Drinks for bookish Angelenos

by Lauren Eggert-Crowe

Old Hollywood's literary and film history comes alive in the prohibition-era cocktail trend

Let's say Philip Marlowe of Raymond Chandler's mystery novels and J.J. Gittes of Roman Polanski's Chinatown cross paths one day. It isn't that farfetched of a scenario. Both are detectives who frequently find themselves entwined in a web of seedy Angeleno corruption. Both skulk through the 1930s streets of Hollywood, trailing beautiful women, surreptitiously snapping photos of the story behind the story. Each man is a noir Private I. legend with a checkered past and the curse of a loner. Each man drinks like a fish.

And what better place for our investigative anti-heroes to satisfy their cravings for mixed libations than in the City of Angels, home to some of the best bars and cocktail lounges.

Almost a century later, Angelenos can partake in the same taste and ambience that these and other famous characters enjoyed. If you're in the mood for cocktails from the sheba-swinging days of Prohibition and the 1930s, Los Angeles has no shortage of beverages you'll think are just the cat's pajamas. The popularity of cocktails flourished in the roaring twenties, when swanky partiers and speakeasy owners used sugar or juice to mask the taste of shoddy moonshine. Now they've evolved into works of art and alchemy, each concoction boasting a well-crafted blend of liquors – the bitter, sweet and tart, delicately garnished with citrus rinds or sprigs of herbs.

A few places that can satisfy your cravings are establishments that any of L.A.'s literary Jazz Age legends would have loved. At Seven Grand, you can order just about any kind of whiskey your heart desires: drink it neat like Philip Marlowe preferred, or have one of their skilled bartenders whip you up a mint julep that F. Scott Fitzgerald would surely have imbibed during his stint in Hollywood. It may be a bit challenging to pretend you're hobnobbing with the Southern California contingent of the Lost Generation while the Ramones are singing, “I wanna be sedated” over the stereo, but such anachronisms are a tried and true part of L.A. life. Embrace it!

Seven Grand's rotating vintage cocktail menu features drinks straight out of the 1920s and 30s, but with finer whiskeys like Laphroaig and MacAllan. I tried the Lion's Tail, a bourbon drink touched with lemon and orange. Very California. Nearby in Silverlake, The Edendale Grill promises more old-fashioned cocktails made of rye whiskey and vermouth, with names like The Barley Chewer and Corpse Reviver.

If you're looking to do a bar crawl, hit The Edison, The Millennium Biltmore, or The Varnish next, where you'll find upscale speakeasy ambience and a wide selection of old-timey drinks. Finish the night with, of course, the Raymond Chandler Gin Gimlet at The Ivy. Don't be surprised to spot a man in a trenchcoat and fedora surveying the scene from a table in the corner.