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Friday, May 6, 2005

The scales tip away from us

Cocktails have always carried the Scales of Justice. Empyrean flavors, the back story of not merely every libation you’ve ever had, but of all sips in all dark taverns and in the umbrella’d sunlight of bygone days, celebrations, thoughtful ponderings, romances, and euphoria - all on the one side, and taciturn, belligerent, torpor topped with flagging motor control and lonely DUIs weighing down the other. It’s a balance some achieve more successfully than others. In the quest to maintain the healthiest of balances while enjoying sophisticated lifestyles, there is also a certain handicapping going on.

Places like New York, London, San Francisco, Paris, New Orleans support the narrow path to gracious imbibing better than other places, like the one in which I live, Hollywood and environs. Why? It’s the driving, stupid. It’s why those walking mass-transit non-NIMBY cities have proud career bartenders and we have actors between gigs. And we are just about to lose another of the few important venues for the classic cocktail we have.

When the cocktail literati come to town, they inevitably inquire. Who wouldn’t? Where are the good drinks to be had? My answers always came with the same regretful boilerplate caveat: Los Angeles is so big, so sprawling, one must drive and the venues are in no way centralized.

For tropical punches go to the Tiki Ti and Trader Vic’s. For Martinis, Musso & Frank’s. For Singapore Slings, gin fizzes, Le Freres Taix - but only during the day. Old time barkeeps don’t want to stay up late or drive at night - and come the night, lots of joints want Pretty behind the bar. For Mojitos, it’s Ciudad - and for the best of them again, it’s the day shift so you can catch Tony Ramos working his magic - though he remains underutilized and under-appreciated as the best old tropical drink barman alive today. The Ivy still makes a lovely cross between a Gin Gimlet and a Rickey (which they call a Gimlet) and anything you can tell the bartenders at the Polo Lounge how to make, they will, to the very best of their collective ability. They don’t know the odd old drinks, but their customer service is top tier. You might catch Phil at Engine Company 28 downtown - if, indeed, he is still there. He likes to invent things which can be entertaining in that grand venue.

But if I were to tell them the one place that I as Dr.Cocktail knew where they might have a flight of arcane and classic potations, it was always the same. It was one place: Cinnabar in Glendale - and it’s closing.

Alvin weathered several bartenders, some great, some workable, and he put a lot of passion into his bar. I do not yet know why they are closing, but tomorrow night I will find out. It is, sadly, enough that they are. Mea culpa, I didn’t go as often as I used to. I moved and it was a bit further away - and I set up the best cocktail bar in the world (my house), but Cinnabar was always THE place for cocktails when out on the town, and they will be missed.

There have been a few particularly distressing closings in the past 10 years that impacted the availability of great cocktails in Southern California: Duplex and Madam Wu’s top that list. Chadney’s and Pierre’s Los Feliz Inn, also. And there was never a bartender at the Dresden like Evan. Perhaps, as we always hope, some new place of hope and cocktails will rise up. Perhaps. What we have seen more of in the past, however, are the Bar Marmonts, the Gordon Bierches, and the entire Sunset Strip where it’s single malt in a big tumbler, boutique Bourbon, little oddly-named beers and big oddly-named wines. Well prepared classic cocktails are simply MIA.

So let’s drink to Alvin, to Flame, to Cinnabar. Drink to them - and with them, at least until Sunday May 15th.

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