Murph’s Service Station Serves Up Vanilla Rum Floats and Cake Cocktails

A closer look at Sherman Oaks’ newest cocktail bar

Richard DiSisto, owner of Tipple & Brine and Tunnel Bar, continues his Sherman Oaks reign of improvements with his third effort Murph’s, which opens Monday in the former Mad Bull’s Tavern space. Unlike Mad Bull’s, a sports bar with 32-ounce “bull-sized” cocktails and a dozen TVs, Murph’s is going for a simpler, more focused approach. “Straight-up, stripped-down Americana. I didn’t want to overcomplicate it,” said DiSisto.

The bar/restaurant, which has regular-size drinks and considerably fewer televisions, is done up like an Art Deco-era service station belonging to an imaginary mechanic named “Murph.” Wrenches replace the 20 beer tap handles, vintage motor oil cans sit among the bottles of booze on the wall, and a garage door separates the outdoor patio from the dining room.

The food menu by Chef Mike Williams (Tipple & Brine) even harkens back to those days before dietary restrictions complicated everything. “Murph” lives on a steady diet of meat which you, too, can enjoy in the form of pig ear fries, braised bacon, fried chicken biscuit sandwich, and a meat board of housemade charcuterie. They’ll break down the pig on the premises and use every part of the animal.

To keep in line with the “good ol’ days” concept, cocktail consultant Christopher Day (Honeycut, Cole’s) focused on American whiskies and approachable cocktails ($10 each). “[The food menu is] Americana and simple, but at the same time it’s got a lot of stuff that not a lot of people have heard of. So I wanted to emulate that with all the drinks. Very big, robust flavors but not reinventing the wheel at all,” said Day, who was asked to do the list at Murph’s after he took over as bar manager for Daniel Zacharczuk at Tipple &Brine.

Although he’s a cocktail geek who studied organic chemistry at UCLA, you won’t find centrifuges, liquid nitrogen, or foams here. Instead they’re classically-inspired drinks made from quality spirits. They won’t go over the head of the Average Joe, a.k.a. Murph. “I figure this was a time to showcase really simple stuff and how really simple things can taste insane like you’ve never had before,” said Day.

Although the motley crew of bartenders knows basic cocktail technique—like how a Manhattan should be stirred not shaken—the only real sort of “mixology” at Murph’s is what Day calls “anti-mixology”: pre-batched mixtures. All the spirits in the cocktail recipe are batched together beforehand, leaving the bartender to simply add ice as well as citrus, bitters, or sweetener. This ensures quick, consistently good cocktails.

Here’s a look at a few of the drinks off Murph’s opening 10-cocktail menu with some insight from Day.

Murph’s Vanilla Coke: “[The pre-batch] mix was made with Giffard Madagascar vanilla and Flor de Cana 7-year. This also comes as a float if you like. We can put a little vanilla ice cream on top with some black salt. Insanely simple. I don’t know why no one thought of this before because it’s like vanilla Coke.”

The Cake Is a Lie: “It’s our one vodka drink—with vodka, Giffard orgeat, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of creme de cacao. So it’s kind of like a riff on a 20th Century but with vodka and orgeat instead of Lillet and gin.” The name is also a geeky reference to the video game Portal. Note: It really does taste like cake.

Bus to Beelzebub: “I made it for a Harvard & Stone R&D once. I was actually using my friend’s company Picklin’ Fools based in downtown. They made these habcheriños [habañero-pickled cherries] and I made an entire list of drinks focused on using their pickling stuff as the garnishes and this was one of them. I really liked it so I tweaked it a little bit. This drink uses Pierde Almas and Ancho Reyes liqueur because I love Alex Straus [Grandpa Johnson’s] and the Bon Vivants and I wanted to put them someplace in the Valley so they would come over here.”

Machine Head: “This is just an homage to me. Purely selfish. It’s basically a riff on Penicillin and a Gold Rush. It’s ginger, honey, bonded bourbon and Fernet. It’s one of those rich, bitter drinks that will help cut through the fat if they’ve been drinking a lot near the end of their meal. It starts off nice and citrusy and gingery and refreshing and has that bite near the end.”

redarrow Murph’s Service Station, 14649 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks