For the first time ever I was sad after doing a shot. Actually mournful because the drink was gone from my life so fast. But Grandpa Johnson’s and Bon Vivant bartender Alex Straus swore the best way to enjoy his crafted version of the party shot, Mind Eraser, was to suck it down quickly through straws. Not in order to get a head rush, but to create an “Everlasting Gobstopper” effect.
“At first it’s going to be strong and sweet, then going to go up through the spice and afterward you’re going to get this wonderful citrus beer effect,” said Straus. “Coffee and grapefruit is a natural pairing and the Ancho chile just gives it a wonderful spice.”
His fancified Mind Eraser—a mix of vodka, Kahlua, Stiegl Radler and topped with Ramazotti—is an off-the-menu cocktail at Johnny Zander’s new Hollywood bar Grandpa Johnson’s, whose official grand opening was a month ago. But that crafted shot is indicative of the bar’s cocktail philosophy. Although there’s a strict dress code of Pour Vous proportions the drink list is actually not high-falutin’. “I definitely needed to go approachable as we’re in Hollywood and there’s less exception for things that are super out there and extreme,” said Straus. Plus he likes expanding horizons. “It’s more fun seeing the people say, ‘a-ha! I like this!’ than catering to people that think they know more than you.”
You may not be able to walk in through the front door in your casual Friday attire but Straus’ cocktail program isn’t brown spirits heavy, nor is it even farmers market fresh. “I am proud to say after bartending in Hollywood for a better part of seven years, there’s not one muddled cocktail on the menu,” he beamed. “I felt like with this place, once we get rolling, we’ll be very busy and very high volume.”
The only ingredient they really make are the syrups, The Bon Vivants signature touch. “I like a lot of quality modifiers. They really help base spirits to shine.” And for Straus it’s all about showcasing multiple flavor combinations in well-balanced cocktails where you can taste every single ingredient.
Every kind of drinker will find something he or she likes on this short list of sessionable drinks: Tiki refreshment, tea cocktail, and even the stirred aromatics are light. But why only eight drinks rather than a compendium of choices? Because, said Straus, with a top-notch staff of bartenders, including the likes of Lauren September (Spare Room), Gracy Ramirez (Dominick’s), Joseph Brooke (The Formosa), and Erik Trickett (320 Main) they don’t need printed suggestions of what to make.
However, if you’re the sort who likes to be steered in the right direction, start with the first cocktail on the list, and the most popular, the Decadente. It’s actually a refreshing mezcal drink for a change; long and tropical-esque with green tea and guava. “You’re really getting the essence of that smokiness, surrounded by really approachable flavors.”
Or check out the T-Bizz. “The Angel’s Envy goes great with a longer whiskey cocktail with a little amaro and whiskey-ginger thought process,” said Straus.
Beer drinkers and oenophiles aren’t left out either. The beers on tap are conducive for quaffing, like a not-so-heavy Ayinger Celebrator doppelbock, grapefruit beer Stiegl Radler, Allagash White, and more. And since Zander and his friends are big wine drinkers, the wine selection is extensive for a cocktail bar with six reds, five whites and some sparkling.
Just remember, though: No shorts and flipflops or no service.