Savvy L.A. bartenders do more than make great drinks — they create experiences. Nowhere was that more apparent than at Art Beyond the Glass, the annual cocktail culture community event that brings together 100-plus mixologists flaunting their artistry outside of their bars.
Now in its seventh year, the art, booze and music event, held at Los Globos, raised thousands of dollars for Women’s Center for Creative Work, a nonprofit organization that nurtures feminist creative communities.
“Since we first started, Art Beyond the Glass has donated over $127,000 to nonprofits across the country,” says a proud Daniel Djang, founder of the cocktail and spirits blog Thirsty in L.A. and content manager at L.A. Tourism’s Discover Los Angeles.
L.A. Weekly talked to bartenders about the innovative ways they express themselves through their drinks.
“I express my creativity endlessly through my drinks,” enthuses Rosie Ruiz, bartender at Cole’s in DTLA. “From how I make the ingredients, which spirits I use, how the glassware looks and even how I garnish the cocktail — all of it is a form of expression.”
Ruiz, who also owns Staying Gold, a cocktail catering company, loves the charity event, finding it a great way to reconnect with fellow bartenders and raise money for a good cause.
“People want more for their buck; they want originality, something that is going to stand out, versus just a simple drink,” she says.
Cari Hah, bar manager at Big Bar in Los Feliz, has participated in the event since its inception, and considers the art of cocktail making to be her primary creative expression.
“I don’t draw or paint or sing or dance, or anything like that. But I do like telling a story through my drinks,” she says.
Hah takes classic drinks and adds a “very whimsical” feel. Whenever she is inspired by an idea, be it from a food she likes, nature, pop culture, etc., the veteran bartender infuses that in the cocktail, via its ingredients, the name of the drink and the garnish.
Hah also enjoys incorporating her family’s background into her drinks.
“As a Korean American, I like to use a lot of ingredients from my country and also try to make drinks inspired by Korean food,” she notes.
When he’s not seeking acting gigs, Roscoe Brandon is bartending at Genghis Cohen and No Name.
“I like that I can constantly be creative in both realms. There is an awesome craft cocktail movement and community in L.A., where everyone is family, making stuff that is new ... pushing each other but in a supportive way,” he says.
Brandon has trained with some kickass bar managers, who have strongly encouraged him to be creative and not be afraid of the challenge of making a new cocktail.
“That kind of (fearless) confidence really helps me to be artistic behind the bar and while auditioning. And I love talking to people and establishing connections,” he acknowledges.
Many of the cocktails presented to the packed venue were particularly innovative.
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David Kupchinsky, bar director for IB Hospitality, came up with a creative rum and Coke, made with rum and pineapple keffir sorbet.
“Turning alcohol into ice cream is a fun, easy alternative that is nice for the beginning of summer,” says Kupchinsky, who oversees Norah, La Fete and Margo. “It’s like a boozy ice cream soda … really easy, you don’t have to shake anything. ..When you do big events for 200 to 300 people, it’s nice to think, ‘What is as creative as I can get, and be able to serve a large crowd?'”
Kupchinsky finds inspiration for his cocktail artistry everywhere he goes.
“I don’t consider bartending to be an art but it is creative. … When you are creating drinks, you have to allow inspiration to come from anywhere, just like if you were a poet or sculptor or a writer.”