Los Angeles has a number of watering holes where mixing a good drink remains a fine art and the surroundings and finger foods make the libations taste even better

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:

The Grill

9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Perhaps the best American restaurant in Los Angeles, it's a classic in an alleyway in Beverly Hills. The Grill is often compared to New York's Peter Luger's, a venerable spot where the setting is decidedly masculine, the service is perfect, the menu is heavy with steaks and chops, and the portions of vegetables are massive. Expect lots of wood, brass and leather in a room where a martini is the perfect drink, served in the classic style at the sort of bar often found on the East Coast, but too rarely in Los Angeles.

One sip (or perhaps after an olive or an onion), and you'll understand why this is the room that agents from nearby CAA and William Morris think of as their personal commissary. After a hard day wheeling and dealing, a martini is just what the doctor ordered.

Pinot Hollywood

1448 N. Gower St., Hollywood, (323) 461-8800. Like Disneyland, it consists of several mutually exclusive but commonly shared worlds. In the back, sprawling across several rooms, is the martini bar, a true bar and lounge, with a couch area that's long been the destination of choice for the Johnny Depp/Jennifer Aniston wannabe crowd. (And hey, count me in I'd love to be Jennifer Aniston! Great hair!)

What they serve back there are martinis stirred and served up unless requested otherwise in lots of variant and alternative lifestyle forms. Offerings include a JBS martini made with potato vodka (complete with a marinated fingerling spud floating within), a double served in a huge lunch bucket glass, a French martini of Hennessy cognac with a twist, a Cajun martini, an Absolute martini, an infused Finlandia vodka martini, and so forth.

Cafe del Rey

4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 823-6395. This establishment offers one of the finest wine lists in the city, an elegant bar (with Bobby Short-style pianist, of course), and a commanding view of the marina. In fact, this Cal-Asian landmark is one of the best view restaurants in Southern California. Aside from a wide selection of California Chardonnays and Cabs by the glass, Cafe del Rey has a broad selection of vodkas, a fair number of single malts, and a bar staff that knows their potables from their potatoes.

DC3

2800 Donald Douglas Loop North, Santa Monica Airport, (310) 399-2323. The bar at DC3 is a long rectangle with a commanding view of several of the runways. Don't look for 747s screeching to a halt though, for this is a non-commercial airport, favored by Hollywood's power brokers. In other words, it's home to the wonderful world of corporate jets that come streaking in with a sound remarkably like... money. Look for a good number of microbrew beers at the bar.

Note: One of the hangers is home to Jerry Seinfeld's car collection. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Fenix at the Argyle

Argyle Hotel, 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-6677. This is definitely the place to wear your latest outfit from Armani or Hugo Boss. With a commanding view of the lights of West Hollywood, this stylish Art Deco room offers jazz in the bar, along with all the proper drinks of the moment for the Sunset Strip Club kids. (Metropolitans are mixed here with neither pause nor respite.) The food in the restaurant, should it concern you, is Californian with a Caribbean edge. But mostly, there's the glitz and glamour of Hollywood spread before you like (pardon the howling cliche) a string of pearls against the neck of night.

Sky Bar

Mondrian Hotel, 8440 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-6000. Simply speaking, this is the toughest ticket in town. It's easier to get into Spago, for the luvva Mike, than into the Sky Bar, which sits adjacent to Asia de Cuba in the drop-dead stylish, terrifyingly monochromatic Mondrian. The Sky Bar, co-owned by Cindy Crawford's hubby Rande Gerber, wraps around the pool at the Mondrian before climbing up a flight of stairs into a sort of Tahitian juke joint.

The drinks are served in plastic glasses because of the pool. Drinking a Gibson out of a plastic glass is soooo L.A.

Yamashiro

1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Hollywood, (323) 466-5125. This grandly opulent Shogun's palace, high in the Hollywood Hills, dates back to the turn of the century. Yamashiro has a checkered past (it was allegedly a sporting house several decades ago), with a breath-stopping view of Hollywood from the bar. At the bar, along with a good selection of drinks with umbrellas in them, you can also nibble on some very good sushi, a little teriyaki, perhaps some tempura, while watching the helicopters circle Hollywood Boulevard. It's a front-row seat for "Blade Runner" incarnate.

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