The cocktail revolution is well documented. In bars and restaurants across the country, the American cocktail has returned. But the serious booze professionals I know argue that if the cocktail is truly to take root again as part of our national identity, it must make the leap from the barstool to the couch.
The at-home cocktail used to be the psychological distinction we drew between the work day and the evening. Cocktail hour said definitively that work was over, that this is our time now. Reclaiming this tradition, the nerds argue, is paramount if we want to see our current cocktail obsession stand the test of time, to be more than just another passing fad. People, it is your cultural duty to make cocktails at home.
With that in mind, we set out to find the best places in Los Angeles to further our at-home cocktail ambitions. As such, we gave preference to places with the best liquor selections, rather than looking for good wine or beer selections, although great liquor PLUS great wine and beer definitely won our favor. Turn the page for L.A.'s top 10 liquor stores.
Located in Bellflower, Emilio's is notable mainly because it looks like a crappy liquor store but actually hides some strange and geeky liquors amongst its other offerings. It carries around 150 tequilas, and some oddities such as Tap 357 Maple Rye Whisky, a Canadian Rye flavored with maple syrup, for all your breakfast whiskey needs. It also should be mentioned that Emilio's has the most extensive, impressive selection of disgusting-looking, colors-not-found-in-nature liqueurs I've ever seen. 17251 Lakewood Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 630-8683.
This downtown store doesn't have a huge selection, but it does have some very cool things on offer. It's one of the few stores in L.A. to carry Rittenhouse Rye -- a fantastic, affordable rye whiskey. It also carries some very rare old cognacs and Scotches. And if you live downtown, it offers free delivery. 626 Wilshire Blvd., #120, dwntwn.; (213) 489-2666.
The small wall of liquor tucked into a nook near the front of this Silver Lake wine shop holds many delights. They're serious about their gins, offering small-batch brands, Old Tom gins, and even a genever or two. Lots of cocktail-friendly aperitifs: Cynar, Fernet Branca, Averna Amaro, as well as vermouths including Carpano Antica Formula. Rums, tequilas and mezcals are definitely an edited selection, although almost everything on the shelves is special in some way. 2395 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 662-9024.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
7. Red Carpet Wine:
Red Carpet is a Glendale wine store with its own tasting room and a fantastic Belgian beer selection. But there's fun to be had in the liquor department as well. A number of rhum agricoles, including Clément Rhum Vieux Agricole and Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc were the first sign that someone at Red Carpet takes the liquor selection seriously. Other indications included some cool, off-the-beaten-path whiskeys, such as Willett Straight Rye, as well as cocktail staples like Cocchi Americano. 400 E. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale; (800) 339-0609.
Another in the mainly-a-wine-store-but-good-curated-liquor-selection category. Lincoln gets points for having a damn good wine selection, a nice array of ryes and all the cocktail fixins (Luxardo cherries, bitters, etc.). Absinthe, St. Germain and other cocktail staples mean that even though this isn't the biggest selection in town, you could certainly build a modest bar from its shelves. 727 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; (310) 392-7816.
Ramirez is not the place to go to for fancy mixers, whiskeys, rums or vermouths. The mixers selection basically comes down to some dusty bottles of Martini & Rossi. But if you're in the pursuit of tequila, this is your place. Ramirez carries more than 750 tequilas and mezcals. There are super fine anejos. There is tequila in gun-shaped bottles. There are single-barrel tequilas. You can buy Patron "Gran Burdeos" Anejo Tequila for $349.99, which is exactly $100 cheaper than at Wally's (see #4). In fact, all of the super-rare and high-end tequilas at Ramirez are priced well below the retail prices I saw elsewhere. It also has single servings of cream liqueur in sperm-shaped bottles, but that detail didn't factor into the ranking. 736 S. Soto St., Los Angeles; (323) 261-2915.
Keep reading for number 4 on...
This Westwood wine shop is the place to go if you're looking for a $400 magnum of chablis, and its high-end proclivities also are evident on the liquor side of things. For impressive, gift-worthy bottles of Scotch, bourbon or port, this is your store. It has a great selection of liqueurs, aperitifs, etc., as well as all the tools you'd need to build a bar at home. If you drink to impress, Wally's has you covered. 2107 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd.; (310) 475-0606.
3. Bar Keeper:
This jewelbox of a store on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake caters to the serious lover of vintage cocktail culture. The store's owner travels to the Midwest every spring to hand-pick vintage barware, so the store is full of cocktail glass sets from the '40s, '50s and '60s. It also stocks bar tools and, of course, liquor. Rather than offer ultra-rare liquors, Bar Keeper is focused on covering all the bar basics and covering them well. There's a fantastic selection of ryes, bourbons, gins and tequilas as well as just about any mixer you could need. There are some hard-to-find gems, such as Del Maguey single-village mezcal and a large selection of Willett bourbons and rye. And there's a whole section of the store devoted to bitters, many of which you can taste test. Cocktail nerd heaven. 3910 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 669-1675.
The name don't lie. This place is an actual warehouse, down an industrial street just east of Marina del Rey. It is giant -- overwhelming, in fact. Tequila as far as the eye can see. Bourbons and ryes for days. Rhum agricole, mixers, liqueurs, the rare stuff, the not-so-rare stuff ... everything your drunken heart could desire. The wine selection isn't nearly as impressive as the hard stuff, and this is a bare-bones operation in that it's just shelves with liquor -- there's nothing about this place that screams luxury. But who needs luxury with all this booze? 4935 McConnell Ave., #21, Marina del Rey; (310) 306-2822.
And for our top pick...
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OK, OK, this place is in Costa Mesa. But it's a goddamn wonderland. Hi-Times sits right in the perfect middle of high-end and sturdy affordability. You can get a gift for your snobby cognac-loving uncle at the same time as you pick up a bottle of Old Overholt for your own homey Manhattan needs. It's a giant selection, but it also feels upscale. And more than just great liquors and liqueurs, there are absurdly nerdy mixers, like tonic from India and real British Schweppes bitter lemon. Hi-Times doesn't just have Luxardo maraschino cherries, it also has special Bing cocktail cherries from the Northwest that taste fresher, juicier. There are bizarre cordials from Croatia and obscure mezcals. It's one of the only places in L.A. to carry Pappy Van Winkle bourbon a few times a year. Tools, glassware, etc,. are all covered. All this, and the wine and beer selections are world-class as well. There's even a fine cigar selection. Drool, drool, drool. 250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa; (949) 650-8463.
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