When the Tar Pit, Mark Peel's swank watering hole on La Brea Avenue, closed in early March (the victim of a rent dispute), the restaurant's booths, banquettes, bar and barstools, as well as kitchen contents and a trove of glamorous props, all went into storage, awaiting a relaunch. No word yet on where or when. But the spirits, the contents and life's blood of the bar, have migrated to Peel's Campanile, across the street and nine blocks south. You might say the spirit of the Tar Pit lives on in its sister tavern, a semi-permanent pop-up within a venerable dining institution.
The sight of those bottles, crowding the ledges like curios in a souvenir shop, feels a bit precarious: a dozen shelf cubes, meant to hold a half-dozen bottles, now groan under the weight of 12 or more. Ungainly, yes, but all potential: Campanile now boasts vaster selections of whiskeys and rums and obscure tequilas than ever before; its selection of digestifs, amaros, fruit-tinged liqueurs, apricot tinctures, saffron gins and other mysterious potions has multiplied. It has now 30 — count 'em, 30 — bottles of bitters with which to finish drinks. In short, it is a bar that has itself been infused; bar manager Felix Ramos can hardly contain his excitement. “I have so much more to play with,” he says.
Peel is having fun, too. With the larger palate of spirits, he and Ramos play late into the night creating; some of their creations adorn an early-hour menu they call “the Social Hour.” Available 5:30-7 p.m. weeknights, it features small plates and four classic cocktails (both food and drink $7 per), augmented by the Tar Pit infusion. Take the Gran Classico Manhattan, classical in every sense except for the addition of Gran Classico, a pungent Swiss bitters that drives the drink in an unexpectedly smoky direction.
Peel is foraging with renewed energy for his drinks program, pulling in local and seasonal produce like never before. He's on a kumquat kick, aided by a tree overhanging the alley behind the restaurant, owned by a neighbor whom he's talked into sharing. It's hard to get more locavore than that. The fruit gets muddled into a drink Peel calls the ¡Que Linda!, named for Mad Men creator Matt Weiner's wife, Linda Brettler; it's made with rum and Kaffir lime syrup, spiced with just a hint of clove-scented Velvet Falernum — a citrusy dose of SoCal sunshine in a glass.
More importantly for former Tar Pit denizens, Peel and Ramos have resuscitated significant portions of the cocktail menu while the bar's in limbo. If you've been jonesing for a Gin Gin Mule or Daisy de Martinique, for example, look no further. Or may I suggest the refurbished Dragon Lady? Made with dark rum, orange juice, a dash of lime and Curacao, it's given a house touch here with Peel's house-made grenadine.