When a big-name bartender leaves a restaurant bar they helped create it usually triggers an “uh-oh” moment. Will the restaurant scale back on the importance of its cocktails or is it all downhill from here for quality drinks? Such was the worry when Alex Straus (formerly of Bon Vivants) departed from E.P & L.P. last year after a seven-month stint. After all, the big guy had debuted a memorable bar program, as well as established a buzz-worthy guest bartender program which became the talk of the L.A. bar community. How could anyone follow that?
Fortunately bartenders Adam Nystrom (Harlowe) and Brittney Olsen (Break Room 86) did. Their new cocktail programs, which debuted last month, still celebrate the fun-to-drink philosophy that Straus had established but seriously up the “ooh!” factor with thoughtful and innovative flavor combinations and gorgeous presentations. Now, there are cocktails served out of grapefruit and even cricket garnishes.
And it’s not all esoteric, but rather approachable and damn right fun. They’ve got unusual takes on classics like a boba version of the Jungle Bird Tiki cocktail, a tequila Negroni, and a mezcal Cosmopolitan.
To help keep each space food-focused and party-focused, the two bartenders divvied up the bars. Nystrom, who was in EP/LP’s opening crew, took command of EP’s cocktail menu downstairs, featuring food-friendly drinks that incorporate the Southeast Asian elements Chef Louis Tikaram uses. Olsen helms the upstairs bars and showcases whimsical cocktails at LP and a serious agave program at Frankie’s. The bartenders’ programs are each distinctive but still mesh with the overall theme of playful creativity with fresh ingredients.
Nystrom’s drinks, like in any restaurant cocktail program, complement the food, rather than overpower flavors with too much booze. “I always like the flavors to show through, really clear and concise with spirits that support them. But always highlight ingredients first,” he says.
He also uses the fresh juices (citrus, jicama, pineapple, beets) made by former Roger Room bartender Jason Bran who fresh presses it for the restaurant through his farmers market juicery Greenhouse. “Working with him it gives us the opportunity to work with machinery no one else has,” says Nystrom. “I know less than five restaurants in the city that have machines on the level of his.”
Standout cocktails off EP’s menu include the Silly Rabbit made with fresh pressed carrot juice and housemade almond cereal milk, the Mango Lassi-inspired Bollywood Nights, and my personal favorite, the Machete Blanco, which is a sipper of bitterness and tequila. And thankfully Black Thai Optional, the charcoal cocktail from last year, is still available.
On the roof, Olsen is focusing on crowd-friendly, low-ABV drinks interspersed with potent varieties. She wants people to be able to hang out longer and enjoy themselves while trying new things. There are light Tiki options like the Rebel Rebel, made with pisco. “Some Tiki drinks hit you over the head with a dark rum. This is a little lighter. Fresh for the roof and for the season,” she says.
Her boba cocktails are new and improved with bursting boba pearls that add a juice element to the drinks. And there’s something for everyone, from the Straight Outta Melrose (with pomegranate boba) and Thunderstruck (with canteloupe boba) for vodka drinkers to the Tiki-inspired Californication (with passion fruit boba) for the cocktail-savvy.
But where LP is the party, Frankie’s is more Mexican spirit focused with modern cocktails for the adventurous drinker. This is where you’ll find that cricket garnished drink—Creep, made with blanco tequila and Aperol—and the mezcal Cosmo, Second Hand Smoke. The backbar also stocks bacanora, sotol, and other swoon-worthy agave.
So for those who worried about ever being able to get a good drink at a post-Straus EP/LP, Nystrom and Olsen got you. And yes, they’re looking to bring back the guest bartender series on the roof when the weather warms up.
E.P. & L.P., 603 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-856-9955