When seeking out experts in our city to ask them for their insights, it's easy for us to go for the obvious. Which is why we thought it might be fun to ask Golden Road brewmaster Victor Novak what his favorite beer bars and shops are in L.A. But Novak had another idea. “When it’s time to chill after a long day, I have to admit that I’m far more likely to be imbibing a craft cocktail than a craft beer,” Novak said. “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all of the fantastic breweries and multitap bars around L.A. and Orange County, but craft cocktails keep my palate from getting fatigued.”
In fact, he finds beery inspiration in his cocktail habit. “Cocktails keep me open to new flavor combinations that might one day lead to, say, a bourbon barrel–aged Irish red that tastes ridiculously similar to a great Manhattan.”
So the obvious question then becomes, what are his favorite cocktail bars? Read and enjoy:
5. Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
“When I have friends or relatives visit from out of town, this is one of the first places I take them to. Think ‘70s house party in the best possible way. You enter through an old refrigerator, head up the stairs, dance your ass off in the living room to classic ‘70s vinyl, or chill out in the backyard by the camper-converted-into-a-bar, sipping an exceptional Aviation or Mai Tai while glancing discreetly at all of the old Playboy centerfolds taped to the walls. Hilarious and awesome!” 1611 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; (323) 962-3804, goodtimesatdaveywaynes.com.
“Cole's is a real L.A. gem. Fantastic French dip sandwiches (better than the other French dip spot in my opinion), killer cocktails (I start with the Pimm’s Cup #5 every time), and excellent service if you’re lucky enough to get John, a real gentleman with glasses whose charm is almost too good to be true.” 118 E. Sixth St., downtown; (213) 622-4090, 213nightlife.com/colesfrenchdip.
3. The Varnish
“The Varnish is the fantastic speakeasy in the back of Cole’s that’s flat out one of the best on the planet. Cool, dark vibe, drinks prepared with precision and care, and live, jazzy music. Name your favorite spirit and something beautiful and delicious will appear in good time. Or just order a Ramos Gin Fizz. Yum!” 118 E. Sixth St., downtown; (213) 265-7089, 213nightlife.com/thevarnish.
2, Sonny’s Hideaway
“Sonny’s is a jewel in Highland Park. The feel is slightly upscale but very cozy. Adam Reagan, lead bartender, not only knows how to craft an outstanding Sazerac, Vieux Carre or Aviation, he also understands hospitality and making those at his bar feel welcome. Check out the killer tiki drinks on Tiki Tuesdays. They’re definitely more cocktail and less fruit juice with booze. Really well done.” 5137 York Blvd., Highland Park; (323) 255-2000, sonnyshideaway.com.
“The best bartender I’ve ever met is Joe Valdovinos. He not only expertly executed his cocktails (his Chartreuse Swizzle was unbeatable), he fully understood the art of conversation, showmanship and hospitality that are the hallmarks of phenomenal bartenders. He’s since moved on to spirits distribution, but his lovely wife, Michelle, has taken over and is every bit his equal in this cool Santa Ana spot with exceptional food and service.” 220 E. Fourth St., #102, Santa Ana; (714) 560-4444, playgrounddtsa.com.