"Dangerous" was the word that came to mind when entering the temporary La Maison Cointreau on 627 Carondelet St. It was not the surrounding dilapidated Echo Park adjacent 'hood that evoked this sensation, but the world created within by the 163 year-old liquer company, Cointreau, as part of a multi-city tour they hoped would create buzz among tastemakers and “interesting people.”
Once through the doors, I entered a time warp. It was a non distinct period, a mixture of Belle Epoch revealed by the arched entry hall painted with peacocks in golden and beige hues, and a European cabaret of the1930's complete with female assistants flitting about, their long legs clad in fishnet stockings, topped by
black bob wigs and bowler hats.
A young blond gentleman, most likely an out of work model, welcomed me by handing me a note book inscribed on the cover in gold ink "La Maison Contreau"and a pair of white gloves.
"Please wear them if you wish to skim through the cocktail books in the library. We have the largest and rarest collection."
The interior walls of the building were bare brick. The Cointreau Production team created a makeshift set consisting of portable books shelves, free-standing bars,
candelabras and vintage paintings.
After assaying the foyer, I was given a pink cocktail and ushered into the library for a "tour" led by Alfred, a 6th generation Cointreau, who’s a young man with a thick French accent and a garrulous passion for the family trade.
Still adjusting to the new reality I found myself in, myhead slightly spinning from the few sips of the potent brew I'd been given, I managed to digest a bit of the liquers' heritage.
Cointreau was conceived in 1849, in Anjou, France, also knownas "The Valley of the Kings", by Alfred's ancestors, the brothersAdolphe and Edouard-Jean Cointreau. The recipe has remained the same since 1875, with hand selected bitter and sweet orange peels blended to create the finest quality aromas and taste.
We were then ready for the second and most lethal part of the tour, the tasting in the courtyard.
Glass still in hand, formal waiters passed out a series of black flutes with small amounts of different Cointreau liquors. A middle aged Frenchman from Anjou, and devotee of the Cointreau family, presided over the ritual asking us questions either designed to meter our level of intoxication or our intoxication with the brand.
“What do you smell? How does it taste? What do you notice? How are they
Eager to participate I offered up my observations, all of which seemed to be wrong, as our docent corrected me.
Even more lightheaded than before I began to feel incompetent and vulgar. To me some of the liquors smelled like oranges and rubbing alcohol. Others reminded me of a spa treatment. Like citrus aromatherapy.
When our docent said one in particular reminded him of Tang I felt less declasse.
Once he was through with us we moved onto the 3rd and final stage; the Apothecary. Filled with scents from the Garden of Earthly Delights, the Apothecary consisted of a candlelit room housing a giant long table bedecked in herbs, fruits and mixing paraphernalia. Rosemary, thyme, basil, cucumber, raspberry,kiwi, pineapple and more all at our disposal were there to unleash our inner drunken witch.
Kyle Ford, a bartender from San Francisco oversaw the debauchery, guiding us our first experience of drink concocting.
First he showed us how to make a White Lady, a simple brew consisting of gin, lemon juice and Cointreau. Then we were then encouraged to cut loose and create our own original sample with all the elements at our disposal.
Feeling inspired i began to mesh cucumber, basil and kiwi with a mortar and pestle when one of the Kit Kat girls named Labanna came to my aide, sensing I might need rescuing. Together we managed to mix my drink into something strong and relativelytasty.
She invited Kyle over to reveal the secrets of the legendary Fernet and The Black Lily in honor Lily Hitchcock, who was known to be a drinker and gambler and dress up in men's clothing during prohibition.
"It's a dangerous drink" Kyle stated.
I knew it was time for me to start looking for the exit. Back in the entry hall I spoke to a promoter who said after its L.A. run, La Maison LA, would be venturing off to other cities, to promote "awareness" and "education".
She made it sound like outreach or public service.
I thanked and doddered out of the fantastical Frenchatmosphere and back to the hard reality of the Los Angeles streets to discover I got a parking ticket.
I knew this experience would get me into trouble.