Rivera: Hot Downtown Bar, Caliente Cocktails

Donaji cocktail
When some of the best bartenders in Los Angeles tell you to check out a certain bar, it’s best that you listen. That’s why I had to stop by Rivera, located near L.A. Live downtown, with some blogger friends in tow. Actually we were there for a hosted dinner to try the restaurant’s food but, to be honest, I was more interested in the cocktails.

Pablo Moix, bartender of West Hollywood’s STK, highly recommended the Blood Sugar Sex Magic ($12), a concoction of rye whiskey, red pepper, agave nectar and basil over a big block of Neve gourmet ice. And apparently I made Rivera’s master mixologist Julian Cox a happy man when I ordered it. He didn’t say why but who am I to question a happy bartender?

The drink was soo delicious, a spicy and yet refreshing cocktail. I sucked that baby down. And the other bloggers — LAOCFoodie (H.C.), RumDood (Matt) and Gourmet Pigs (Fiona) — seemed to like it better than the cocktails they ordered. But I also love the cocktail H.C. ordered, Donaji ($14), which is an unusual mix of mezcal, citrus, pomegranate, agave nectar and Chapulin salt. So aromatic with a lot of kick. I’ve never tasted anything like it and it won’t be the last time as this will be my drink of choice.

The other cocktails on the menu sounded yummy, too, but I was solely in the whiskey mood that night. So for my next drink I asked Julian if he could make a whiskey variation of the menu’s Bobcat cocktail ($12) which usually calls for vodka, strawberries, egg white and peach bitters. He presented me with a sorta whiskey smash with basil. Not what I expected but still tasty all the same.

I could tell that Julian is one of those bartenders whom you can always trust to fulfill your drink desires, like Damian at Bar Lubitsch and, well, any of the bartenders at Copa d’Oro. This DIY option is even listed in Rivera’s cocktail menu as the Bespoke cocktail ($14) where you name your poison and they’ll fill in the blanks.

The restaurant also has an impressive tequila roster which H.C. tried in the form of the three-tequila flight ($10). My favorite of his selection was the vanilla-infused tequila which tasted like candy, and not in that saccharine way. The tequilas were dispensed from an enomatic system like you’d find in some wine bars like Vinum Populi.

From Tasting Table:

But we’re partial to the Tequila on Tap program–a selection of 12 different hand-crafted potions that change frequently, all served from an Enomatic system that keeps things nice and fresh.

It’s no wonder why the bar is my favorite place to sit in this restaurant. So much going on there! When the hostess sat us at a table for four in a corner of the restaurant, we had a great vantage point of our surroundings but I kept wishing I was sitting on the bar stool at the bar, elbows resting on the beautiful highly polished wood bar.

There are a row of chairs available in the bar area but these sorta reminded me of elementary school desks with their little attached trays meant for holding your cocktail and snacks. And they just didn’t look conducive to chatting with friends especially if you’re with a group. The chairs are lined up side-by-side so you’d end up talking to your friends over your shoulder. Nope, the bar stool for me.

As for the food, I tried everything from the Carne Churrasco ($29), the prime “eye” of rib-eye with cabrales and onion foam to some foie gras that nobody at our table remembered ordering to a rich chocolate torte ($7).

We enjoyed the decadence of our meal, the food was OK (the meat of my rib-eye was kinda tough even though I ordered it medium rare), but for me it’s all about the cocktails, especially since the dinner prices exceed my limited budget. But I’d stop by and enjoy some snacks and/or appetizers with my customized cocktails any day. Well, any day/night that Julian is manning the bar.

However, I will say that this is the place to go if you’re looking for an eatery away from the noise and bright lights of L.A. Live. It’s just across the street but it almost feels like a hidden secret from the Staples crowd. And that’s a good thing.

More pics of Rivera.

1050 S Flower Street #102
Los Angeles, California 90015 (map)
(213) 749-1460

Rivera on Urbanspoon

8 Responses to Rivera: Hot Downtown Bar, Caliente Cocktails
  1. Silamith
    March 7, 2009 | 8:11 pm

    Rivera has such an awesome and talented staff, I absolutely love it there!

  2. mattatouille
    March 10, 2009 | 12:18 pm

    I have to check this place out. It’s more on the avant garde side than The Varnish, which is more classic cocktail oriented. I think if I try Bar Lubitsch and Rivera, I will have gone to the best bars in town (maybe add campanile per jonathan gold’s recommendation).

    nice review

  3. Caroline on Crack
    March 10, 2009 | 3:54 pm

    Isn’t it awesome? Really yummy cocktails.

    There’s Copa d’Oro in SaMo, too! Thanks!

  4. Stirred
    March 11, 2009 | 12:48 pm

    Great blog. Can you provide any more details on the Donaji (full recipe, measurements, etc.)? It sounds interesting. Thanks.

  5. John
    March 29, 2010 | 8:38 pm

    Great review! We went to Rivera for cocktails and dinner and thought they were some of the best in the city. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. […] that Arancia Meccanica sounds reminiscent of Rivera’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic cocktail. But I definitely want to check out the Superstizione which reminds me of Damian of the Roger […]

  7. […] still ample good bartenders — like Tricia Alley of Black Market,  Julian Cox of Playa and Rivera, Matthew Biancaniello of Library Bar and Kiowa Bryan of Eveleigh — holding down the […]

  8. […] Rivera: Best Restaurant Bar […]

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