You make reasonable assumptions about what you're going to drink depending on where you are. You don't go to Manhattan Beach to drink scotch, any more than you would Ensenada; you expect something more beachy there, in a tropical, caipirinha-colada vein perhaps. In Silver Lake you may be able to order a cosmopolitan, but it's at your peril, in deference to absinthe, mezcal, or some other mouth-numbing concoctions.
On Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, between bites of sushi, you might want to pop in a few of the watering holes the strip has become known for, like the Laurel Tavern, Page 71, your odd hookah emporium. In most of these places you'd get more or less what you expect, easygoing drinks, modest riffs on fairly safe cocktails, made with infused vodkas or wan departures from a predictable palette. In the last half-decade, it might as well be called Mojito Row.
So it's a relief to walk into the darkly lit, moody Black Market Liquor Bar, a gastropub on Ventura, and feel out of place.
Black Market opened in 2011 and has quietly established itself as a bit out of the ordinary. I did expect the bar to be high (pardon, please the pun) since Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni are behind the program. What I didn't expect was the degree to which the savory cocktails were going to dominate the winter drinks list, drinks where sweetness takes a back seat to bitter, herbal and other vectors of flavor.
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Here were four different whiskey cocktails, all of them laced with bittering agents like Cynar, Aperol, various Amari and of course, bitters -- like the Fade to Black, flavored principally with high-proof bourbon and walnut bitters, or The Amber & Embers, with peated scotch and still more bitters, Angostura and orange.
Even the fruitier drinks like the Red Hot & Bothered, a strawberry and blood orange concoction as red as a smog-filtered sunset, is laced with jalapeno-infused vodka, taking your frou-frou and kicking it square in the pants. And their Zombie, made with passion fruit, citrus, pineapple and rums squared, is finished with a dash of angostura -- might as well give your Zombie a bite, right?
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.