Old Lightning :: Redefining LA's Cocktail Scene
The website is stylish and minimalistic, pointing you to a simple email address. It is still the house's preferred way for customers to obtain a sought out reservation to one of the most exciting bar concepts in all of the United States - perhaps the world. Based on what all of our friends told us about this place, this bar earned the merit to be selected among the World's 50 Best Bars pretty much from the time it opened its doors. Below is a sample of how the Old Lightning experience is changing the way we see cocktails in Los Angeles.
At Scopa Italian Roots, we ask for the host and just as expected, we are told to surrender our cell phones at the side door entrance. Pablo Moix, one of the partners, shows up to escort us in. The whole sequence made me think of an old family friend I grew up with, who insisted that a business could never optimally run with an absentee owner. In most instances, he is right. I'm pretty sure Pablo and the rest of the team at Scopa / Old Lightning would agree.
Inside at Last
Phones away, the mental pictures begin to snap. We watch as the bartenders move back and forth, tending to the patrons and the cocktails in production surrounded by rare spirit bottles from every corner of the world. The FONP doesn't last. Too much to take in.
It's impossible not to notice the impressive repertoire of spirits against the bar and everywhere else for that matter: bottles and more bottles of Willett whiskey, rare rums, tequilas, gins and pretty much everything else in between lined up in perfect harmony. And so, the experience begins, as we take our places at the bar, observing the staff working in perfect harmony.
This is a house with its own rules - "not another dark, NY bar", Pablo says at some point. He envisioned a West Coast feel to his space, a Palm Springs inspired decor and a certain secretive curiosity he intends to keep up despite attempts from media types and nosy patrons determined to take a photo or two when no one else is looking... it really doesn't matter - we head for the menu.
Coursing your way through Old Lightning
We started with tiki because it sticks out to us in the extensive and beautiful menu. Maybe it were the drink names, maybe it were the mugs displayed around the bar. Ultimately, we think that the references from bars like Don The Beachcomber drew our attention so we go for a couple of refreshing swizzled options to get the night going. Choosing one drink was tough, I must confess: I was rather intrigued by a Bacardi 151 recipe on the menu but ultimately had to stay away given my rocky history with 151 ever since a friend in college offered me a shot. There may have been fire involved. I don't really recall. Instead, I go with our bartender's choice. It pays off.
Minutes later and after some deliberation, our next and final round comes to us in the shape of an Armagnac based recipe that resembled an old-fashioned, except better - much, much better. It is a spirit forward sipper, a great companion - the perfect drink to talk, learn and observe fellow patrons make their way through a meticulous selection of Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys and Tapatio tequilas.
Ramos Gin Fizz to Go?
A quick discussion with our bartender Gus Pelaez leads us to recite our favorite cocktails to one another. Silly you may say, but we entertain the challenge. I see where this is going: encore.
I go with the Negroni, my original sweetheart but my answer could have very well be any of the 3 cocktails we tasted tonight. Our man behind the bar puts up a clinic in art of the Ramos Gin Fizz and recites ingredients and preparation back to me: Gin, Lemon, Lime, Heavy Cream, Egg Whites. We order one and Gus disappears behind his shaker, shaking, and then shaking some more. A perfect pour and the club soda fizz to finish. A key-lime pie flavored classic and a phenomenal way to close to a great night.
Time to leave. We order our bill and as expected, it's added by hand like the good ol' days. Feels good. We leave happy and satisfied. I now can see and agree why Jim Meeham called this the most ambitious bar in America. It really is and there’s nothing wrong with that. And that's it. Phones back in our pocket, we leave Old Lightning towards our Uber, with a feeling we would be back soon to further explore the perfect combination of classic cocktail culture, local flair and top of the line patronage.