L.A. Cocktail: Esters Wine Shop & Bar in Santa Monica

The 10 drinks at this Santa Monica favorite cover the craft cocktail waterfront with aplomb—plus they are now catering to the woke agenda

Angelenos have been going to Esters Wine Shop & Bar for years—to taste new vintages, drink old favorites, and purchase bottles in their sunny shop-dining room bar and patio. It never occurred that their artisanal cocktails might be just as compelling as the vino and now we have been proven wrong. Under the direction of mixologist and bar manager Jonah Atkins, their list of ten drinks cover the craft cocktail waterfront with aplomb.

None of the wines offered for bottle purchase or consumption on-site at Esters are produced with chemicals, and Atkins has also gone the sustainable route at the bar. Vegan vodka made of distilled corn is popular with the Santa Monica crowd, as are the carefully concocted organic mocktails ($10). 

“That started the first of the year when a lot of people were doing dry January,” says Atkins. “They are still big sellers.”

Esters Wine Shop & Bar
Esters Wine Shop & Bar

If your jam is farm-to-glass, rest assured all juices and mixes are hand-made with fresh produce. On the other hand, if you get tense just hearing the word vegan, rest assured that there’s something for you as well. Atkins says that his Millennial guests like the fact that there are healthier liquid choices. But if you’re going to drink, why mix with the purest ingredients?

After moving to Santa Monica for college, Atkins remained in town and entered restaurant work. Having already served food and wine for 15 years, just over a year ago he became a mixologist. That’s when he quickly figured out that many of his guests like drinks that mask the taste of alcohol, so designed a number of choices for them. If you don’t want a strong taste of spirits, try the Mallow Spritz. Its base is vodka but the perky mix of amaro, hibiscus, and lemon is dominant. An experienced cook, Atkins says he is always experimenting with ingredients, getting a kick out of naming his creations: The Lost Boy, The Black Pearl, and When Doves Cry.

The Pantera Rosa ($16) with Mezcal, blood orange syrup, lemon juice, and firewater bitters is a favorite of those in the know. Atkins added the bitters for a hit of spice. Bright and refreshing it’s spot on for day drinking or evening imbibing on the patio and a perfect accompaniment to the clever snacks menu. Pairing craft cocktails with small bites and plates is akin to choosing the right food and wine combination; something that Atkins and Chef Sheyna McCallister have worked on to get just right.

VIP snacks (lavender almonds, olives, curry cashews and corn nuts) are the perfect accompaniment for Esters’ Old Fashioned ($16). Often thought of as the choice of the harder drinkers, Atkins has reinvented the venerable tipple. It’s made with bourbon and bitters, as usual, but the booze is infused with Earl Gray tea and finished with rosemary. It’s still a serious cocktail, but it’s been made modern.

The Gold Digger ($18) is a stand-out, with Pinhook bourbon, pickled peaches, pineapple, lemon, and a dash of cinnamon. Garnished with a peach slice, it’s recommended with the sweet and salty smoky empress dates. If you’re a spice-averse drinker, When Doves Cry ($16) might be a bit too hot, but if not, it’s an ingenious interpretation of a marguerite with strawberry agave and pear brandy.

Esters Wine Shop and Bar is casual, breezy, and serious about food and drink without being pompous. The neighbors, regulars, and wine shoppers end up chatting, often over a fancy cocktail. And Atkins is always there with a clever suggestion up his sleeve.

Esters Wine Shop & Bar
1314 7th Street, Santa Monica
Monday-Saturday, noon to 10 pm
Sunday, noon to 9 pm
Happy Hour: 4 pm to 6 pm daily

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