For decades, the bar business has been a boys’ club. In LA, though, female bartenders are owning the scene. From national Speed Rack champions to Bar Rescue TV stars and 2015 Zagat 30 Under 30 honorees, these 16 ‘tenders are reshaping the gender bias by pouring some of the best-crafted cocktails in the city.
Specialty: “I would like to say it's whatever will make the guest in front of me the happiest. It's really rewarding to gather information and give someone a drink that's exactly what they wanted.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “I love watching the Food Network and cooking. I also like to take advantage of the beautiful weather out here and either go to the beach or go hiking in the mountains.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “TACO TRUCKS!! But seriously... as a recent East Coast transplant, there's a lot to love about Los Angeles. Most importantly, I think, is the bar and restaurant community here. Everyone has really welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like I'm part of something special.”
Specialty: “I specialize in whiskey and educating people about the products. I only make three cocktails back here at Bar Jackalope, which are Japanese High Balls, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans. The remainder of my job is pouring, suggesting whiskeys, and educating the guests about each whiskey. I tell them about the history of the brand, some technical stuff (if they want to geek out), and guide them through the flavor profiles. The bar functions in an unusual manner in the sense that guests don't order at the bar. We come to you and sit down by the table and have a chat. We are trying to make the experience more personal to each individual, but if people want to be left alone that is also fine, too. It's all about hospitality.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “I sketch, draw, paint, write, and make whiskey-inspired dresses. I guess when I'm off the clock, I am technically still working. I have a busy brain and enjoy daydreaming and turning ideas into reality. I socialize, too, occasionally and keep a low-key profile, watching films with a friend.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Working with my co-workers and bosses. I am constantly inspired by them, and they push me to go out of my comfort zone, even when I have self-doubt. I'm very lucky to work with a great team that has such an incredible drive, sense of humor, and intelligence. Also, the cool thing about LA is that people come out here because they want to pursue their dreams. They are willing to fail and take a chance. I remember a customer said, ‘LA has a bad rap for having superficial people, but they have dreams and ideas -- and that's why they're out here.’ Bar Jackalope developed because it came from a dream. Someone had an idea about opening this type of concept and turning it into reality."
Specialty: “It is hard to pick a specialty but my favorite drinks I make are my dessert-like cocktails. I love making drinks that are frothy, decadent, creamy, and dreamy -- the kid in me comes out. I am also a Harry Potter nerd and dreamed about making butterbeer, but wanted to make it naturally with no artificial flavors. I make a butterscotch liqueur with Tito's vodka and combine it with a real vanilla bean simple syrup and then carbonate and bottle, and serve with a perfect mound of Angostura bitters whip cream. It is so fun and always strikes up a conversation and makes the customer smile and feel like a kid at heart.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “When I am not working, I love going out to eat with friends, working out, listening to Britney, and working on my blog Bartending Pretty. Sharing my passion and creative process has been very rewarding, and I hope to inspire people daily through my blog.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “So many favorite things about Los Angeles. Gotta love the blue skies and palm trees! With those sunny blue skies California has some of the best citrus, herbs, and produce to work with. Honestly, how can you not be inspired by that as a bartender? I also love how supportive the LA restaurant community is -- we are all in it together trying to make our customers happy.”
Specialty: “I really, really enjoy making whatever I want whenever I want, to the best of my ability, of course. Any one specific cocktail? I wouldn't be able to give you a specific answer other than ‘well, what are you in the mood for?’"
What she's doing when she's not working: “Anything that involves growth. Reading about new places, making new friends, trying new restaurants, going on adventures, facing fears, testing personal limits, everything! Anything that pops into my head that I want to do and I have no reason not to, I'm doing it.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “The people that make up this city are absolutely fascinating to me. Go meet some.”
Specialty: “I think my speciality is making ingredient-driven cocktails rather than spirit-driven. I look at all of my drinks as drinkable installations, so I get inspired by a theme. The ingredients help me to tell the story, such as the No. 9 Calpico and nigori sake drink, or No. 7 bee pollen and chamomile drink, or my favorite, the No. 8 -- inspired by toast and marmalade. I think I'm most known for either refreshing whiskey drinks or veggie juice-driven drinks.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “I'm always working -- when I'm not behind the bar I'm researching ideas for my blog the Loving Cup, experimenting in the kitchen, or regenerating with lots of sleep. My brain never switches off though.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “My favorite thing about LA is my proximity to nature: it puts everything into perspective, I live close to the ocean and waking up to the smell of briny air starts my day off perfectly. I love the sun, too, though I feel a bit brainwashed by it. LA gives me space to breathe.”
