So I went to The Varnish, a much lauded bar in downtown LA, located in the back of Cole’s Restaurant at 118 East 6th Street. The Varnish allegedly has a “speakeasy vibe” which means there’s an unmarked door that you have to pass through in order to enter a room that’s quite a lot like the restaurant itself, only much darker.
And while Cole’s is a (arguably THE) place for a French Dip sandwich, The Varnish is the place for “classic craft cocktails.” Sure there’s a cocktail list but they also offer on-the-spot cocktail therapy, finding the very drink that suits your personality. Basically you tell the waiter you like gin, vermouth and bitters, and he says, “I know we’ll add some Benedictine to that and we’ll have a Poet’s Dream.” So why not? I also had a Hillside – that’s gin, dry vermouth along with “Amaro Nonino” and “Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse” - it tasted not entirely unlike a Poet’s Dream.
Anyway the booze was fine, the atmosphere was nice enough, the waiter took himself seriously, but not too seriously. Given how long it took for the drinks to arrive on a quiet Wednesday evening – (we were a party of five – and the only people in the place when we arrived) it does seem you might really go thirsty on a busy Friday, but perhaps they get in a crew of speed-mixologists. I hope so. Oh, and the very best part – and so effin’ rare in any bar in America - no TV. Glory!
Sometimes of course the journey is the whole point of the exercise. These days everyone is looking for fusion, and downtown LA is currently a place where the swanky rubs shoulders with the rough and ready. On the way to The Varnish I passed this Japanese restaurant that’s obviously taken over the premises of a former doughnut shop.
They’ve had the wisdom to keep the old sign, but I do wish they hadn’t painted over the neon. And on the same block there’s a Mexican take out named Margarita’s Place, which (if the painting on the window is to be believed) has recently been taken over by rather smug-faced Zombies.
Incidentally, The Varnish does its own variation on the Zombie cocktail, called 28 Days Later. You can find the recipe here: