Glendale's Neat Bar, a bare-bones watering hole located in the shadow of the Verdugo Mountains, serves what could be best described as the anti-cocktail. Sure, the bar's well-lit back wall is filled with an impressive selection of spirits -- the variety of single-malt scotches alone is enough to make Don Draper swoon -- but you won't be having any of them mixed up into, say, a Penicillin or a Blood & Sand.
That's because the booze here is served straight up. It arrives poured into a small rocks glass and is paired with a bespoke, non-alcoholic accompaniment, anything from a frothy egg white mixture to a bitters-spiked tonic. The two glasses sit on a small wooden board like yin and yang, joined in theory but distinctly separate.
On a given night, the bartender could pour you a bit of Black Maple Hill Small Batch, a dry and oaky bourbon with a sourdough twang and a spicy chest-filling finish, and serve it next to a glass of bubbly lemon-ginger soda sweetened with honey. If you prefer a Moscow Mule, you'll have to be content with having your vodka and ginger beer separate.
Owner Aidan Demarest is surprisingly cavalier for a guy who designed some of the city's best drinks during his past days at the Edison and Hollywood's Spare Room. He doesn't mind if you pour your liquor into the chaser -- it's designed to match after all -- he just asks that you sample its unadulterated form first.
It seemed wise to stick to orders of brown liquor during most visits, that is until the bartender produced a bottle of sangrita she'd be perfecting for the past couple weeks. In Mexico, sangrita is the traditional chaser to a shot of tequila, never mind what you've heard about salt, limes and spring break college kids. It's a mix of orange juice, tomato juice, chile powder, pomegranate syrup and a bit of lime -- to be honest, it looks like something that would be used to cure a hangover more than be involved in its creation. But the dual-drink setup at Neat serves the Mexican combo perfectly, even if the bar's tequila selection might not have the breadth of a place like Las Perlas.
You'll notice the arid smokiness of a fine reposado mellow when followed with an acidic, palate-sweeping sip of sangrita. Even the CPA-looking dudes who showed up after work to loosen their ties with a glass of Glenlivet suddenly became tequila aficionados that evening, quickly turning the place into a white-collar version of a Jalisco cantina. Did it hurt that the bartender suggesting her own housemade mixer was young, attractive, and very convincing? Definitely not.
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