Specialty: “People know me as the 50/50 ninja! I really love vermouth, and there are so many interesting things you can do with it. Currently, because it’s so hot, I am drinking a fitty-fitty with watermelon-infused Noilly Prat Original dry vermouth, Dolin dry vermouth, and gin (any gin with soft botanicals works with this -- I like Brooklyn gin or Bombay Sapphire East) and Miracle Mile yuzu bitters. It’s so delicious and refreshing.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “My whole family lives in the LA area so when I have time I like to take my mom out on dates. She works really hard, so I like to treat her as often as I can. I also go to my sister’s house to see my two beautiful nephews. I never really liked little kids or babies before, but I am so in love with them. I tend to be a workaholic so family time is very important to me as it keeps me grounded and takes me out of bars and booze once in awhile. I also hang out with my dog Noni (named after Amaro Nonino!). She's a tiny 2lb Maltese and the cutest dog on the planet.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Los Angeles has so many different neighborhoods that are all completely different. I live in Downtown Los Angeles, and I have been here for about nine years now. I love Downtown the best of all the areas in LA because I actually feel like I live in a metropolitan city, and I can walk around everywhere, and I see locals and actually feel like neighbors. There is a definite sense of community in Downtown, and it's so unpretentious and unique. I love the juxtaposition of grittiness with the gentrification. It is always changing all around me. Also the weather in LA is AMAZING year-round. I am not built for cold weather so LA is perfect.”
Specialty: “Anything with egg whites -- even though they require a bit of work, the extra love is worth it to achieve that perfect layer of foam. If someone is asking for a classic sour or a Ramos gin fizz, they already have a certain level of expectation and appreciation for the cocktails themselves, so being a mild perfectionist, I never want to short-change the experience. Meringue for days!”
What she's doing when she's not working: “Hitting the bike path between Venice and Santa Monica is one of my favorite things to do. It’s the perfect place to decompress, and it’s impossible not to feel like you’re a 12-year-old when you’re riding a bike at the beach. We have such consistently beautiful weather I try to get outside and enjoy it whenever I get the chance.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Variety. Each neighborhood has interesting finds: whether it be restaurants or juice bars, farmers markets or art galleries, one thing is consistent -- there’s always something new to stumble upon.”
Specialty: “Unlike many people in LA, I really like food. That's a big part of my background, so making cocktails that pair well with specific dishes is awesome, for me. I go for dry, savory, long cocktails that you can ideally order more than one of. Right now at Harvard & Stone I have a cocktail called the Green Apple Mule on the menu that contains CapRock gin, pressed green apple juice, Acebal cider (Spanish, really dry and funky), pink peppercorn, ginger, lemon, honey, and a splash of soda. It's gotten some pretty good reactions.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “I leave! Seriously. One of the coolest things about LA is how many places you can get to from here. I'm usually watching a band at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown or floating in a river somewhere. To be honest, I don't really have that much time off, so if that's not an option I am generally hanging out on my deck drinking and cooking for my friends. ”
Her favorite thing about LA: “The sunrise from my Uber on the way from The Overpass to the Drawing Room. (JK, kind of.) It's funny when people are like, ‘It's such a beautiful day!’ I tend to give ‘em side eye, because it's ALWAYS a perfect day, weather-wise. Whatever kind of food you're craving, there's an option at every price point. I was also really surprised about the sincerity of the relationships I've built here. My friends quickly became my family. Moving here from NYC, I was under the impression that everyone would be an aspiring actress/model or whatever. Sure, that's around, but you can just as easily find brilliant, charming, hilarious people -- you just have to know where to look.”
Specialty: “TIKI! It's all about finding that perfectly balanced cocktail, usually rum-focused, with fresh and house-made ingredients. I was recently introduced to a botanical liqueur called Hum and paired it with agave, tart passion fruit, a funky pot-stilled Jamaican rum, and a dry white Puerto Rican rum. We call it the ‘Hawaiian Eye.’”
What she's doing when she's not working: “If it's a social situation it probably has something to do with Tiki and rum, or I'm supporting my fiancé who plays instrumental surf music (which is pretty Tiki, too). Otherwise it's all about our home sanctuary. Cooking, working in the garden, or just chilling with our cat, Buddy. Oh, and thrifting or estate sale shopping, I'm a sucker for ‘the hunt.’"
