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The Drinks of Hollywood Blvd, or TCM 2013: A Booze Odyssey

Booze and the movies go way back. From the self-medicating part-time hooker heroine of 1931′s “Safe in Hell” — a highlight of 2013′s Turner Classic Movies Festival — to the lovable dipsomaniacs of “The Thin Man” and “Harvey” and on into more recent times with such frequently soused superheros as James Bond and Tony Stark, the movies have glamorized alcohol. When the movies wanted to, they could make habitual drunkenness charming, funny, and, of course, sexy.

While the movies once celebrated cigarette smoking as well, modern day Hollywood Boulevard makes it tricky for smokers to indulge in their passion, give or take some hookah bars and a medical marijuana “clinic.” Booze, however can be obtained with great ease. All you need is plenty of ready cash to afford the inflated prices or a clean credit card or two and you can have your fill of cocktails.

And that’s exactly what I did between classic, near classic, and merely really interesting movies the weekend of the 2013 TCM Fest. What follows is a (relatively) brief journal of the drinks I found going up and down the boulevard we call Hollywood the final weekend of April.

Now, I should add that this listing is my no means exhaustive and is, with one exception, limited to cocktails one can purchase on Hollywood Boulevard proper, no side streets allowed. They can all be obtained within a fairly easy walk of Sid Grauman’s old Chinese and Egyptian Theaters and the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the heart of Hollywood and the home base of the TCM Fest.

And so we begin our journey across the street from the Egyptian at what is still Los Angeles’s most famous bar.

martinishrunk

1. Musso and Frank Grill — The Martini and the Sidecar

Musso and Frank is Hollywood’s oldest restaurant and perhaps still its most famous. It’s been featured in countless movies, including 1994′s “Ed Wood,” and real deal A-listers can still sometimes be seen here. I actually spotted double Oscar winner Christoph Waltz hanging out at a booth just a few nights after the festival wrapped.

The Musso and Frank martini is easily the iconic cocktail in Los Angeles and it certainly appears that the restaurant’s most iconic bartender is Manny Aguirre, pictured above poring his signature cocktail. Born in Ecuador but coming across like Austrian-born Hollywood great Billy Wilder, Aguirre manages to be both friendly and grumpily dismissive, and he’ll be a bit friendlier and a bit less grumpy if you happen to be an attractive lady of any age. Formerly of the long defunct Scandia, a restaurant considered to be L.A.’s finest in its day, Aguirre is a true magician behind the bar.

Aguirre’s very dry martini is made to classic cocktail specification and is — James Bond and Nick Charles be damned — stirred, not shaken. It features Gilbey’s Gin and just the tinest splash of Noilly Pratt dry vermouth. It’s as smooth as silk and as crisp as celery straight from the fridge. The martini is, however, not actually his absolute favorite — and he’s right.

Manny Aguirre’s Sidecar is nothing short of a mixological miracle. Sweet, refreshing, and just tart enough to be respectable, and with a beautiful foamy top that comes out of nowhere and nothing (secret egg whites?), the shocking part is that Aguirre uses ingredients that are far from super-premium. Using standard call brands Christian Brothers Brandy, DeKuyper Triple Sec with his lemon juice, he made what ranks as one the two or three best cocktails I’ve had so far — it certainly beats my own attempts at the drink back in 2011. Musso and Frank Sidecar.

A cocktail marvel. No fancy Cognac or Cointreau needed, and I have absolutely no idea how he managed it. All this, and Aguirre actually wasn’t happy with the sugar rimming, performed by a junior (under 70 years old) bartender which he found excessive, but I found to be sheer perfection.

2. The Library Bar — Last Tango in Modena

While the Hollywood Roosevelt only plays host to the TCM Fest four days a year, it’s one of L.A. best places to buy a drink at some four or five separate bars 365 days a year — though you’d better not mind paying through the nose. At a bracing $17.00 per drink, the Library Bar only charges a buck more for its offerings than the larger Public Kitchen and its cocktails are not only among the town’s most critically respected, they’re tailor made for the individual. Just tell its friendly but camera shy bartenders your preferences in booze, and they’ll come up with something really special, just for you.

It’s sort of my job to be able to appreciate most kinds of booze, so I gave my mixologist the freedom to create anything — except that I told her I’d be happier if there were somehow a cinematic connection. The result was this delightful concoction which is no smear upon the name of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris.”

last tango

“Last Tango in Modena,” features Hendrick’s Gin, a St. Germain infused whipped eggwhite topping, and a 25 year old aged balsamic vinegar, all cooled by a single giant ice cube. The vinegar comes from where I hear all the really good balsamics are made, Modena, Italy. It really was delicious and the big ice cube means that it only gets better as you linger over it — but I didn’t have time for that.

3. Loteria Grill — The Jalapeño Margarita

A truly smashing high-end Mexican eatery that began as a counter at the Original Farmer’s Market a bit south and west of the boulevard of dreams, this rapidly growing chain appears to be hanging on to its quality despite it’s rapid cross town expansion. Certainly, I’ve had nothing but solid-to-fantastic experiences at its Hollywood Blvd. location near Musso’s and across from the Egyptian Theater. Moreover, it’s jalapeño margarita is a  modern day classic worthy of such TCM friendly Mexican-American Hollywood greats as Anthony Quinn (“Zorba the Greek,” “Lawrence of Arabia”), Katy Jurado (“High Noon”) and, “Khan!!!!!” himself, Ricardo Montalban.

I really, really love this drink but I’m not sure the ingredients that we’ve been able to dig up tell the whole story. Aside from some pretty high quality tequila, this drink is said to contain triple sec, orange juice, jalapeño juice, and a bit of Grand Marnier. The rim is dipped in what appears to be a mixture of chili powder and the usual salt.  Sold at a fairly reasonable price, especially during happy hour, this drink is one of the finest you’ll find in Los Angeles. It’s a must.loteria margarita (2)

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