West Coast (Cocktail) Swing: Otium, LA
Of the 8 (yes, 8) cocktail bars that we visited during our trip to So Cal, Otium, the new restaurant and cocktail lounge at the Broad Museum, was by far our favorite. When we arrived–straight from the airport, at 11pm, on a Thursday–the museum was long closed, but the bar was bustling. It’s probably the closest thing to a perfect place to enjoy a cocktail we’ve experienced, particularly right now while it’s fresh. Otium has definitely stuck the landing, and they probably know it. But there’s still a feeling of being something of an insider to going there, and–despite the full house–they haven’t quite gotten over the delight when a guest arrives. It’s a nice match to be thinking, ‘I can’t believe we got in so easily,’ and have them react, ‘It’s amazing that people keep showing up.’
The place is bright and airy, with enough wood to give it a comfortable feeling and enough glass to give you an excellent view of both the hyper-modern museum and the 100-year-old olive trees in its plaza. One of only two regrets (the other being that they were out of Yuzu) was that it was just a tad too chilly for us to sit out on the patio.
The bartenders were knowledgeable, friendly, and relaxed. They seemed like they were having a good time making drinks, serving you, and working with one another. To our minds, that’s all too rare. In a profession that’s supposed to be all about helping people have a good time, it seems like bartenders nowadays are very serious people–and as a general rule, the better the drink, the more earnest the bartender. The staff at Otium showed that you can have fun making a good drink. The atmosphere at the bar was loose and comfortable, like we were hanging out with a group of friends, friends who know how to mix truly excellent cocktails.
What We Ordered
- Crabapple: chamomile, verjus, honey, vsop
- (Bartender’s Choice) Red Pilot: aperol, maraschino, gin, mezcal
What Else We Wanted to Order
- Unfiltered Sake: yuzu, green chile, ginger, japanese cucumber, vodka
This looked amazing but they had run out of Yuzu; so we went for the bartenders choice.
What We Thought
The aptly named Crabapple was a pleasantly sippable brandy drink. Verjus, we learned, is basically an unfermented, slightly milder vinegar. The drink was just sour enough to make us pucker a little, and just sweet enough to go down easily.
We liked the Red Pilot even better. It uses three of our favorite ingredients–gin, aperol, and maraschino–and uses them very well. But the star of the drink was the mezcal. We mostly find mezcal tantalizing. It often looks like an interesting change of pace spirit to us. So we order it, but every time end up feeling like the drink is overwhelmed by mezcal’s smokiness. Drinking a mezcal drink is to us like standing next to a campfire when the wind shifts in your direction. We want to enjoy it, but we just can’t. Or we couldn’t until we had Otium’s Red Pilot. The trick is that, instead of using it as a base, they just add a splash of mezcal, to bring just the right smokiness to the drink. We especially enjoyed the way that hint of smokiness played with the bright orange of the aperol and the sour cherry of the maraschino. You can bet we’ll be adding the Red Pilot to our repertoire at home, and every time we drink it we’ll be thanking Otium for the introduction.
Should you go?
It was amazing, and we would go back tomorrow if we could. Head over now, if you can, while it’s still somewhat undiscovered country. I have a feeling that by the next time we get to LA, we’ll have to wait in a very long line before we can order the Unfiltered Sake.