Cucumber-mint Creole cocktail: gin, aquavit, sherry, muddled cucumbers, muddled mint, fresh lemon juice
La Brea, of course, means the tar, and so people who say The La Brea Tar Pits are really saying The the tar tar pits. Tar Pit Bar is a cute name for the new cocktail bar collaboration between Campanile's Mark Peel and Audrey Saunders of New York's Pegu Club. Last night food writers from just about every publication in town stopped by to see how many cocktails from their imaginative menu it was possible to sample in one evening. Most everyone was expecting some sort of casual neighborhood watering hole but with great cocktails; instead the room (formerly the Pearl) is an elegant art deco space with chandeliers, white leather banquettes, snazzy marble bathrooms and cocktail waitresses in impeccable black sheaths. This is all a bit more high-style than La Brea is used to, and guests wearing tattered flannel shirts and frayed jeans certainly didn't harmonize with the glossy decor, so ladies, try to find a dress to wear, and guys, ditch the flannel.
The cocktails were of course fabulous, and reasonably-priced for the quality at $11. My favorite was the well-balanced Jamaican Firefly: dark rum, housemade ginger beer, fresh lime juice and simple syrup, with candied ginger garnish (at left).
Also delicious, and potent, was Lil Gig: Silver tequila, yellow chartreuse, Thai basil and simple syrup, which starts off sweet and ends with a bracing herbal kick (at right).
The Cucumber Mint Creole, pictured at top, was refreshing and compulsively drinkable. The only one that didn't work for me was the Trident, a mix of aquavit, fino sherry, Cynar aperitif, peach and orange bitters and lemon essence -- reminiscent of a Manhattan made with artichokes steeped in biodiesel fuel. We sampled pickled deviled eggs, duck rillettes and fried artichoke hearts and fried oysters off the bar menu, where prices range from $6-12. There's also a full wine list and dinner menu, which picks up the vintage theme with nearly-forgotten dishes like Steak Diane, Shrimp Louis, Lobster & scallop Newburg and Coq au vin (entrees around $13-17). Also on the menu are a few intriguing modern dishes that bear investigating, like braised pork cheeks & ears with orrechiette pasta, salsa verdi, braised beet greens and dandelion greens or gnocchi with escargots.
That area was ready for some new bar blood, so it's a welcome addition, especially with a full menu and decent prices. And as at the Varnish, the Association and other nouveau cocktail hot spots: try to have an open mind and order something other than a margarita or a gin and tonic. Really, it's worth it.
The Tar Pit Bar (open every night from 5 pm-2 am)
609 La Brea Ave.