For connoisseurs of hard liquor, these are the best of times. The cocktail revival has fueled an explosion of new drinking establishments that take their spirits as seriously as you do, while breathing new life into the old, dark-paneled institutions where bartenders have plied their gentlemanly craft since the days of Bogart and Bacall.
In compiling our Best Of L.A. issue, we highlighted a handful of bars that have honed their expertise on a single spirit or cocktail to an unparalleled degree — plus one bar that's riffing on classic cocktails so inventively, it's where all the off-duty bartenders hang out.
Best Gin Bar
Were the Flintridge Proper to have an official song, it might go something like this: “220 bottles of gin on the wall, 220 bottles of gin. Take one down, pass it around. 219 bottles of gin on the wall.” At this watering hole located in the northern suburb of La Cañada Flintridge, these numbers are no exaggeration. Calling itself “the world's largest gin bar,” this drinkery and restaurant features a vast collection of gin sourced from all around the world, and even some in-house varieties produced with locally grown ingredients, such as wild sage and rosemary. “We have a gin for every taste,” says Brady Caverly, who co-owns the Proper with his wife, Mary Elizabeth. Customers who would like to sample multiple kinds of gin can choose from the Proper's “flights,” which include three 0.75-ounce tastings. (The popular Bartenders' Favorite, for $15, includes choices picked by the staff.) Under chef Kevin Napier, the Proper also has an extensive food menu, highlighted by its popular chicken pot pies and burgers. —Chris Walker
464 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge, 91011. (818) 790-4888, theproper.com.
Best Whiskey Bar
A high-end whiskey tasting room with an old-school look and a welcoming attitude, Bar Jackalope is the bar-within-a bar at downtown's Seven Grand. The primo whiskies are hand-picked from Seven Grand's list of 200-plus bottles, not to mention only-at-this-bar bottles from distillers. Pick a flight served straight up (great for novices) or order a pour on the rocks. (And what rocks — the ice on hand includes hand-chiseled cubes and slow-to-melt spheres.) You can even have a Japanese-style highball with a dash of soda. Everything for a proper tasting is here: droppers for a dash of water to open up the taste, deeply knowledgeable whiskey connoisseurs behind the bar and fellow patrons who have great reverence for the distilled spirit. You may want to take a taste from the premises' prized bottles, including cult bourbons from Pappy Van Winkle, Irish-made 21-year Redbreast and the Balvenie's 14-year single malt. Customers can buy a bottle to keep on hand, and soon Bar Jackalope will serve liquid gold from its own copper pot still. —Kathy A. McDonald
515 W. Seventh St., #2, dwntwn., 90014. (213) 614-0736, sevengrandbars.com.
Best Tequila Bar
When beverage director Jason Eisner was asked to create an agave-only spirits program from the ground up at Gracias Madre, he jumped at the chance. The result is a bar, specifically a mezcaleria, that features more than 100 agave — and only agave — spirits, from tequila to mezcal to sotol. Rather than simply going the usual route of margaritas, palomas and spicy/muddled concoctions, the cocktails here range from serious to whimsical. The Build Your Own Old-Fashioned offers your choice of tequila or mezcal and house-made bitters; both La Quinceañera and the Blueberry Mezcal Mojito are served as snow cones. The term “tequila bar” may conjure up a dive-y hideaway or a bustling joint with blaring house music, but here the environment is mellow, whether at the cool-to-the-touch, wrap-around stone bar, the breezy, whitewashed dining room, or the tree-dotted patio. —Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
8905 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., 90069. (323) 978-2170, graciasmadreweho.com.
Best Classic Cocktail Bar
If the rich mahogany bar and somewhat dour, jacketed bartenders (who have a collective 90-plus years of experience) weren't enough of a tell, then the classic martinis delivered with aplomb would cue you in to the fact that Musso & Frank is a Los Angeles booze landmark. A dining landmark, too. While you can order plenty of other drinks, why drink anything but a martini in this restaurant that's been serving tourists and locals alike — and, famously, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner — for almost a century. Take that martini dry, with two or more olives, poured expertly from a silver shaker, the liquid coursing into the glass the same way it has for decades. One can only wonder how many script deals were made over a lubricating mix of gin and vermouth. —Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
6667 Hollywood Blvd. , Hlywd., 90028. (323) 467-7788, mussoandfrank.com.
Best Modern Cocktail Bar
With its everything-old-is-new-again décor and drinks philosophy, Melrose Umbrella Company offers itself up as a quirky glimpse into a post-Prohibition bar — with a newfangled view of cocktail fun. The menu features a stable of classic drinks for those who like to swig it old-school. But it's with the modern riffs — on everything from tiki to the shandy to fruit- and vegetable-based drinks — that the bar's artistry really shines. The owners' intent seems to be to create an ever-evolving volume of drinks, which change both seasonally and thematically. The Fernet Branca on draft, served tongue-in-cheek in demitasse cups, brings in the bartending set and pretty much everyone else needing a digestif after downing a gluttonously glorious grilled cheese sandwich from Greenspan's, conveniently located next door. —Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
7465 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., 90046. (323) 951-0709, melroseumbrellaco.com.
See what other incredible things our city has to offer in this year's Best of L.A. issue.