Los Angeles is famous for being a town of excess—from flashy sports cars and Beverly Hills mansions to gratuitous plastic surgery. But up until recently, when it came to drinking, LA was surprisingly B-list.
Cut to New York. After getting an acting degree in 1999, Eric Alperin took a job “slinging Cosmos” at the Screening Room in TriBeCa while he looked for movie-production work. Life behind the bar suited him (cue the montage), and after a few years he found himself bartending at celebrity chef Mario Batali’s restaurant Lupa. By 2005 Alperin was working for Sasha Petraske at his bar Little Branch, and also occasionally at his other establishment Milk & Honey.
Two years later he took a big chance and moved to Los Angeles (enter violins). “I wanted to open a West Coast Little Branch,” he says. His timing couldn’t have been better. He was quickly hired to help launch Batali’s restaurant Osteria Mozza, and around the same time local real estate developer Cedd Moses opened a string of upscale cocktail bars in downtown LA. One of his most ambitious projects was restoring the legendary restaurant Cole’s to its former glory. Moses offered the back room at Cole’s to Petraske and Alperin, which they transformed into a cocktail bar called The Varnish.
While it’s been open for less than two years, the bar has established itself as one of the country’s best. (The Varnish is a finalist for the Best American Cocktail Bar award and Alperin is up for the American Bartender of the Year award at next month’s Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans.) What makes it even more impressive is that The Varnish serves just five cocktails, mostly classics such as the Daiquiri and the Cablegram. You also have the option of asking the bartender to make you something special. And like at Petraske’s other bars, each drink is made from scratch.
“I’m not a cocktail geek,” Alperin is quick to insist. “I just wanted to open a bar.” (Roll credits.)
Contributed by Eric Alperin
.75 oz Ginger Syrup*
.5 oz Fresh lime juice
2 oz Rye whiskey
Garnish: Candied ginger
Shake all the ingredients without ice. Pour the mixture into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a piece of candied ginger.
* Ginger Syrup
Add 2 cups of finely chopped or puréed fresh ginger root to 1.5 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let stand for 2 hours. Strain the mixture into a bowl and add 1 cup of superfine sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and store in the refrigerator.