Growing up in Connecticut, spring embodied an awakening of the senses. After months of bitter cold and winter's dreary palette of white and grey, spring was a welcome burst of fragrant flowers, blue skies, and sun-kissed shoulders. While L.A. doesn't have such a drastic change of seasons, springtime's arrival still delights me. My Elysian Park hikes have wildflowers galore, the wisteria vines pop purple, and the farmers markets team with seasonal goodness, like pea tendrils, fava beans and green garlic. April's bounty is even affecting my beverage consumption, inspiring me to sample garden-variety cocktails all over town. Here are my favorite ways to get your daily allowance of fruits, veggies, and intoxication.
Stark Bar @ LACMA Mid-City West
A night at the museum doesn’t have to include Ben Stiller. But, a night at LACMA must involve a visit to Stark Bar. Lounge in lipstick-red chairs at this alfresco bar where cocktails are works of art. Try the Owl and Pussycat, a lovely mix of rum, strawberries, lemon juice, simple syrup, and chili. Reminiscent of red-pepper jelly, it's both sweet and spicy. The G-funk Era features gin, grapefruit peel, Fever Tree tonic, and bitters. The flavorful gin is made in-house using botanical herbs, like lemon verbena, from the museum's garden; now that's a locavore libation! By day, Stark Bar buzzes with museum-goers. At night, it becomes a destination in its own right, as diners bask under the glow of Chris Burden's lamppost sculpture. For you music-lovers, live jazz begins in May, on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
Picca West L.A.
I came to Picca in search of Ricardo Zarate's much-praised Peruvian cooking. As (my version of) the saying goes, "Behind every great chef there's a great mixologist". At Picca, Julian Cox shakes, mixes, and muddles delicious proof to my proclamation. My preferred potation, The Avocado Project, has 5 Island white rum, avocado, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar. In all my years of boozing, I had never thought to combine avocado and alcohol, though there's been much practice with guacamole and margaritas. Julian takes that perfect pairing, replaces tequila with rum, and creates one of the tastiest drinks I've ever swigged. Like egg whites, the avocado adds a frothy, creamy-ness without being cloying. The Sabertooth is composed of cachaça, blueberries, apricot liquor, fresh lime, and simple syrup. True to its name, it still packs a punch, in spite of its girly, purple hue.
Hungry Cat Hollywood
There are three clues that Hungry Cat offers fresh-squeezed cocktails 1: They are located a block from the Hollywood Farmers' Market 2. Giant pails of citrus and a massive, metal juicer line the bar 3. Chef-owner David Lentz is married to fellow, farm-to-table chef, Suzanne Goin. In fact, the couple's garden is where Lentz found inspiration for his hand-crafted cocktails. Try the Petula Clark: Pimm’s, Hayman’s Old Tom gin, egg white, homemade absinthe bitters, lemon, rosemary garnish. It's a gussied-up version of the classically British Pimm's cup.
In honor of Tax Day, the drink du jour is the Write Off: cognac, Cara Cara juice, kumquat, and orange blossom water. The tri-orange medley is so fragrant our friendly bartendress, Minnie, exclaims "I want to smell like this". (Ask nice and she'll sneak you some kumquats for a healthy, bar snack). At brunch, Hungry Cat's Bloody Mary's (pictured at top) are the perfect hangover cure, packed with plucked-from-the-vine tomato goodness.
Library Bar Hollywood
After hearing mixmaster Matt Biancaniello interviewed while shopping at the Santa Monica's Farmers Market, I raced to the Library Bar to sample his cocktails. Tucked off the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, this jewel box of a bar is a hub for bespoke beverages. No menu exists, so ordering consists of a conversation with Matt and his trusty staff. Pick your poison, then an adjective or two. Be inspired by the treasure trove of herbs, fruits, and pickled yum lining the bar. My request for "herbal gin" rewards me with a refreshing gin, cucumber, dill, and lime concoction. "Spicy berries" leads to a lip-smacking rum, mixed berry, and chili drink. Matt also excels at incorporating ingredients normally reserved for the kitchen--balsamic vinegar, arugula--in his libations. A sip of his gin, sage, and curry creation is a savory delight.