Tis the season of year-end wrap-ups and here are some of the trends that hit the LA cocktail and drinking scene in 2010. Here are five trends of 2010 and 3 to look for in 2011:
Neighborhood cocktail & wine bars. With the launch in the fall/winter of Big Bar at Alcove, 1886 at the Raymond, and Bar | Kitchen, Los Feliz, Pasadena and Downtown LA all got comfortable neighborhood cocktail spots with drinks that are destination worthy. Bar Covell in Los Feliz joined Lou in Hollywood on my short list of favorite places to drink wine by the glass. They both have well curated idiosyncratic lists that reflect the personality of their owners, not just the same old selections or whatever Southern Wine & Spirits wants to sell.
Single Spirit Cocktail Bars. Both Cana Rum Bar and La Descarga launched, bringing the daiquiri and classic rum cocktails back in the public consciousness. Las Perlas also raised the profile of Mezcal in Los Angeles. Seven Grand had led the way with whiskey, but this trio expanded the possibilities, each in a very different way.
Hollywood as a destination for quality drinks. This year the craft cocktail scene in Hollywood achieved critical mass, with Hemingway's, Les Deux and the Spare Room (officially opening next week) joining Library Bar and Hungry Cat as oases from the nightclub hordes that dominate the area.
Guest bartending: The Test Kitchen built upon the tradition that Aidan Demarest created with his Radio Room at the Edison by having a rotating selection of visiting bartenders from across the city and from out of town manning the bar to accompany the ever-changing chefs. It would not have been possible without Julian Cox, who curated the guest bartender program and has relationships with and the respect of the entire Los Angeles bartending community.
Supperclubs as cocktail destinations: Both the Tar Pit on La Brea in Mid-city and First and Hope downtown launched with decor reminiscent of the classic supperclub era. The Tar Pit, now under the care of veteran New York bartender Danielle Crouch has a more classic bent to its cocktails while First and Hope is known for its market driven cocktails. In a continuation of this trend, a new spot called supperclub is opening in Hollywood next month.
Predictions for 2011:
Craft Beer on the Rise: The inaugural Craft Beer Crawl in downtown LA this year showed the pent up demand and enthusiasm for craft beer in Los Angeles. Wurstkuche, which opened up two years ago, struck lightning in a bottle, and the wave of interest in beer is continuing to rise. 2011 will likely additional craft beer bars opening up and restaurants and existing bars take their beer programs more seriously. Cedd Moses of 213 Downtown, which owns the Varnish and Seven Grand among many others, is reportedly considering launching a beer bar.
Craft Cocktails expanding to new neighborhoods: 1886 at the Raymond and 320 Main showed that there is a market for craft cocktails in the Pasadena and Seal Beach areas. I'd expect to see bars that focus on quality cocktails to open up in the San Fernando Valley and other underrepresented areas. The South Bay? You don't have to to go downtown to get a great drink. West of the 405, only The Tasting Kitchen and Copa d'Oro have programs that are in the top echelon, except so see more join their ranks.
Bars owned by bartenders: The top bartenders in town are hired as either consultants, bar managers or bartenders; it is extremely rare to see a bartender own their own watering hole, or a healthy percentage of it. Dave Whitton of Villains Tavern (opened in 2010) is a partner in the business and Eric Alperin has a stake in the Varnish (opened in 2009). In the next year or two expect several of the leading bartenders to shift from employees to owners/partners as they launch their own spots to create equity for themselves instead of building value for others.