The mixing station at the Varnish includes blackberries and pink grapefruit.
I still hadn't been to Varnish. Kathy wanted to see how Chaya Downtown's happy hour compared to Chaya Venice. And Shelley was game to try anything the near-Eastsiders decreed. So we started Friday's tour of new Downtown spots at Chaya Downtown. I usually dislike places in office buildings, but the interior is simply and elegantly designed with a whimsical colorful glass chandelier and only a tiny bit corporate-looking. We sat in outdoor booths that would be great on summer evenings, and ordered Seeing Red cocktails with blood orange and lavender-infused tequila and blood orange juice. They were a touch sweet, but at $5 each, no complaint. A selection of shrimp tempura, albacore and tuna rolls went nicely with the cocktails, at $4 a roll. Chaya Downtown may lack the festive yet slightly sleazy pickup-joint feel of the Venice location, but the value is just as good. We walked over to Seven & Grand to look at Bottega Louie (above), a beacon of New York-style sophistication in the middle of an area that's still pretty deserted in the evenings. Though full of sushi rolls, we admired colorful macaroons (below), pastries, cheese, lentil salad and other items beautifully displayed in the deli area. Prices looked more reasonable than comparable places like Joan's on Third. The bar and restaurant were fairly full, and the entire vast high-ceilinged space was lively and yet almost incongruous, as if it had been quickly installed like a movie set. Open from 6:30 am to 11 pm, I imagine it's pretty nifty to have Bottega Louie now open if you live Downtown. Then it was on to the Varnish, the speakeasy-style bar behind a discreet martini glass-marked door at the rear of Cole's. I've noticed that some people seem a little uneasy about talking to the bartender and letting him craft something different and delicious. But that's the best part of the new breed of cocktail bars, the chance to try a long-forgotten drink or something completely new mixed exactly to your tastes. After some consultation, the bartender mixed me up a Commando (at right), with bourbon, Cointreau, lemon and "a touch of absinthe." Served in a coupe glass, it had just the right interplay of sour, sweet, herbal and potent. Shelley's had lemon, honey syrup and bourbon over a giant ice cube, I believe, while Kathy had an "updated Sazerac." It was still early, so a visit to the Taco Zone truck was also required before calling it a night. And that's only the tip of the iceberg for cocktails Downtown. ...to be continued, no doubt.
Has anyone eaten at Bottega Louie yet?