As the beverage director at Warwick in Hollywood, Damian Windsor has a full schedule, but it doesn't end when he gets home. Still, we all need a break, right? It's just a matter of finding a place that feels right. “Having a two-year-old daughter and squeezing crazy hours into a five day week, I don't get out very often, but I often gravitate to El Carmen when I do,” says Windsor. “They serve food late, have a great selection of tequilas and I always run into friends or enemies.”
Any bar that requires you to shuffle through a velvet curtain to enter is likely to have atmosphere. El Carmen pays off in spades with its red, red, red color scheme, arched ceilings reflecting twinkle lights and Mexican wrestler masks for decor. Let's just say that the place has character and, while the food and drink are top-notch, character just makes it all taste better.
The menu is a mini-book, over 15 pages long, with most of the pages dedicated to tequila. The appeal for Windsor? “The offer a lot of agave spirits and they do it at such reasonable prices,” he days. His favorites include Los Altos, the El Tesoro, Tapatio, Siete Leguas and San Matias Orgullo Anejo. While it's not tequila, the strawberry daiquiri is on Windsor's “delicious” list, and with bar manager Gilbert Marquez (who is also brand ambassador for Ilegal Mezcal) ensconced behind the bar, the cocktail menu changes with some frequency. Luckily, all that booze gets ample balance with noshes like the potato and mushroom tacos and the nachos. And, when a sweet tooth hits, Windsor digs into “La Bamba” ( a tortilla-wrapped spiced apple, deep fried, covered in caramel and served with ice cream) for dessert.
For Windsor, a hectic life makes relaxing essential. El Carmen, with its ample tequila selection (and food that soaks up the alcohol) satisfies his bartender's curiosity and taste buds, but it's those late night meet-ups with friends – and enemies (whomever they might be) – that make this his go-to spot.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Email her at email@example.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.