When it comes to whiskey, I’m not your man. It's good stuff, but I’ll take a cold beer any ol’ day.
My wife, on the other hand, is a total connoisseur of it and that has won her quite the rep around town. She began her private whiskey tastings a few years ago at our Solano Canyon home and with each passing year, the bottles she purchases for the event have gotten more sophisticated, more complex, more expensive. I see a pop-up whiskey bar in her future.
Her passion for it has given me plenty of time to observe the intricate and wonky ways of a whiskey maven: the small-batch distilleries in far-off mystical corners of the world; the final finishing smacks of flavor depending on the different casks used; the length of years one powers up in its barrel. I’ve always known the basics, but to be honest, the complicated workmanship of the whiskey interests me more than the taste.
Alas, we here on this side of LA don’t have many choices to enjoy the finer bottles when going out drinking. I pretty much thought it begins and ends with the always marvelous Thirsty Crow on Sunset. (I’m going to omit Seven Grand as that becomes a Downtown thing.) So after getting a few hints from Anthea, my editor at the Patch, we decided for a field trip of some local joints who carry themselves a whiskey game.
First stop, the new Mess Hall restaurant in Los Feliz. Long ago, this place was an original Brown Derby and even more recently its been a chain in the Louise's Trattoria franchise. Being a themed restaurant, this place doesn’t have that wooden, smoky ambience that screams out for a serious rye. In fact, with its campground/state park feel, it feels more like a hot cocoa spot. Kind of an extension of The Bigfoot Lodge right down the street. But there were indeed some shiny, muscular bottles on the top shelf of the bar so I sampled a Hudson Rye (from the only distillery in NYC) and my mate had a Kilchoman Sherry Cask. The drams were great and we did enjoy the taste, but the place itself didn’t feel right for a slow sip. It quickly became super-packed, the wait became very huge and with our seats at the oyster bar in full view of the lobby, we felt the heat from waiting patrons for sipping our spirits too slowly.
Next up was a trip down Hillhurst to the edge of Silver Lake for The Virgil, another new establishment where the former Little Temple used to be. (Anyone remember The Garage?). Immediately, we both felt the right vibe in both décor and character. The Virgil has received some proper notices for their “Whiskey Wednesdays”, where a flight of pours are curated for you on the spot by their in-house tippler, Adam.
Their selections were impressive and Adam walked the walk with his knowledge of spirits. I took down a Willet 5 Year Rye and the Glenmorangie Filial (a brilliant scotch which has survived in the highlands since the middle ages). My better half had a Scappa and tried the Hudson’s Bourbon.
Chatting about good stores to take home hard-to-find whiskeys with Adam, we told him about our long drives to Van Nuys’ Liquor Depot. He turned us on to Bar Keeper in the Sunset Junction. Strange, I had been there years ago but never remembered seeing any liquor for sale there. Apparently much has happened right under our nose as their for-sale collection has become recommended by his fellow enthusiasts.
So, we went a few blocks east to the heart and soul of America’s Hippest Neighborhood, found some rock star parking on Sunset and ducked into Bar Keeper.
Yep, we weren’t disappointed. All the rad vintage bar accessories, sexy glassware, and galaxies of oddball bitters were all there just like I remembered.
But, by God, look at that wall of liquor!
It was pretty busy as we’re knee deep in the holiday season so we weren’t able to chat too much with the owner, but they were well-stocked on all sorts of high-end ryes, scotches, bourbons and more and we liked the diversity that we saw. The prices looked a little pricier than our go-to spot in the Valley, but for the convenience of a neighborhood specialty store, this place is a gem.
So there you have it…a quickie little sampling of whiskey hotspots within side street radius. Since we stock our own home bar with our faves, we close out our long day keeping up with our 4 year old tasmanian devil inside the house and have slagged off on a lot of bar crawling, so if we’re missing anything let us know in the comments.
Here’s to the highlands!
The Thirsty Crow, 2939 W. Sunset Bl.; Mess Hall, 4500 Los Feliz Bl.; The Virgil, 4519 Santa Monica Bl.; Bar Keeper, 3910 W. Sunset Bl.