L.A. Cocktail: Redbird Happy Hour and Bespoke Whiskey

No detail goes unattended at Redbird, where the cocktails are as well designed as the New American food

As a long time fan of chef Neal Fraser, beginning with BLD (R.I.P.), it was time to check back on Redbird, his acclaimed “New American” restaurant in Downtown L.A. After years of renovation, Redbird opened in 2015 in what was the rectory of the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. A space for spiritual worship has become a bastion of culinary artistry where earthier spirits are now honored.

Redbird opened in 2015 in what was once the rectory of the Cathedral of St. Vibiana.

Fraser and his wife/partner Amy Knoll Fraser lovingly restored the building, preserving much of the original architectural elements, but adding the best of modern furnishings and saving it from becoming so authentic that it’s stuffy. They carved out separate areas in the cavernous space making it comfortable rather than intimidating. Every detail is attended to, whether it’s the height of the bar stools or the menus.

Fraser says he and his staff give as much time and attention to their beverages as their food. With that in mind, we checked out Happy Hour one recent evening and found relative bargains in a restaurant with a costly (justly so) menu. There are five cocktails on offer and three wines by the glass (all $11). Being diehard bubbles drinkers, it’s hard to find something affordable for everyday, but Redbird solved that, offering their own cava, Naveran Redbird Cuvee, a collaboration with a Spanish winery.

bartender at redbird pouring
As carefully composed as the food, the cocktails reflect constant attention to detail. (Photo by Antonio Diaz)

Of the five cocktails on offer, we liked Teacher’s Pet with Jack Daniels single barrel rye, Calvados and apple cider—just right for a chilly evening—as well as Moneyball, with single malt and Madeira making for a delectable tipple. And of course, for the price, we had to try Murphy’s Law, a winning cocktail of Courvoisier VSOP with lemon and pepper.

The Happy Hour food menu is short, not pricey—the dishes we tried are $12 each—with the emphasis on meat. The Duck Tostada with mole and pistachios was smooth, well seasoned. They have Shishito Peppers served with bottarga and crispy quinoa instead of the usual pile of peppers in a dish. But the pièce de résistance was the Fish and Chips.

It wasn’t until I tasted their version that I realized why I’ve never been crazy about fish and chips. As expected, Redbird’s coating was fried to delicate perfection, but the fish beneath was a flash of unexpected flavor—clean and vibrant. Most fish and chips don’t have much taste under the crust; easy to get away with when you have something crunchy covering up dull fish. In this everyday snack we see the difference between an accomplished chef and a fry cook.

Redbird’s Rare Character single barrell Bourbon. (Photo courtesy Redbird)

We wondered off the Happy Hour deals to try the cocktails made with whiskeys that the restaurant buys by the single barrel so that they get the right balance and taste. It’s an unusual effort to ferret out the best but that’s par for the course for Fraser. The Old Fashioned ($20) made with Rare Character Redbird Barrel might seem steep, but after tasting their bottling, you’ll understand the price. Along with with bar manager Tobin Shea, Fraser travels the country looking for the best whiskeys at the right price. In the past they’ve even chosen the wood in which the liquor is aged. No detail is too small for Redbird.

For many of us, Redbird is a special occasion, fine dining destination, but customers can enjoy the restaurant without spending like the one percent—sitting in a beautiful room, drinking an outstanding cocktail and noshing on Crispy Duck Wings from the Happy Hour Menu.

Redbird, New American cuisine
114 East 2nd Street
Dinner Wednesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Happy Hour: Wednesday through Friday 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the bar
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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