We’ve seen and tasted what mixologist Julian Cox can do with cocktails at high-end spots like Bestia and Rivera; ethnic restaurants like Sotto, Petty Cash, and Picca; and even a soda fountain at Short Order. But how does he translate his brand of cocktailing to a barbecue restaurant in Studio City?
Barrel and Ashes is still foodie-fancy–thanks to its Keller-caliber chefs Timothy Hollingsworth (French Laundry) and Rory Herrmann (Bouchon)—but Cox decided to go with a simple and straightforward approach for his bar program.
“It’s not meant to be insanely inventive,” he said. “It’s supposed to be great, down-home cocktails. I wanted to do something that would be fun and that everybody would get.” Although Ventura Boulevard has slowly been filling in its craft cocktail barhopping options, Cox didn’t want to get geeky with his cocktails “because barbecue’s supposed to be fun.”
So here he’s created barbecue-friendly highballs, sours, and shandies with giggle-inducing names like “Banana Hammock” and “Bee’s Nuts.” None of the ingredients or spirits will go over the heads of casual drinkers. You look at the drink menu and you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.
And although there are two draft cocktails (with room for one more) which involve clarifying and carbonating, the guest wouldn’t know that any sort of “mixology” is involved. All they would notice is that they got their cocktail awfully quick.
Cox also scaled down the menu with the intent of not overwhelming his customers. “I’ve done big menus and they’re fun and great but sometimes the guest gets lost” said Cox. “And we’ve been finding a lot of drinks aren’t selling, not because they’re not great, but because it’s on page 8 and they just haven’t gotten that far.” According to Cox, with a tome-size menu, customers tend to default to the “bartender’s choice” option. But now with a short menu of only nine drinks the restaurant is selling actual specialty cocktails.
Currently the most popular cocktail on the list is the Horse’s Neck, an old cocktail that dates back to the 1890s. But Cox guesses that people are drawn to its simple mix of bourbon, ginger ale, and Angostura. No muss, no fuss. “I say that and we’re obviously carbonating it and clarifying it and putting it on tap so that’s more complicated,” he said. “But to the guest they know what it is and don’t have to think about it too much.”
And of course you can’t have barbecue without beer. The craft beer menu, curated by Cox himself, offers about nine to 12 taps and 15 bottles and cans, ranging from “hard to find” to fun, seasonal beers. But for wine, there are just a red and a white you can purchase as a half carafe.
Julian’s recommended cocktail and barbecue pairings:
- Bee’s Nuts and the smoked meats: “The cocktail has stout, walnuts, lemon. It has all these flavors that go really well with dark meats.”
- The Dapper Apple and Frisco Sour and the pulled pork dishes: “Both cocktails are a little bit lighter in terms of flavors. The pulled pork has a spice to it so these drinks will cut right through that really nicely.”