Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

As much as I love a good cocktail, I’m more of a craft beer and wine gal. But I do keep up with trends. Over the last several years I’ve read many articles in food magazines about the new mixologists. But since I never frequent the bars or lounges where they work, I had no idea what kind of delectable concoctions they made, until recently.

On a beautiful Los Angeles day, five friends and I celebrated our freedom from the LA Convention Center, where for three days we had been attending a conference, by jumping in a taxi and heading to Hollywood. We did a bit of touristy stuff — checking out the stars on the sidewalk and the handprints and footprints of movie stars of old — but we really just wanted a bite to eat and a cold beer. Across the street we spotted 25 Degrees in the Roosevelt Hotel just in time for happy hour’s half price beers and sides.

After a grilled cheese sandwich (overpriced but decent) and an Alaskan Amber (half-priced and excellent), I ventured out into the hotel lobby to find the ladies room. The lobby reminded me of an old art museum with a baroque Spanish touch – high ceilings, fountains, plushly upholstered chaise lounges and overstuffed chairs. On my way back to the restaurant, some zebra-upholstered bar stools in a small room off the lobby caught my eye. I peeked in and saw what looked like a farmers market display on the bar. It was a very cool looking place.

Library bar ingredientsWhen I got back to our table I told everyone that they had to check out the lobby and cool bar. We lolled around the lobby and made our way over to the bar when a guy, dressed all in black and heading into the bar, said we really should come in for a drink, it’d be the best we ever had. By now we were game for anything so in we went to The Library Bar.

On the bar was a display of six colorful strangely garnished cocktails left over from a photo shoot that afternoon. The bar itself was topped with containers of fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. This was not your typical bar fruit tray. Matt Biancaniello, the mixologist in residence, said he would remake those six cocktails for us so we could each have a taste of all of them. I wish I had taken notes but I was completely in the moment, not thinking at all beyond what I was experiencing. From what I can remember, here are very vague descriptions of what I think we had:

  • I chose the one made with beets and horseradish. It may sound like borscht but it was surprisingly delicious with a strong but not overpowering taste of horseradish. Based on what I’ve read since about his cocktails, it might have had gin, cucumber, lime and agave nectar, which explains the complex taste and hint of sweetness.
  • A Brazilian Negroni made with cachaca (Brazilian liquor made from cane sugar), Campari and sweet vermouth.
  • Something amazing featuring passionfruit, crème de cassis and other liquors.
  • A frothy egg-white topped pisco sour type drink but with so much more.
  • An heirloom tomato mojito that tasted like a summer garden.
  • Something fruity with a beautiful garnish of tiny grapes.
  • He treated us to a bonus at the end, a scrumptious cold creamy coffee cocktail. It might have been the Caffe Va Bene mentioned in this article. Hard to believe that espresso, crème de cassis and Cynar, a liqueur made with artichokes, could be the perfect ending to the perfect cocktail experience.

Like all good chefs, Matt’s cocktail selection is driven by what’s in season. He goes to the farmers market regularly and makes his own syrups and infusions. They were the best cocktails I’ve ever had in my life. The experience reminded me of dining at Jose Andres’ Minibar in Washington DC – a taste adventure.

As we walked back down the street someone remarked that they had a nice buzz that felt really fresh, clear, energetic and healthy. Was it the nutrients from fresh ingredients or Biancaniello magic?

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