10 Best Cocktail Menus of 2018

Best cocktail menus Bar Centro
Best cocktail menus Big Bar NYE

Big Bar’s NYE cocktail menu with artwork by Dave Stolte

Nowadays, a cocktail bar has to do more than simply follow a classic cocktail template to turn heads. Housemade ingredients and a strong garnish game aren’t going to cut it anymore. Besides, there are so many great bars with new ones practically opening every day, not to mention the breadth of talented bartenders in L.A. So what can a bar do to truly be considered outstanding? For one, have a unique and well-thought-out cocktail menu.

And in 2018, the following Los Angeles bars did just that. I have to give them props for not just creating theme menus with clever names but giving careful consideration to technique, glassware, appearance, ingredients, and, in some cases, Spotify playlist to drive the theme home. These are definitely the best theme cocktail menus of the year.
 

Otium’s Jonathan Gold Menu

 

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Because only Jonathan Gold could inspire such an epic cocktail menu. Each of the 14 cocktails off the menu are based on restaurants that Gold had reviewed. His quotes from each review and even an illustration of the restaurant accompany each drink description. But the best part is how each cocktail emulates each restaurant. Republique is a combination of the two most popular cocktails at Manzke’s restaurant done up Halo Halo style, Rivera is a take on the restaurant’s famous Barbacoa, and Copa d’Oro on Vincenzo Marianella’s Smoke of Scotland cocktail. I mean, come on! It’s brilliant. And yeah, some of the liquid translations aren’t exactly perfect — Republique’s swizzle is a bit too sweet and Petit Trois’ Pina Colada variation a bit too thin — but there are more hits than misses here. The menu will be available through March so definitely check it out while you can.
 

Big Bar’s New Year’s Eve Menu

 

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It seems no one loves New Year’s Eve as much as Big Bar. The Los Feliz drinkery doesn’t just throw a blowout shindig with champagne toasts. Because that would be boring. Every freaking year the bar team has to outdo itself, starting off with celebrating each timezone’s midnight. They usually select a country/city from the timezone and then create not only a cocktail but a playlist inspired by said country/city. Just that alone is awesome. But this year, with the help of artist Dave Stolte, they created travel stickers of each destination to attach to the cocktail menu, which is a suitcase! The goal is show up at the first toast at 3pm and then stick around to celebrate each timezone New Year collecting ‘em all. If anything, Big Bar makes it easy to either pregame before your main NYE party or hang out til LA’s own champagne toast.
 

Bar Joe’s Thanksgiving Courses

 

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Bars doing cocktail flights isn’t a new thing. But when it’s done well with such consideration to a theme, well-executed and fun to boot, yeah, that’s worth checking out. And for Thanksgiving this year Beverage Director John “Puddles” Neumueller had created five cocktails representing each component of a turkey dinner: Turkey with turkey fat-washed whiskey, Stuffing with herbed honey, Green Bean Casserole with pickled green bean garnish, Cranberry Sauce with warm cranberry foam and Sweet Potato Pie with sweet potato honey. Guests could either order a flight of tasting portions or a regular-size cocktail a la carte.
 

Duello’s illustrated Arts District History Cocktail Menu

 

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Sure, Duello’s barman Iain McPherson is from Edinburgh and actually still commutes from Scotland to L.A. every few months, but you gotta love that he created an illustrated cocktail menu celebrating the Arts District’s history. “Chapter 1” of the menu details L.A.’s wine roots in the early 18th-19th century and backs this up with cocktails featuring wine. The subsequent sections cover citrus groves, artist communities and finish on current culinary trends. And even the 16 cocktails range in format from sherry-based, tiki and smoked. For a show order up one of those smoked cocktails, like the Homeward Bound. McPherson employs the same smokey reveal that he performs at his Edinburgh bar, Panda & Sons.
 

