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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La Descarga: The Underground Rum Revival

Main bar at La Descarga

The speakeasy isn’t dead.

Due to fatigue induced by Mark Gold’s wonderful fried chicken over at Eva, I had missed a late reservation on opening night at La Descarga. Luckily, thanks to Mattatouille and the company of H.C. of LA-OC-Foodie and Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, I was able to avoid the rush and visit the new, under-cover, reservation-only rum bar the very next night.

Struggling under the weight of a wine-paired meal at The Raymond in Pasadena, I was determined to see what all the fuss was about. Back in a part of Hollywood that actually borders on Koreatown, comes experience from other parts of town like the membership-only Doheny.  With additional cocktail friend in tow, we admired the neighboring taco stand (complete with lucious spit of meat in the window) while being cleared by the well-dressed, courteous doorman with a clipboard. And up we ascended, up narrow stairs and through jaggedly winding hallways and into an … office with a beautiful lady behind the desk.

At La Descarga, she let us know, there are two bars and one smoking room. The bar in the back smoking room is reserved for rum only while the main, front bar will serve us their cocktail menu. Cigars are available (10 hand-rolled and aged varieties, that is, for your pleasure). From what I heard about Bill and H.C.’s opening escapades the night before, I had already known this – as H.C. had been lamenting about his dry cleaning bill earlier.

The hostess walked around the desk and toward us. Naturally, we backed up. And it was then we noticed that to our right there was a wardrobe, which she opened. We saw white linen Havana shirts hanging with a passageway behind them.

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