Sunday, December 2, 2012

Around Town: It's almost Christmas: Have a cocktail

Around Town: It's almost Christmas: Have a cocktail

Christmas arrived, suddenly, on the day after Thanksgiving. Over at Trader Joe’s, the entrance display included hundreds of fresh wreaths and garlands.

The holidays are back, and so are cocktails. My personal repertoire consists of only three. They are the gin and tonic, the traditional old-fashioned and an exact copy of the Ruth’s Chris MoscowMule. Not counting prep time, it takes more than 10 minutes to make each drink. A real bartender might be faster, so the Biltmore’s Gallery Bar is safe from competition, for now.

We were at the Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. inaugural Armed Forces Ball. The theme was “Honoring America’s Veterans,” and there were cocktails.

The event raised funds to support the bar’s veteran-specific legal programs.

The keynote speaker was Judge Harry Pregerson from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Pregerson served as a Marine Corps first lieutenant in World War II and was wounded in combat in the Pacific. He is a tireless advocate for veterans.

The evening was full of speeches and socializing, and after it ended, our group gravitated to the Biltmore’s iconic Gallery Bar, full of casually dressed 20- and 30-year-olds. Apparently, the bar is a hot spot for Young Los Angeles, with live music, signature martini cocktails and a “Mad Men” vibe.

If this sudden digression to cocktails seems like a frivolous pivot away from veterans issues, consider this: All the men in our group were combat veterans.

The Biltmore’s Gallery bartenders are famous for theManhattan Vacation (“Embrace the view with Gentleman Jack, Martini & Rossi Sweet & pineapple, orange and apple juices”) and the Grand Manhattan (“A visual performance of Knob Creek, Grand Marnier and Martini & Rossi Sweet with a splash of orange juice garnished with a caramelized orange wheel”).

Too bad there’s no Biltmore on Foothill Boulevard. Or a Gold Line stop at the entrance to the 2 Freeway.

The bars in La Cañada Flintridge (Taylor’s, Dish) are good at the basics (gin and tonic, white wine), but they lack a critical mass of gainfully employed 29-year-olds, the coolest of the cool, to pull off an avant garde, post-modernist, retro bar scene.

Over in Culver City, the Blind Barber has an upscale speakeasy, with an entrance through a working barber shop. A haircut costs $40 and includes a complimentary beverage. My pick would be the Smoke & Dagger, which consists of Jack Daniels, jalapeño-infused Cointreau, cucumber, ginger and lemon.

Closer to home, in Pasadena, there’s the Arroyo Chop House, famous for the Cucumber Martini, and Ruth’s Chris on Colorado (Moscow Mule, $7 happy hour). Beckham Grill has an extensive stockpile of single malt, but the crowd is older.

As long as there’s a designated driver, the holidays are upon us. The bars are open for $20 drinks. All's well that ends well.

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