Osso’s Cocktails Drink Like Fine Wine

Darwin Manahan’s libations at the new, no-frills DTLA restaurant are sublimely balanced and ever so quaffable

The veritable menagerie that was once the One-Eyed Gypsy in Downtown L.A., which closed about a year ago, now harbors an airy, no-frills, 45-seat restaurant called Osso (Italian for “bone”) from Dana Hollister, Pierre Casanova (Cliff’s Edge) and Ami Lourie.

A few relics remain from the Gypsy days, like the stage, some lighting fixtures, and a statue of a maiden that once towered over the center of the bar—and the bar, though still the same wood and resin top since the space housed Bordello Bar, is home now to a new cocktail program designed by Darwin Manahan, formerly of Corazon y Miel and Punch (he’s  currently heading the bar program at Cliff’s Edge as well).

Even the wine list, which boasts a small selection of California, French, and Italian wines—all $10 a glass or $40 per bottle (and one $70 Barolo)—expertly curated by Lourie in partnership with John Koehnen of Revel Wines, takes a bit of a backseat to the inventive and sublimely balanced cocktails from Manahan. But that seems to be how Lourie likes it, and he was careful to put together a team of people he knew could work well together and have fun.

Darwin Manahan's takes a hyper-local approach to craft cocktails
Darwin Manahan’s takes a hyper-local approach to craft cocktails

Photograph by Jonathan Cristaldi

During Osso’s soft opening, Manahan, who prefers a hyper-local approach to craft cocktails, talked through a few of his initial offerings, which are refreshing, balanced, and often surprising as his quaffs act like fine wine, developing complex flavors and aromas in the palate and leading to finishes that are long and pleasant. Here’s what he had to say.

Hola Chingon: “This is our playful version of the Adios cocktail (which is made with gin, vodka, tequila and rum, Blue Curacao, then topped with Sprite). Instead of the Curacao, we make the blueberry cordial, and we went with a blanco Tequila—100 percent agave—which stands out but isn’t too pronounced or peppery, and replaced the Sprite with cava and lime juice, topped with angostura.”

Padre: “I grew up with kalamansi fruit, which is a cross between a cumquat and a mandarin, and typically only found in the Philippines, but Filipinos here in L.A. have brought in their own kalamansi trees, so the fruit comes from three backyard family trees and is in season all summer long. Growing up during the summer my dad would make us kalamansi juice, and that’s our version of lemonade. I muddle the entire fruit and leaves, add in Ford’s gin and some citrus—and serve it in a Tom Collins glass.”

The Beaverdusa and Portola
The Portola and Beaverdusa Punch

Photograph courtesy of Osso

Portola: “Not long ago, I saw this technique with a honey candle where they use the aroma of the candle to flavor the cocktail. You build out the base of an Old Fashioned, but instead of utilizing the oils of an orange or lemon peel, you’re using the essential oils from the actual candle wax, which I strain off, so you’re going to get the taste of honey, but not the sweetness. We top off with bee pollen, and get the pollen and candles from the farmers’ market in Santa Monica.”

Beaverdusa Punch: We wanted to have a namesake punch and this is our experiment. I blend several different whiskies along with gold sencha tea mixed with different types of spices. I get it from Little Tokyo, which pays homage to the area while the whiskey pays homage to the One-Eyed Gypsy, and I use oleo-saccharum, a common ingredient in most punches. I throw in some red peppercorn, cloves and allspice berries and steep that into the tea along with some St. Germain for its floral qualities.”

“When we were designing these drinks, I wanted to make it short and sweet, fun, and build the program around the food,” explained Manahan.

“And the food is meant to make you feel good,” Lourie interjects.

And it does—highlights are the Onion Rings, Foie Gras Torchon, Hamachi Crudo, and Fried Chicken. Chef Nick Montgomery (formerly or Blackbird in Chicago and The Brooklyn Star) is from Alabama and “grew up eating proper skillet fried chicken, and that’s our showpiece,” says Lourie (the two met while working at Ssam Bar when Lourie was then GM at Momofuku and Montgomery was a line cook).

Osso is a no-tip restaurant, and every drink and check includes a 20 percent service charge with no additional line for tipping.

“For us to pay a bartender a living wage, rather than depending on the kindness of strangers, we decided to set a fair wage fee,” explained Lourie. “You’re not paying for frills. We did what was necessary to make Osso comfortable to eat and drink.”

redarrowOsso, 901 E. 1st Street, 213-880-5999