Ever Bar’s Emmys Menu

 

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In honor of the Emmys back in September, Ever Bar Beverage Manager Dan Rook and his team, which includes Saeed House and Alexis Stier, created a themed menu of 10 cocktails inspired by Emmy award-winning shows. Each cocktail tribute incorporates some element of a show in creative and often showy ways: Game of Thrones involves a torch and a block of ice, the Glow tropical drink contains a glowing ice cube, Stranger Things has an Eggo-infused bourbon, and the Handmaid’s Tale Tom Collins variation is a vibrant red thanks to housemade strawberry soda. Not only were these fun to see but they were well-crafted with quality ingredients and tasty. The Emmys menu is gone but the team is currently working on one for the upcoming Oscars. Can’t wait!
 

Redbird’s Garden Menu

 

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Forget about farm-to-glass, Redbird is doing up GARDEN-to-glass cocktails, yes, from its own damn garden at Vibiana! The beautiful garden located behind the cathedral is actually an event space and not open to the public. But you still get to enjoy the bounty of its first growing season and harvest through cocktails by the brilliant Tobin Shea. The menu booklet is done up like a vintage Burpee Seeds catalog and each drink is inspired by different flowers or produce from the garden. The Scotch Bonnet is a smokey scotch cocktail with Scotch Bonnet tincture, the Strawberry Blonde features strawberry-infused vodka. You can still order up these cocktails through April 2019.
 

Walker Inn’s Summer Music Festival Menu

 

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This hidden bar in Normandie Club made a name for itself as having the most elaborate themed cocktail tasting menu backed up by impeccable hospitality. They’ve since relaxed a bit on the themes, going more with seasonal cocktails vs. thematic In N Out trays and rolling fog, but it’s still fun to check out. For this past summer, the five-course cocktail tasting experience took you to music festivals with Polaroid selfies, flower crowns and aura cleansing. I had fun covering it for KCRW’s Good Food: take a listen.
 

Bar Centro’s Bazaar Cocktail Flight

 

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Remember when molecular mixology was a thing? No doubt Chef Jose Andres helped fuel that trend through The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel. And although the Magic Mojito doesn’t get as many oohs and aahs as it did when it first debuted 10 years ago, it’s still a favorite off the list. But now there’s a new cocktail experience that’s great for the ‘Gram: Bazaar cocktail flights. For $55, guests at Bar Centro can run through six mini molecular mixology-based cocktails. Some of the cocktails are classics off the Bazaar menu, such as the liquid nitro Caipirinha and the Smoke on the Water. It’s definitely fun to do with a drinking buddy especially since you’ll want someone taking a video of you knocking back a mini porron of cava and a cocktail from a smoking glass pipe.
 

Here’s Looking at You Menus

 

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Honestly, it’s hard to pick one favorite menu from HLAY this year since they are each well-done, not only in consideration of each menu’s theme but its commitment, which often involved a Spotify playlist. And this past spring, cocktail consultants Allan Katz and Danielle Crouch handed over the barspoon to Bar Director Harry Chin who continues to have fun with the program. The HLAY cocktail menus have always presented a theme — whether L.A. parks or L.A. architecture — and enforced that theme in the cocktail’s style as well as drink description. There is a sort of template to these menus, however, in that you’ll usually be able to find a martini, old fashioned or tiki cocktail variation. But, to me, that’s part of the fun of it. In the current fall/winter menu, which is all about L.A. fashion, there’s a hot pink Rodarte mezcal sour, a Compartes chocolate Old Fashioned and an L.A. Eyeworks Negroni.
 

Melrose Umbrella Co.’s Twin Peaks Menu

 

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Sadly, this menu and pop-up bar at Melrose Umbrella Co. weren’t long for this world, only created December of 2017 and in service through February 2018 to promote Twin Peaks on Showtime. But it was so fun while it lasted. And every detail about the Roadhouse Bar was perfect; it had to be since everything needed to be approved by David Lynch and company first. Huge props to barman Aaron Melendrez for his super fun cocktail takes on that damn fine cherry pie and the Black Yukon Suckerpunch. After seeing what he could do with the Breakfast Club, I had no doubt.

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