Like a cocktail, it requires an equal balance of the right ingredients. In this case, impeccably made drinks, great food (to soak up the alcohol), a welcoming atmosphere that invites you to stay awhile, and bartenders eager to share their craft.
2. Here’s the scenario: your cocktail lovin’ friend is coming to your town for ONE night. You only have time for ONE bar. Which one is it?
Los Angeles is so full of amazing bars from east side to west side that picking a favorite is a serious challenge. But, given the parameters I mentioned, Harlowe fits the bill on every level.
3. What makes this place so special you’d bring them here?
When you walk inside, you feel you’ve stepped back in time. The designers wanted to capture the Golden Age of Hollywood and they have succeeded beautifully – vintage tiles, lamps with a gaslight feel, charming paintings of winsome ladies on the walls. There’s a huge central bar that runs the length of the room, booths around the sides, even a shrub-enclosed patio. The lighting is dim enough to feel moody, but not so dark you can’t see your drink. Some nights they have DJs, which I tend to avoid because I like to talk with friends and the bartenders. I usually go on the early side because I can do just that.
The menu changes seasonally, but the selection of drinks covers the gamut from original cocktails that use less common spirits like apple brandy, pisco, rhum agricole, and genever, to classic drinks that have been house-bottled like their Sazerac or put on draft like their Negroni. And the drinks are served by some of the cities best bartenders, who love discussing the nuances of their creations or debating the best way to make a classic. Just be sure you don’t try to get into a major conversation if the bar is full!
4. What do you order for your friend? What do you order for yourself?
For me, it would be the West Hollywood. Of all the cocktails I’ve had in the last year, this is the one I come back to again and again — and even make at home. It’s essentially a Manhattan, but the balance of Laird’s Apple Brandy, Noilly Prat Ambre, Dry Curacao, Angostura and the Calvados-soaked apple garnish is an inspired reinvention of the classic.
For my friend, it would, of course depend on their spirit of choice. If they weren’t sure, I’d order them a Shandy Koufax, a combination of Cana Brava rum, Amaro Meletti, , pineapple gomme, lemon, California IPA, and Angostura. A slightly tropical, refreshing rum-beer mash up.
5. Does the bar have food? If not, where would you go for a bite?
One of the reasons I chose Harlowe is because many bars don’t have food unless they are in a restaurant. I purposely didn’t choose a restaurant bar because that felt like a cheat. Harlowe’s menu was created by L.A. chef Eric Greenspan and, while it is mainly snack-based, the offerings are hearty and fun. If I just want a few nibbles, I go for the charred brussels sprouts and cheese puffs. When I’m really hungry and plan to stay awhile, I can choose from fish ‘n chips, a French Dip, or — my favorite — the open-faced bologna sandwich with gruyere and a fried egg. Now that really gives you a foundation for a night of imbibing.
*Photos courtesy of Lesley Jacobs Solmonson.
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