If you haven’t been to Caña Rum Bar in Downtown for awhile, you’re in for a surprise the next time you visit. As of December, the cocktail program at the casual members-only bar (anybody can join for $20 a year) has been greatly streamlined and simplified. Gone is that selection of humorously named original cocktails by the bartenders and acting general manager Danielle Crouch, who is on a leave of absence through February to care for her critically ill mother.
The new menu was set in place after Crouch left, and it’s a short one of classic rum cocktails–like the Cuba Libre, Mojito, and Zombie–put together by Eric Alperin, the beverage director for Caña owner 213 Nightlife.
It’s a jarring change for longtime fans of the bar, which opened in 2010. “The new cocktail menu at Caña shows none of the imagination or flair that made it one of the best in the city. Sad times,” Caña regular and Lush Angeles cocktail blogger Ron Dollete lamented on social media. “I know what kind of heights Caña is capable of, and that menu doesn’t reflect that ambition. Not in the slightest. That’s why I was so surprised.”
For general manager Allan Katz, who opened the bar and created its cocktail menus before going on disability in March 2013, classic rum cocktails don’t show off what the spirit can do. And that’s why he went in a different direction for the bar’s initial cocktail program–a direction that Crouch maintained while standing in for Katz after he went on disability.
In Crouch’s last fall menu, the result of previous collaborations with Katz, Tanqueray’s Old Tom gin was taken to a tropical place via the On the Lam cocktail, which mixed the spirit with coconut cream and spiced it up with Cardamaro. Rye was used in the Pumpkin Colada. In the Funky Brewster, rum accompanied cognac in a beer cocktail.
“At Caña, we are out to prove that rum is as noble a spirit as whiskey or agave or anything else the people idolize. And the best way to showcase its versatility, range, and power is to juxtapose it with other spirits,” Katz says of his vision, which has now been superseded by Alperin’s cocktail menu. “So we’ve gone through great lengths to tropicalize other cocktails and bring them a little closer to what you would expect from rum while using rum as a base in cocktails where you might expect to see other spirits. Therefore proving its nobility.”
Katz says he always had the support of 213 Nightlife. But it’s clear that Caña has veered away from its original point of view.
Katz attributes the failure of most rum bars to programs that don’t convey a genuine love of rum. “Let the spirit speak for itself. Set it up next to other things, do it consistently,” he says. “It wins your guest’s trust. And once you have their trust, they’re going to come back and that’s what works for us. That’s what built Caña.”
The powers that be at 213 Nightlife declined to comment on the reason for the menu change except to say that “there are more changes afoot on the Caña menu, and both [213 founder] Cedd [Moses] and Eric [Alperin] would like to wait until they’re worked out before any media promotion.”
In a written statement, Crouch says: “Under Eric Alperin’s guidance, the menu changed as soon as I left. Eric is one of the most respected figures in our industry and save for a pair of holdovers [the Brazilian Necktie and Rum and Coconut Water cocktails from the old menu], the new menu and its execution are entirely his. To the best of my knowledge, they’re upholding our house-made ingredient standards (Allan’s orgeat recipe is worthy of North Korean theft) and keeping our members happy to be part of the club.”
In any case, it will be interesting to see where the bar goes from here and if it will be able to hold onto its loyal patrons while continuing to attract new ones with its simpler program.