Her favorite thing about LA: “It might sound cliché, but I love the diversity this city offers, especially when it comes to food. You want anything from Ethiopian to Oaxacan or Filipino food, there's probably a restaurant nearby. If you prefer a mid-century dining experience there's Pann's or Musso & Frank or Taix. And all the individual neighborhoods, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Leimert Park, Thai Town. The possibilities are endless.”
Specialty: “I like to think that the cocktail in general is my specialty. When a guest asks me this question, I typically respond that it’s not about me, it’s about them. What do they like to drink? What do they usually order? What are they in the mood for? Uncovering exactly what the guest desires and delivering that experience in a glass to them is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. If I had to choose something though, I’m probably most well-known by my friends for making a Tiki cocktail that will get you pretty twirly. That or I've got a michelada/sangrita mix that's gained some fans over the years.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “Even though bartending is an extremely active profession, when I’m not working I crave physical activity desperately. I must admit that I’m not the best at taking care of myself. The long hours, plentiful booze, and little time to eat properly leaves me feeling less than stellar at times. The high that I get from exercise is second to none, not to mention the transportive and meditative effects that I feel for hours afterward. For the most part, if I miss a workout, I don’t feel nearly as sharp both physically and mentally for the rest of the evening. Aside from breaking a sweat, I’ve been known to travel when I'm not working. The desert in particular. And by the desert I mean Vegas. If I have a night off, I'm either dancing or drinking, and there's probably live music involved.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “The weather... and the Mexican food -- #blessed. No, but seriously, I think that Los Angeles is a unique place because there are so many creative professionals that don’t exist in your typical city. This allows for a lot of venues to develop programming that pushes boundaries (i.e., live acts, performances, gaming tournaments, etc.) that provide a more interactive drinking experience for the consumer, which I’m all about.”
Specialty: “Before I started with Sassafras, I had always worked in restaurant bars with incredible chefs. It was an integral part of honing my craft and learning the ins and outs of my palate. Now that I work in a big-volume cocktail bar, it's challenged me to work with simpler techniques that still result in a well-rounded and interesting cocktail menu. Lately, my cocktails have been Tiki or low ABV cocktails. Although two very different styles, they keep guests interested, entertained, and able to drink longer and explore more of the menu. The most popular drink on our menu was an adaptation of a classic cocktail that I hate, the Brown Derby. I pulled the parts of it that I enjoyed and played off of those flavors, and it became The Saint. It's Old Forester 86 proof bourbon, Lillet, Giffard Pamplemousse, lemon, and ginger syrup. It's one of those cocktails that I'm most proud of.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “I spend a lot of my daytime in the bar/office so I like to make sure I'm outdoors as much as possible during my free time. I moved here from Boston for the weather, so I naturally gravitate to outdoor activities like hiking through Griffith Park or enjoying our nearly endless summers by a pool. Otherwise, I'll spend my time on the other side of the bar. Work and home are in the Hollywood area, so I frequent the local bars there or catch an Uber to Downtown or Koreatown if I want a different vibe from a different neighborhood.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Los Angeles is a big city when you want it to be, but it can also be a quiet paradise. It's sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure. That's the best part about the diverse, sprawling neighborhoods here. There are so many different people all doing different things, but whatever you’re into, you'll find like-minded individuals here to do your own thing with. I've been here for nearly five years, and I haven't even scratched the surface of what there is to see and do here. Los Angeles is enormous, and I don't think I'll ever get bored of it.”
Specialty: “I'm not sure I'm known for one specific special thing. I guess I'd say I make the best boilermaker in town. Ilegal mezcal and an Olympia.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “Harvard & Stone being a high-volume cocktail bar, it can be quite overstimulating for my introverted nature, so when I'm not working I tend to spend a lot of time alone. I go to movies or out to dinner. I love eating at the bar alone. Or I'll just forget all that and hang out at Harvard. It is home after all.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “My friends and warm summer nights.”
Specialty: “I wouldn't say that I have one cocktail that I’m known for yet but I do tend to work with weird ingredients. Like Fruity Pebble-infused Aviation, or doing a goth night with all black cocktails -- and if I have time I love to forage for fresh ingredients. There are so many things in our backyard that we can use!”
What she's doing when she's not working: “Read!! I am an obsessive reader, from trashy novels to classics. I'm pretty sure when I first moved to LA you could catch me on the beach reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I also have two godpuppies, Bradley and Anderson Cooper, that I spend a lot of my time with. We go on hikes or have snuggle parties.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “The weather! Outdoor shopping, pool days, hikes, the beach, or stay inside and watch a movie. It doesn't matter because every day here is perfect.”
