At Viviane, the new Beverly Hills restaurant by Stephane Bombet and Chef Michael Hung, get ready to have the best Cosmopolitan, the best Tequila Sunrise, the best Long Island of your life, according to barman Ryan Wainwright. And he’s not kidding in the least. For the new restaurant’s bar program, Wainwright has taken these drinks, which were previously either misunderstood or just horribly made, and refined them with exacting precision.
But Wainwright’s cocktail menu isn’t trying to follow the recent trend of crafting up bad drinks—the bartender is simply following Chef Hung’s lead in the kitchen. Hung wants to take classic continental cuisine, like the Caesar salad and tuna tartare, and make the absolute best versions possible with the best ingredients, the same exact thing Wainwright is doing with his program. That means familiar cocktails, particularly those with a bad reputation, and rather than being dressed with craft and artisanal frills, they’ll be broken down to their simplest components.
Those unfamiliar with Wainwright’s work may initially dismiss the menu for featuring cocktails that haven’t appeared together since the ’80s and ’90s. And he wants people to do that, at first. “These are all drinks that people know and have seen multiple times. But when the drinks come I want them to be like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the best I’ve ever had,'” he says.
Here, those formerly bad cocktails are tightened up and rounded out. The Long Island’s spirits have been cut down to a half ounce each with the vodka removed. The Vesper is made more like a balanced Martini, rather than a booze bomb of three ounces of spirit.
And for the Cosmopolitan, Wainwright went through 12 vodkas before he found that the Grey Goose tasted the best with the other ingredients. He even sampled different versions of cranberry for the cocktail, like fresh cranberry juice and macerated and strained cranberries. But the cordial ended up being the best for the flavor.
The cordial is about as “fancy” as he gets for this program, however, as he reiterates his intention to return these drinks to a pre-Prohibition form. “It’s really simple, very elegant, not very many ingredients. I’m not using any ingredients that no one’s ever heard of.” Here are more details about some of the reenvisioned classics:
Long Island: “Usually people have had a Long Island and they don’t want a Long Island because they’re adults now and they don’t want to deal with drinking rot gut. It’s a product of sorrow, definitely a sad drink. I just imagine that people who drank it drank it because they wanted to get wasted. So I’m trying to create some balance in the confusion that is the Long Island. But I’m using really good spirits and it’s just balanced perfectly. Coca Cola adds a great weight to the drink and that’s what really makes it round and beautiful. The Long Island here IS daytime-friendly. It’s a half ounce of gin, half ounce of rum, half ounce tequila and half ounce of Cointreau. So all those spirits balanced that way, it’s not going to put you under the table. It comes in a Collins glass instead of a giant pint glass.”
Gimlet: “Usually you get a Gimlet and it’s very tart. So I wanted to figure out a way to make it more drinkable and refreshing and also where you taste the gin. I made it for a guy last night who said he wasn’t a gin drinker. And he drank the whole thing. He said, ‘That was amazing. I can’t even taste the gin!’ And I said, ‘Actually all you’re tasting is the gin.’ But it’s just balanced perfectly. Instead of the usual recipe: 2 ounces of spirit, an ounce of lime juice, an ounce of simple syrup. I’m doing 2 ounces of spirit, an ounce and a quarter of the cordial. So I’m actually bringing it down by half an ounce so the spirit is more the focus.”
Vesper: “The Vesper is a classic drink that’s totally abused. If you order it in most places it’s going to be 3 ounces of spirit, half an ounce of sweetener, no bitters and water. I wanted to put the Vesper into the format it would have come out of, which is the Martini. So what I did was 1 ounce of vodka, 1 ounce of gin, 1 ounce of Cocchi being the sweetener, two dashes of orange bitters, stirred and serving that up with a lemon twist. Ian Fleming took the Vesper out of the common Martini when he was writing the Bond novels and people have interpreted it as this nonsense drink which is just all over the place. It’s like shooting a rocket off into my face. I just wanted to bring it together and get it perfectly rounded.”
There are also DIY Old Fashioneds where you can choose the spirit of your choice. Because, turns out, the bourbon Old Fashioned you know and love wasn’t the original one. Nope, that honor goes to the gin OF according to Wainwright. But by offering the OF in any spirit, he’s hoping to get people talking about it and exploring outside their boundaries. The same goes for the flight of Manhattans on offer. If you can’t make up your mind between the traditional one with rye, the Rob Roy, or the Cuban Manhattan you have the option of ordering all three (about 2 ounces altogether). Lucky Avalon Hotel guests can look forward to bottled versions of the Manhattans available for room service. The flight will transition to Martinis in four months.
But heads-up, check out that Cuban Manhattan. It’s made with the Spanish-style rum and an English-style rum, two different vermouths, a Chinato, and two different bitters. “It’s a lot of ingredients but it’s to create this machine gun effect of flavor,” he explains.
Currently there are only five seats at the bar and Viviane’s dining room will be expanded to take over the leftover Oliverio lounge but Wainwright says more bar seating areas will open up in the future, including the poolside cabanas.
The bar is open til midnight.