Sunday, July 24, 2011

Drinking in the Library

Cocktail made with ripe tomatoes and marjoram
Cicero once said "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

I'm sure that Cicero was thinking about books, not cocktails. But even Cicero would have loved the Library Bar at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

The hotel was built in 1927, and hosted the first Academy Awards event in 1929 in its ballroom. It's been the home of Hollywood stars from Charlie Chaplin to Marilyn Monroe. If you enter the dark, Spanish style lobby from the tawdry glitz of Hollywood Boulevard, after marveling at the painted ceiling, you might be drawn to the restaurant at the back of the hall, or you might seek out the exclusive Teddy's nightclub where Paris Hilton has been known to party.

But if you walk past the inner fountain and walk down a dark colonnade along the east side of the lobby, you'll come to a small dark bar called the Library Bar.

When we arrived on a Saturday evening, there were just a handful of customers. The three stools at the bar were already occupied, so we took a seat at a low table flanked by leather tufted couches and deep clubby armchairs.

The first thing you notice about the bar is that there are bunches of herbs arrayed along its top. Bartender Matt Biancaniello is no ordinary bartender - he's a superb mixologist who crafts seasonal cocktails using fresh, organic ingredients from the Farmers Market.

There are some surprising combinations. You might get a cocktail made with yellow cherry tomatoes and purple shiso leaf. You might enjoy a martini where the alcohol is flamed to roast a garnish of bell pepper right in your glass.

A flaming bell-pepper martini
Matt approached our table and asked us what we would like to drink that evening. He explained that there isn't a menu, that if we were adventurous, he'd make us a drink based on what we told him about our tastes. [The Man I Love] mentioned that he enjoyed rum.

Rum with muddled yellow raspberries and sage
When he asked me, I was at first at a loss for words.

I said I didn't want something that was too sweet - and he asked me if I liked strawberries and 25 year aged balsamic vinegar.

Goodness! Not what you'd expect in a bar!

This is Matt's Last Tango in Modena cocktail. When he served it, he made a point of telling me it was to be served without a straw, so the liquid could be sipped through the foam. I touched my tongue to the foam - it was faintly sweet, flavored with the elderflower liqueur St. Germain. The garnet-colored liquid beneath was tangy with fruit and the deep acid of the vinegar. When sipped through the sweet foam, it was a complex and tasty experience - rich yet refreshing, and never cloying. One large block of ice rested in the center of the heavy old-fashioned glass. I was not surprised to learn that the drink was made with Hendricks gin - an herbal and aromatic gin, Hendricks goes great with St. Germain.

You can read about Matt and the Library Bar at this article in the Los Angeles Weekly, and if you want to try the Last Tango in Modena cocktail yourself, I've copied it from another Weekly article below:

Last Tango in Modena
Makes: 1 cocktail

2 ounces Hendricks gin
1 ounce aged balsamic vinegar
4 strawberries
St. Germain foam (see recipe below)

1. Muddle the strawberries and balsamic vinegar.
2. Add Hendricks.
3. Shake and strain into old fashioned glass over ice.
4. Top with St. Germain foam and garnish with a strawberry.

To make St. Germain foam
Makes: Enough to top off four cocktails

2 ounces Saint Germain
2 ounces egg white
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in an ISI foam charger and charge. If you don't have an ISI foam charger dry shake 3/4 ounce egg white with 3/4 ounce St. Germain and layer on top of your drink.

Matt is that rare thing in the hospitality industry - a self-taught bartender. The Library Bar's success revolves around his creativity and dedication to his craft. One Yelp commenter likened his approach to "Cocktail omakase."

An arugla mojito
If you're in Los Angeles and feeling adventurous - go have a drink at the Library.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Those all look great. I used to make good Bloody Marys, but now they don't taste right anymore.

Perhaps I'll have to return to Barbados sometime and bring back more Lottie's Bajan Hot Sauce

Kate said...

These unusual drinks sound amazing. How fun to have the chance to say what you like (and don't like) and have some wonderful potion fashioned. Yum.