Specialty: “Hospitality is the main reason why people return to the bar at Belcampo. I work with some of the most passionate people, who only want to give their absolute best. Good hospitality makes everything taste better. Luckily, everything at Belcampo is delicious, so it's just a win-win for everyone involved. Lately, I've been into making mint juleps -- they're so simple, classic, and beautiful. Perfect for hot weather. It's a drink that truly delights people, and I love that.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “When I'm not at work, I love nothing more than hanging out with my man and cooking. Also, I'm a huge fan of Club 1994 nights at Honeycut. Everyone needs to go; it's the most fun.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Los Angeles is a dynamic city full of opportunity and amazing people. Anything can happen! The bar industry here is one of the most supportive groups of people that I have ever met, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. It's the people that make this city great, and I love what we do.”
Specialty: “I suppose I have long been known for pushing rhum agricole to anyone who would listen -- or wouldn’t. Ever since the first day I tasted that grassy funk -- unlike anything I’d ever tasted -- I was in love and made it my job to make every one of my guests understand what they had been missing. There’s a very good chance that if you live in Los Angeles, I made you your first Ti’ Punch. Back then I over-diluted it on crushed ice with 80-proof agricole and put entirely too much lime and sugar -- now that I’ve been to Martinique a couple times I prefer something close to the way the locals drink it: a tiny disk of lime that’s more lime oil than juice, a tiny spoon of Sirop de Canne, and high-proof (100 or 110) agricole with one ice cube and a swizzle. And that’s still a compromise to the way the locals drink it in the Caribbean. They skip the ice cube and drink 110, 115, or 126 proof.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “Once upon a time I was a musician so you can often find me dabbling on my keyboard on a night off, or playing with my knucklehead dog Marti (short for Martinique), or fighting with my boyfriend over his poor decisions regarding our joint fantasy football team from the previous week. I also, surprisingly enough, muscled the North American Director of Rhum JM and Rhum Clement to let me work for him part time so I am lucky enough to preach rhum education to bartenders around Los Angeles.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “Dare I be generic and say I love the weather? Just kidding -- while that IS the main reason I moved here -- I quickly became a huge fan of the community within the hospitality world. I’ve been able to be a part of a once-small group that has grown and evolved into something that I feel has no parallel in the entire country. While Los Angeles finds itself in an exciting, trailblazing place in the national bar and restaurant scene, it has still maintained that supportive family vibe that -- in my experience -- you cannot find in any other competitive market in the country. Or maybe I am just biased because I love this city. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Specialty: “I'm really into making beer cocktails right now (and like to think they taste pretty good!). If I can make a bespoke cocktail for a customer, a shandy, I do it. In general, I try to make super-drinkable cocktails that can be created from the basic ingredients behind any craft bar.”
What she's doing when she's not working: “When I'm not working, I'm probably still working. My work outside of bartending includes a mentorship program called Girls with Bols. I’m the organizer for LA. In my downtime I do my best to stay healthy with yoga and running, and generally spending time outdoors in the beautiful California sunshine.”
Her favorite thing about LA: “My favorite thing about Los Angeles is its size. I moved to LA to experience something bigger, and I got it. This city is so full of opportunity in every industry; it's a wonderful place to truly discover your passion and your path in life -- if you put in the work. And despite its size, I've made some of my closest friends in this city.”
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Caroline Pardilla writes about booze for Eater Drinks and LA Magazine and wishes all the bartenders were women, because then no one would EVER call a drink a Panty Dropper. Find her at @carolineoncrack on Twitter and Instagram.
1. Walker Inn3612 W 6th St, Los Angeles
2. Jackalope Bar515 W 7th St, Los Angeles
3. Sotto9575 W Pico, Los Angeles
4. Sassafras Saloon1233 Vine St, Los Angeles
5. Birch1634 N Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood
6. Clifton's Cafeteria648 S Broadway, Los Angeles
7. SoHo House9200 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
8. Harvard & Stone5221 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
9. Tonga Hut12808 Victory Blvd, North Hollywood
10. Spare Room7000 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
11. Break Room 863515 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles
12. Belcampo Santa Monica1026 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica
13. Eveleigh8752 W Sunset, Hollywood
14. Melrose Umbrella Company7465 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles
Avoid the crowd at The Normandie Club, hit the buzzer at the back of the bar, and enter The Walker Inn, a speakeasy-style lounge serving unexpected cocktails in a dark, exclusive den. The monthly-rotating menu is based around an elaborate theme -- such as regional climates, with cocktails called Cloud, Rain, and Earth. Accompany your cocktail with the unusual omakase-style pairings at the bar.
