Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards: The Varnish is America’s Best Cocktail Bar

The Varnish, Downtown Los Angeles – Photo courtesy of 213 Nightlife

“Five years ago at Tales [of the Cocktail], it was just a small group of us from L.A. The guys from Portland, New York, OH MAN SAN FRANCISCO … would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ … ‘L.A.? Oh, that’s nice. How’s the bottle service?'” – Aidan Demarest, Tello Demarest Liquid Assets

“The Varnish didn’t just win. All of us, all of L.A. won.” – Cedd Moses, 213 Nightlife

I’ll never forget my first time in New Orleans this past weekend at the 10th Anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. There’s something about getting to witness your favorite bartenders in your home city come together to celebrate their craft with their big shot counterparts from other cities. Going from seminar to tasting room to industry party to Spirited Dinner (while catching some not-to-miss eats of the city in between) in the humid, 90° swelt of The French Quarter was a new junket to me, but the presence of Los Angeles was unmistakeable, making Tales all the less intimidating and more familiar, much faster.

Post-Spirited Awards Celebration at One Eyed Jack’s

We are all bartenders, brand ambassadors, educators, writers, photographers and more – with many wearing more than one hat – and as with every year at The Spirited Awards on the last night of Tales, the best of the best are officially recognized. A winner in each category is announced after an initial top ten finalists are narrowed down to four. Though Eric Alperin and The Varnish have been our bastions of Los Angeles in these awards for the past couple years, it was the 2012 Spirited Awards when the L.A. bar community finally felt taken seriously.

There was a plethora of Top 10 finalists representing Los Angeles, announced back in May. Their mentions are below, with the Top 4 denoted by an asterisk: Eric Alperin(*) and Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro were recognized in the American Bartender of the Year category. The Huston Brothers and Steve Livigni’s and of course Pablo Moix’s Harvard & Stone and 213 Nightlife’s The Varnish(*) were both nominated for Best American Cocktail Bar(*) and World’s Best New Cocktail Bar.

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Las Perlas: Tequila & Mezcal In High Style, Casual Atmosphere

The Bar at Las Perlas

There may or may not be enough places to eat or drink in the block on 6th Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The problem: Where is the bar in all of Los Angeles specializing in tequila at which the drink menu isn’t automatically reduced to a range of flavored margaritas? Las Perlas – which only last Tuesday has joined the neighborhood of Must Bar, Nickel Diner, The Association Bar, The Varnish and Cole’s – is the answer to all your tequila and mezcal needs. The gag-inducing reputation tequila ill-earned with you during college thanks to all those discounted bottles of Jose Cuervo is light years away.

400 Rabbits (I have no idea)

In this latest Cedd Moses (Seven Grand) venture, the space is comfortable and the atmosphere is casual yet festive. But the most important part – the elaborate drinks are made with utmost precision and the drink menu, written in marker on construction paper, is small but has something for everyone. The green backlit bar is impressive while the colorful plastic covering the tables retains that cantina feel. Pop in a few quarters in the personally-approved, brand new jukebox for the perfect, smoky mezcal-sipping soundtrack. Or play a round of pool on a table as brand new as the bar itself (I’m 2 for 2).


Though I’m unsure how often the drink menu changes (I’m inclined to think hand-written infers somewhat regularly?) – the first installment seems to show Julian T. Cox (Rivera) and Raul Yrastorza (El Carmen) have in mind all the corners of your palate. My Jalisco was made of El Jimador Anejo Tequila, Carpano Antica Vermouth, orange bitters, Liquor 43 – complete with a brandy cherry at the bottom of my coupé glass. It brought me back to my most favorite cocktail I consumed my last trip to New York at Mayahuel. It was delicious and complex – appropriately complimenting the anejo-aged tequila – and contrasted the sweet 400 Rabbits (Antiguo Reposado tequila, blackberries and port wine floated with pinot) that Fiona ordered. Certainly, the cocktail I will order on my second visit will be the Pablano Escobar (Sombra Mescal, muddled poblano chiles, pineapple) – a drink I witnessed being made for my neighbor at the bar and which seemed the most complicated recipe including the most garnishes. A spicy cocktail? I’m in – again and again.

Further reading:

Las Perlas Flickr Set

Las Perlas, Cedd Moses’ Mezcal & Tequila Bar Opens in Downtown LA – LA Weekly Food

Q&A With Bartender Raul Yrastorza – Food GPS

Las Perlas
107 E. Sixth Street
Los Angeles, CA