-proprietor, has lately become as obsessed with cocktails as he used to be with grilled lamb — old concoctions like the Aviation; new ones like the restaurant’s signature Belltower, fizzy and bitter; and a warm winter drink, Johnny’s Punch, made with crème fraîche, 12-year rum, bitter almond and organic Fuji apples among other things, a cocktail as complicated in its effects as anything from Campanile’s pastry kitchen. You will not be surprised to hear that Peel has a new, even more cocktail-intensive restaurant under construction for a projected fall opening. 646 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 938-1447.
Ciudad is a phenomenon unto itself, the pan-Latin outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, whose moqueqa, fritanga and lomo saltado earned in polish and impeccable sourcing whatever they may lack in “authenticity.” Once one of the very few sophisticated restaurants downtown, now Ciudad seems even more valuable as a linchpin of the downtown scene. And while the restaurant may be all things to all people, Milliken and Feniger were in very early on the quality drinks thing — their City Restaurant would have nailed the Weekly’s prize for best margarita back in the 1980s if the tasting panel hadn’t been corrupted by the ex-El Coyote bartender who then worked at the paper as an editor — and Ciudad functions very well as a bar, especially to those whose pleasures include upending an oyster or two and digging into a ceviche plate every now and then: There are strong mojitos, mellow Pisco sours and an inspiring collection of rum. 445 S. Figueroa St., dwntwn., (213) 486-5171.
Cole’s, Cedd Moses’ revitalized French dip parlor that happens to be the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles, has recently been reborn as a meta-tavern. Because while it is still home to a formidable hand-carved pork dip sandwich and a very decent businessmen’s bar, it is also the physical space one must traverse to get to the Varnish, the tiny, speakeasy-like bar hidden behind what looks like a broom-closet doorway in the rear. What this means is that on a crowded Saturday night, you will probably end up drinking a merely superb rye old-fashioned as the preamble to the actually mind-blowing Gin and It you may taste when a table finally becomes free at the smaller bar, or muddle through an order of bacony potato salad and what might have been the best brandy Sazerac of your life if its resinous absinthe smack had not been muted by the knowledge of the liquid nirvana only a drunkard’s stumble away. Does time at Cole’s drag on like the endless D-League games that precede the Lakers when you get to Staples Center too early? Not quite. Cole’s is a destination bar in its own right, snooty enough that former regulars objecting to $10 mixed drinks are regularly sent up the street to King Eddy’s, where the cheap whiskey shots and tawdry City of Night vibe still exist unmolested by the local loft crowd. But still — there you are in Bacchus’ waiting room. At times like these, we recommend a champagne cocktail. 118 E 6th St., dwntwn., (213) 622-4090.