In the back of Seven Grand is the bodacious, lustful Bar Jackalope -- seducing you with delicious whiskey flights, serious ambiance points, and a rowdy crowd.
This West LA restaurant serves Southern Italian food in an upscale and hip basement space. The menu is always changing but remains consistent for its emphasis on comfort and creativity. Expect small, medium, and large plates of meat and seafood, plus simply refined pasta dishes (like spaghetti with clams) and knock-out Neapolitan pizzas. The dimly-lit interior is outfitted with rustic communal tables and an open kitchen.
Authenticity comes in all shapes and sizes. At Sassafras Saloon, it comes in the shape of a one-time Savannah townhouse that was deconstructed, transported (from Georgia), and resurrected smack in the heart of Hollywood. Sure, the draw may be the live music and Southern-style cocktail proffer -- house-brewed sarsaparilla and barrel-aged beverages among them -- but the various (and plentiful) antebellum tchotchkes solidify the saloon’s down-home feel. Sassafras will take you from one southern corner of the country to the other as you sip your Sazerac in the parlor, underneath the portrait of Frederick Douglass.
Birch might be the most adventurous restaurant ever to hit the neighborhood, blending together influences and flavors from all over the world (think scallop sashimi and rabbit baklava). As a bonus, you'll find a collection of inspired, market-forward cocktails with ingredient combinations like black lime and white tea rum, frankincense and irish whiskey, or vodka and pinecone.
This five-story, upscale cafeteria is the love child of the Rainforest Cafe and the Museum of Natural History. With stuffed animals, constructed ecosystems, and winding caves throughout the restaurant, Clifton's is a truly magical dining experience.
This members only, bicoastal spot is housed on two upper floors on Sunset Boulevard, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, an extensive wine and cocktail list, and a generous helping of exclusive swank.
From the guys behind the Havana-themed hideaway La Descarga, Harvard & Stone is a meticulously designed craft cocktail bar in a cavernous, two-story, 1930s factory in Los Feliz. Dance the night away to a solid indie, Motown, and everything-in-between playlist while you sip on pop-culture themed libations (Knocked Up, Hey Arnold, and Zelda are three such cocktails).
It's hard to think of tiki bars as a bygone fad when North Hollywood's Tonga Hut has been turning up the tiki since 1958. We're not talking just a plastic umbrella in your fruity drink or a few totem glasses (though you will see both): the cocktail bar looks like something between a retro knick-knack-littered living room and an Easter Island shipwreck. Just because the cocktails are kitsch doesn't mean they're an after-thought: the Hawaiian Eye mixes two rums with passion fruit puree, while the Coconaut Re-Entry is ignited with fire. This is the kind of corny that attracts patrons both young and old.
The Roosevelt Hotel is famous for being haunted, but now it's ready to be your regular haunt thanks to Spare Room. This sleek cocktail lounge/bowling alley stepped up its drink game with the addition of award-winning beverage director Yael Vengroff, who's crafting a menu full of welcome surprises, including a Salt & Vinegar Martini (served with dill potato chips), and a pandan leaf-adorned Lucky Smoke, mixed with Japanese whiskey, rum, banana liqueur, and vanilla.
Break Room 86 is a blast from the '80s past that comes complete with classic arcade games, themed cocktails, and two karaoke rooms awesomely equipped with Atari.
Part-butcher-shop, part-restaurant, Belcampo Meat Co. sources all of its grass-fed, organic beef from its own sustainable farm. The restaurant at the Santa Monica location serves innovative dishes like goat tartare, mutton chops, and the infamous cheeseburger, sandwiched on a toasted brioche bun with a thick slice of Cheddar, caramelized onions, and house sauce. The butcher shop up front sells cuts to go, plus ready-made meals so you can have a locally sourced, carnivorous feast in the comfort of your own home.
The rustic space that houses Eveleigh has a reclaimed, wood-laden indoor-outdoor dining room with a communal table and sofa-like seating. Their outdoor patio is the real draw, where you'll feel as though you've entered a gorgeous garden party, surrounded by homegrown herbs and vegetables. From land (lamb meatballs) to sea (wild Pacific yellowtail), every dish on Eveleigh's menu is market-fresh and crafted with care.
If you're looking for creative cocktails with a speakeasy vibe, then you've arrived at your destination: Melrose Umbrella Company. This buzzy, den-like cocktail bar in West Hollywood specializes in herbaceous iterations of old-school libations. During the day, it turns its focus to coffee, pastries, and sandwiches.