Food & Drink

Grab a Drink From Los Angeles' Bartenders of the Year

Published On 11/03/2016 Published On 11/03/2016
Cari Hah
Cari Hah | Eugene Shoots

Although Los Angeles has an abundance of imaginative bartenders, there are a talented few that truly rise above the jigger. To give credit to those who have filled our glasses with some of the finest concoctions we’ve tasted, we wish to raise a toast to LA's six most exceptional drinkmakers of this year. They don’t just make a mean drink; they invent new flavors and styles, further defining our city as the cocktail town to watch out for.

Cari Hah

Big Bar

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Bar manager Cari Hah is a formidable cocktail-making force, creating perfectly Instagrammable yet complex cocktails. Her drinks may be light and whimsical -- like her Apple Bottom Jeans cocktail with fresh watermelon juice, CĂŽROC apple vodka, Saint-Germain, and sherry -- but they feature layers of flavors. Big Bar was already a drink destination of bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts, but once Cari Hah took over its bar program late last year, she built it up to be a compelling option for the masses.

Caroline Pardilla/Thrillist

Jason Eisner

Gracias Madre

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Because he made pot cocktails a thing! Eisner, who’s no stranger to any “best LA bartender” list, was already known for his buzzworthy creations like the “Up in Smoke” which was smoked in a bong. But this year, the admitted pothead (for medicinal purposes!), determined to make his dream of weed cocktails a reality, skirted California’s marijuana laws by lacing his cocktails, like the Sour T-iesel gin sour and an Old Fashioned, with CBD (cannibidoil), the legal element of cannabis. Unsurprisingly, the herbaceous libations were a hit with curious imbibers and the press.

Caroline Pardilla/Thrillist

Darwin Manahan

71Above

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All eyes were on 71Above when it first opened this summer. It’s hard to miss -- perched atop Downtown’s US Bank building 71 floors above Downtown LA. But bartender Darwin Manahan, formerly of Cliff’s Edge, put it on the map of must-drink destinations thanks to his LA-inspired bar program. Each drink on the menu brilliantly showcases an LA neighborhood’s personality through ingredients, style, and even glassware. New York has the Manhattan, but thanks to Manahan, we now have the Echo Park mezcal/pisco combo, the Beverly Hills with Sancerre and Saint-Germain, and the tequila-based Malibu cocktail.

Courtesy of Gabriella Mlynarczyk

Gabriella Mlynarczyk

Birch

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Gabriella Mlynarczyk signed on to chef Brendan Collins’ Birch last year and has since elevated the cocktail program, helping to earn it rave reviews and accolades. Unlike a lot of restaurant bar programs that merely borrow from the chef’s farmers market bounty of produce for ingredients, Gaby takes her cocktails’ culinary slant further by stealing from the kitchen pantry. Her cocktail ingredients originate from oft-overlooked kitchen staples like brown rice for an orgeat, a stock cube for a savory Old Fashioned, and even chickpea juice for vegan whiskey sours.

Eugene Shoots

Ryan Wainwright

Terrine

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Wainwright is the bartender who will make you the “best ____ you have ever had.” Not only has he repeatedly proven this with his premium cocktail menu at Terrine, which showcases rare spirits in classic cocktails, but with his well-balanced versions of infamously terrible cocktails. After he’s through with you, the Long Island Ice Tea, Chocolate Martini, and even soju cocktails will be among your new favorites. It takes skills to do that. You can also find other creative cocktail offerings from Wainwright at other hot spots around town, including Faith & Flower and Hanjip.

Quentin Bacon

Mitch Bushell

Gwen

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Bartender Mitch Bushell’s gorgeous cocktail menu will keep you on your toes. As soon as you declare one of his classic variations (Manhattan, Old Fashioned, martini) served up in vintage glassware your favorite, he switches it up. Running a “no waste” program for chef Curtis Stone’s recently opened Gwen in Hollywood, Bushell's drinks are updated nearly every week and micro-seasonally, showcasing ingredients made from every single part of produce. Think: a pineapple from pulp to rind.

