It’s unanimous. The imbibers of Los Angeles have grown up. According to these 10 L.A. bartenders, the era of Lemon Drops and Red-Headed Sluts has dissolved into today’s sophisticated swath of small-batch bourbon and mezcal topped with edible flowers. Between Ricky Rosas, who’s tended bar at Tam O’Shanter since 1979, and Joanna Bronson, who’s been mixing drinks at vegan restaurant Crossroads Kitchen for 2½ years, 10 out of 10 bartenders agree: Drinking in L.A. is more highbrow than ever.
Leandro DiMonriva at Cole’s
DiMonriva has been at the bar at Cole’s, one of L.A.’s beloved French dipperies, for seven years of his 10-year career. “Bars in L.A. are really coming into their own because there are just so many bartenders who are really taking ownership of their work,” he says. “Also, the use of scientific equipment like rotovaps [rotary evaporators] and centrifuges as not a gimmick but a practical application behind the bar would be another very significant positive change.” Favorite cocktail to make: “One I’ve made for someone and as they take their sip, I can tell that it was exactly what they wanted in that moment.”
Ricky (Enrique) Rosas, Tam O’Shanter
Rosas started at Tam O’Shanter in 1976 as a busboy, and began tending bar in 1979. “In the ’70s and ’80s I used to make a lot of mixed drinks because wine and beer were not as popular as they are now. It was all bottled beer like Budweiser and Coors. Then they started doing all the microbreweries in the United States, so now we have that and whiskeys and bourbons and also wine. Wine in the ’70s and ’80s, it used to be just basic. Like red, rosé and white, but nothing else. Now you’ve got wines, our wine list is huge. Now we pour a lot of wine, beer and whiskeys.” Favorite drink to make: A Long Island iced tea. Why? “Because the people appreciate it. When they take a sip of their drink and say, 'Oh, this is real good,' they like it, and I like that.”
Sol Trece, La Cuevita
Trece has been “casting her liquid spells,” as she puts it, at Highland Park’s La Cuevita for nine years. “Trends come and go. Beers and neat pours are never going to go out of style, but the style of beer and what’s being poured has changed. IPAs and hoppier brews have taken over wheat beers and domestic lights in popularity. Five years ago, 99 percent of the people that would walk in would have no idea what mezcal was. Almost everyone has tried mezcal now.” Favorite drink to make: “I think I make really good micheladas.”
Bob Teneyck at Bigfoot Lodge
Teneyck has been behind the bar at Atwater Village’s camp-themed pub for nearly 19 years, and says he hates hearing the word “mixologist.” “When I first started in this business, people were ordering apple martinis, cosmopolitans and flavored vodkas. In many respects the craft of bartending had gone by the wayside. Now, depending on where you go, drinking has become more of a culinary experience for the customer. I think some go a little overboard in that respect — I prefer simplicity — but you can’t argue with a great-tasting drink.” Favorite drink: Laphroaig scotch, neat with a splash of water.
Eric Thatcher at the Kibitz Room
Thatcher has been bartending at the Kibitz Room, the bar attached to Canter’s Deli, since 1994. When asked what’s changed in the last 23 years his answer was, “Nothing ever changes at Canter’s.” Favorite drink to make: a shot of whiskey.
Tara Shadzi at Boa Steakhouse
Shadzi has been in the business for 15 years and mixing drinks at Hollywood’s Boa Steakhouse for eight. “The desire for quality cocktails is completely different now than it was back then. The majority of drinks ordered at bars were pretty much lemon drops and vodka sodas. People are much more knowledgeable and savvy in today's bars. I love that people know what a good Manhattan is, and that quality mezcal and scotch is a frequent order.” Favorite cocktail to make: “A drink I created called 'Fire and Smoke.' It's made with hand-crafted mezcal and has a smoky, spicy profile made with fresh muddled pineapple, pink peppercorn and honey syrup.”
Joanna Bronson, Crossroads Kitchen
Bronson is the lead bartender at vegan eatery Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood and has been in the industry for 12 years. “I started in high-volume spaces in Miami and I've noticed that in the last 12 years, popular interest has moved from huge parties to really specialized venues that serve craft cocktails. More focused on socializing and ingredients.” Favorite drink to make: “Spicy soy salt-rim tequila cocktail that was crafted by Jeremy Lake. It's delicious.”
Don Salerno at the Thirsty Crow
Salerno has been mixing drinks at Silver Lake’s twirly-mustached whiskey bar since it opened in 2010. “The real art of bartending is knowing when and how to subtly change a drink when the customer asks for something outside the standard recipe. The dreaded, 'I want something like “X” but make it good.’ If you don’t have a great base knowledge of spirits and ingredients, and how they interact, you will end up with a Frankenstein monster in a cup.” Favorite spirit: “Gin. There is something really satisfying when you make it for someone who is not a gin drinker. I guess it’s the ‘WTF? I always hated gin. … This is amazing!’ thing.”
Wes Armstrong at Edendale
Armstrong has been bartending at Silver Lake’s firehouse-turned-bar, Edendale, for 15 years. “The explosion of the mixology cocktail culture has certainly been the biggest change. I remember when the mojito seemed like a chore — now it's a relatively simple cocktail compared to what you see on cocktail lists. I just love the fact that you never know who might sit down at the bar. And in a town like Los Angeles, it really could be anybody.” Favorite drink to make: A Sazerac.
Lisa-Marie Burnside, Tonga Hut
Burnside has been making tiki drinks at North Hollywood’s Tonga Hut for nine of her 10 years in the businesses. “I've noticed over the past 10 years how bar goers have changed. I feel like people don't just want simple drinks anymore. They want a unique and interesting cocktail. They want something to talk about and something they can take a picture of to put on Instagram. I am very grateful for this because I love talking about the creation of a cocktail. It's why I've been in this industry for so long and why I am excited to be a part of it now.” Fun fact: She has created more than 100 personal cocktail recipes.