Los Angeles is an awesome place to be drinking cocktails right now. From older downtown bars like Seven Grand and Varnish to newer mid-city entries like Now Boarding and Melrose Umbrella Co., destination establishments are proliferating in L.A., where skilled bartenders have long experimented with seasonal ingredients, crafted their own tinctures and devised imaginative recipes based on the classics.
Take a trip 30 miles south and you'll find another thriving cocktail scene in Long Beach, this one full of neighborhood dive bars that are converting to craft and bartenders devising L.A.-worthy concoctions at blue-collar prices. An industry group called the Long Beach Bartenders Cabinet has been meeting monthly since January to share recipes and discuss the collective future of local drinking.
Long Beach is a place of hybrid bars — Alex's Bar, say, which has been a regional destination for punk shows for the last 15 years — where you can walk in and hit the pit for a few songs, then get a perfectly prepared Black Sleep of Kahli Ma, which pairs high-proof rye whiskey with house-made port syrup. Or order a tall can of Tecate in a brown paper bag, whatever.
The city's booze achievements will be on display Saturday when the first Long Beach Cocktail Festival is held in the parking lot of Roxanne's Cocktail Lounge.
"Long Beach is a proud member of L.A. County but it's also it's own community," says Forrest Cokely, a spirits consultant and one of the festivals organizers. "It intrinsically has its own style of cocktail: a little more juicy, a little less traditional. It's less urban and more suburban."
Roxanne's was one of the city's early adopters of the craft mentality and is also home to The Exhibition Room, Long Beach's only true speakeasy and one of the best cocktail bars in the county. Its owners spearheaded a festival to showcase the many other places around town serving up more than just Jack and Coke, and they've invited 15 bars to pour pre-batched cocktails from their everyday menus.
Attendees are expected to drink through them all and vote for their favorite over the course of two tasting sessions. The setup is like that of a small, local beer festival full of tents and jockey boxes, but instead of getting unlimited pours from breweries like Beachwood and Smog City, you'll get 2- to-4-ounce pours of cocktails from restaurants like The Attic and 320 Main.
"I judge so many cocktail competitions, and it gets to the point where you're judging with four other guys who are booze snobs and have nothing to do with the real impact of alcohol being served in a public place," Cokely says. "I always like it when people who actually buy the drinks get to vote for them."
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In addition to Roxanne's and The Exhibition Room, bars participating include 320 Main, Sky Room, The Attic On Broadway, The Stache, Alex's Bar, Parkers Lighthouse, Harvelle's, The Pike, Tantalum, James Republic, Federal Bar, El Dorado Bar and Chianina.
Long Beach Cocktail Festival, Saturday, June 13, 1-5 p.m., $20, Roxanne's, 1115 East Wardlow Road, Long Beach, tickets available here.