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Caroline Pardilla, aka Caroline on Crack, writes about booze for Los Angeles magazine and Eater Drinks. Follow her drink adventures @carolineoncrack on Instagram and Twitter.

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1. Big Bar 1927 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (Los Feliz)

Big Bar's actually, well, a tiny little bar attached to the massive outdoor patio at the Alcove Cafe. It has a European feel thanks to a room-length, extra-wide marble bar, antique-looking oak cabinets, and custom-made, metal chandeliers.

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2. Gracias Madre 8905 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (West Hollywood)

You’ll say gracias to this madre of a vegan restaurant when you taste chilaquiles, enchiladas, pozole, and other Mexican-inspired dishes made with organic, plant-based ingredients. No matter how much you live and die for carne asada, you'll find Gracias Madre's meat-free creations (coconut bacon, flash-fried cauliflower) beyond satisfying. Plus, no outdoor space in WeHo feels so quintessentially Californian.

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3. 71Above 633 W 5TH STREET, Los Angeles, CA (Downtown)

Prepare yourself for some sweeping LA views at 71Above, a posh DTLA restaurant whose name alludes to its sky-high location 71 floors above ground. If you can take your eyes off the lights twinkling over the city, you’ll want to focus on the elegant three-course menu featuring upscale and seasonal dishes. As for cocktails, expect classy house-made concoctions in the swanky lounge area.

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4. Birch 1634 N Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028 (Hollywood)

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.

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5. Terrine 8265 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 (Mid Wilshire)

Nostalgic French fare is given the expansive brasserie and a fairytale garden it deserves in Terrine, with chef Kris Morningstar masterminding elegant chicken confit salad, garlic-butter bathed escargots and a steak frites with smoked bone marrow that can be paired with an impressive French wine list. The namesake terrine, made with foie gras and served with apricot compote, proves worthy of the honor. Yet, a visit is utterly incomplete without sampling the charcuterie boards: with truffled chicken liver, terrine de campaign, liverwurst, andouille sausage and smoked beef deckle arranged with pickled morsels on a sturdy wooden disc. Dreamy and casual, the dining room is filled with bistro chairs, distressed brick and umber-hued leather banquettes with ornate mirrors propped behind them. The best part awaits behind an archway in the back, revealing an outdoor lounge with a giant illuminated tree as the centerpiece. The spot is more than an ideal perch for star-gazing, a well-balanced classic cocktail by Ryan Wainwright making you question your balance.

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6. Faith & Flower 705 West 9th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015 (Downtown)

A beautiful Downtown restaurant -- from a Michelin-award winning chef and the guys who founded the Pebble Beach Food & Wine fest -- Faith and Flower serves up a menu of seasonal dishes, classic staples, and a raw bar. The aphrodisiac seafood, vintage touches, and romantic décor, including hand mirrors and candles throughout the eating area, establish this as a prime date night spot.

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7. Hanjip 3829 Main St, Culver City, CA 90232 (Culver City)

From celebrity chef Chris Oh and restauranteur Stephane Bombet (Terrine, Faith & Flower, Paiche), Hanjip is a modern Korean barbecue restaurant that's made for groups, especially those without vegetarians. Hanjip's menu resembles a how-to guide for barbecue: you choose your meat (sliced brisket, pork belly, bulgogi) and sides (kimchi fried rice, seafood pancake, beef poutine), and a server grills your meat table-side. The Culver City space is trendy with sleek wooden booths and black-and-white wall art.

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8. Gwen 6600 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (Hollywood)

From Curtis Stone (the Australian celeb chef behind Maude) and his brother comes Gwen, an upscale butcher shop meets whole-animal restaurant with a five-course tasting menu. On it, you'll find everything from slow-roasted ribs to handmade orecchiette, plus charcuterie and other "Butchers Scraps." The ultimate bonus: whether or not you're already a fan, you should know that Gwen serves Australia's revered St. Ali coffee -- a rare find in the US.

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