I moved to the city of Long Beach one year ago. Being a cocktail enthusiast for classic and vintage style drinks, I couldn’t seem to find any establishment in this city that serves them. I’ve visited small dive bars to upscale restaurants, but none of these places seem to know or understand what I’m talking about when I ask them for a classic drink.
One of my experiences at a very upscale restaurant in downtown Long Beach, L'Opera claims to have a “full bar.” I had gone there when I first moved to the area, and asked for a Sidecar—a classic drink containing only three ingredients; brandy, Cointreau, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. First of all the woman working behind the bar wasn’t sure how to make the drink until I explained what the ingredients were, second she was going to use Sweet and Sour Mix to which I insisted on fresh lemon juice. She then asked me if she could use triple sec instead of Cointreau and I said, “No.” She excused herself from the bar, said she’d be right back, but was gone for twenty minutes until she finally appeared with Cointreau. She mentioned she had to go to two sister restaurants looking for this basic ingredient which should be a staple at any bar.
Another experience was at the Madison–The Madison another upscale restaurant on Pine Avenue. I met with some friends there for dinner and drinks back in December. My friend Mark had asked for a Martini made with Bombay Sapphire Gin very wet—meaning made with a two parts gin and one part vermouth. The bartender didn’t understand wet, and my friend had to explain what he meant.
The last experience I want to mention happened at a bar called the Silver Fox. I had asked for several drinks from one of the bartenders; the recipes of which I had listed on my phone. After going though about seven drinks the bartender finally asked me, “Can’t you just order vodka and cranberry?” Basically he wanted to make what was easy for him, and didn’t want to attempt to accommodate the customer–in my opinion being lazy.
I drive past many restaurants or bar establishments with a sign on the outside displaying the word cocktails, but I seriously doubt they know or understand what a classic cocktail is. They have drink specials that include “well drinks” or cheep beer for $3.00 – $4.00. Patrons think they’re getting a bargain, but unfortunately customers are getting taken for their money. They’re not getting good quality, but something very poor instead in order for the bar to make money.
I’ve gone to test some of these bars to find out if they could make a classic cocktail. First of all the bartenders didn’t know what a Sidecar, Manhattan, or even—the grandfather of them all—a classic Martini was, much less how to make them. Not only that, but the staff didn’t care, and didn’t care that they didn’t care. It may be that they are just doing a job until something better comes along. The management either believes they’ll always have customers, or they hire hot young looking male or female bartenders to attract patrons to the bar whether or not they know how to make a good drink.
These bars are not equipped with basic required ingredients such as orange bitters, Cointreau, fresh fruit, or herbs for the making of a classic cocktail. There is a revival of the classic drinks from the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, and most of these establishments have no idea what a real cocktail is, or don’t care. So, if I want one of these drinks, it means I have to leave Long Beach, and drive up to either downtown Los Angeles to Seven Grand, Varnish , or Four at Checkers, West Los Angeles to Westside Tavern, Copa D' Oro or one oasis in Orange County—320 Main in Seal Beach. I’m not going to throw my money away in this city and will just have to enjoy a classic cocktail elsewhere, I hope you take my advice as well.