On a recent windy Tuesday afternoon, national park ranger Anthony Bevilacqua stood in Upstairs, the Ace Hotel's rooftop bar, gazing through a pair of binoculars up at the historic building's Spanish Gothic tower. “Yeah, that's a kestrel,” he finally declared. “Smallest of the raptors.”
The bird, a small species of falcon, obligingly hung out on its perch for the next several minutes so that Bevilacqua could point it out to curious bar patrons. “I never thought about birds downtown,” one woman said, setting down her drink to borrow the ranger's binoculars.
A swanky downtown bar may seem like an odd spot for birdwatching. But Bevilacqua says he realized, when he first visited Upstairs, that it was perhaps the best vantage point in all of downtown from which to scan the skies and nearby rooftops for L.A.'s many species — 477, by one count — of winged inhabitants.
Now, inspired by Bevilacqua's semi-regular “Birds and Beers” birdwatching get-togethers at Upstairs, Ace beverage manager Dan Sabo has rolled out a new cocktail menu comprised entirely of bird-inspired drinks.
For the past few years under Sabo, the specialty cocktails at Upstairs have changed out regularly based on a night every Tuesday called Upstairs Labs, at which the Ace's entire bar staff is encouraged to try out new drink recipes. That dovetailed (no pun intended) with Birds and Beers, inspiring Sabo's first themed cocktail menu.
“We thought it was a really great way to introduce the concept” of Upstairs Labs, Sabo explains. “Plus, I really love birds.”
The new menu can feel a bit gimmicky at first, but its ornithologically themed categories actually prove to be a helpful way of narrowing down one's choices. Lighter, more refreshing drinks such as the Little Bustard — a crisp, complex blend of green tea-infused vodka, lime, pomegranate and a tincture of Szechuan peppercorn — can be found under “Birds of the Sea.” “Birds of Prey,” by contrast, is comprised of a set of stronger, smokier drinks, including one of the menu's highlights, the Black Kite, an ingenious mix of Japanese whiskey, Amaro Montenegro, St. Germain, and chocolate and Peychaud's bitters, served mule-style in a copper cup. The resulting concoction winds up tasting like a cross between an old-fashioned, a Kentucky mule and a chocolate martini (which probably sounds terrible, but trust us, it's delicious).
There's also the fairly self-explanatory “Birds of the Tropics,” the slightly more mysterious “Birds of the Forest” (featuring such unique and herbaceous flavor combinations as the Lovely Cotinga, which combines gin, mezcal, blackberry and lavender) and, for larger parties, “Birds of Unusual Size” — punchbowl-sized servings with names like California Condor (pisco, ancho chile liqueur, Amaro di Angostura, grapefruit, lemon, hibiscus and ginger beer), which will lubricate a party of six to eight for $98.
The exotically named beverages, which read like the fine print on a Coachella lineup (Manx Shearwater, Laughing Falcon, Cut-Throat Finch), are a fun conversation starter, especially when you find out that, while you won't see a condor or a little bustard (a pheasantlike bird native to Central Asia) at the Ace, you might spot a kestrel or a migrating group of Vaux's swifts, whose swirling, school-of-fish–like flight patterns Bevilacqua calls “the coolest natural phenomenon that happens in downtown L.A.”
Sabo, for his part, is delighted that both his staff and patrons are now more aware of the avian life all around them.
“We knew we have a family of hawks that live on a radio tower across the street,” he says. “We have a lot of hummingbirds up here. We knew about that kind of stuff, but we didn’t realize how rich it was.”