Let us now praise the occasional libation, the simple pleasure of now and then bending an elbow. It was, of course, inevitable that the properly mixed cocktail would, in time, return. By the properly mixed cocktail, I mean the martini, by which I do not mean a chocolate martini, a green apple martini, a raspberry martini, or a martini with a Swedish meatball bobbing in it.
I mean gin (vodka is tolerated, but barely), a touch of vermouth (dry only) and a nice fat olive; anything else is a hanging offense.
I mean as well a Rob Roy: Three quarters of an ounce of sweet vermouth, and one and a half ounces of Scotch whiskey, stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Clearly a serious drink, sort of a whiskey drinker's version of a martini, a potion for those who aren't embarrassed to let the world know that they enjoy the taste of real whiskey.
Another noble cocktail is the sidecar, a name that comes from the far-too-neat tale that it was invented by a fellow who would travel to his favorite Parisian bistro in the sidecar of a motorcycle during the rough years of World War I. Whether that's apocryphal or not, it was Harry's Bar in Paris (not Venice or Florence) that popularized this mixture of two ounces cognac (or Armagnac), a half ounce of lemon juice and a quarter ounce of Cointreau, shaken with cracked ice, strained into a cocktail glass, and decorated with lemon peel. It's the sort of drink made in places by barkeeps who know how to make the negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) and the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda).
After several panicky years of imbibing white wine spritzers and the occasional blenderized creation, we've come to realize that the bartender who can mix a drink by hand is a holy, blessed soul, and a vanishing breed to boot. No longer can you walk into any bar and ask for drinks like a Rob Roy, a sidecar or a stinger, without sending the blow-dried bartender scuttling for his copy of Mr. Boston if even he has one. But then, though we are not blessed with the dives of New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we are not dry either. Might I suggest the following Los Angeles havens:
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