Michel Dozois of Neve Ice, who used to work behind the stick at Comme Ca and Church & State, had previously said that he wasn’t about stepping on another mixologist’s toes when visiting L.A. bars to try and sell his gourmet ice. He didn’t want to make cocktails but rather, he wanted to focus on just his ice. However, when executive chef Kris Morningstar and GM Ron Carey made him an offer, which was to put together the bar program at Ray’s and Stark Bar located in the LACMA courtyard steps away from the luminescent Urban Light installation, Michel couldn’t refuse. “This is an amazing project and has been fun…you want to work with this crew,” he said.
Originally Michel was charged with creating a 100-cocktail menu for the barestaurant but fortunately convinced the powers-that-be to narrow it down to 25 — five in each category of Champagne, Stirred Up, Shaken Up, Collins and On the Rocks — so that patrons wouldn’t get overwhelmed but there would still be something for everyone. His menu of drinks which range in price from $10-$14 is a compilation of classics, favorites he did for past venues he’s worked and those inspired by the new bar.
He said he’s basically staying on in a consultant basis “for a little while,” saying, “It’s a lot of fun. I mean, we’re at a museum, I can do whatever I want.” A contradiction for sure considering you’re usually not allowed to do anything in museums (“No photography” and “Don’t Touch This”) but Michel said he loves the team at Ray’s and Stark Bar — which includes bartender Cherish Mumm (Sona), sommelier Paul Sanguinetti (Fraiche) and pastry chef Josh Graves (Mercantile) who makes the syrups for the cocktails — plus they have a garden in the back for pulling fresh ingredients.
In any case, my drinking buddy John Colletti (Social Domain) and I were eager to check out some of Michel’s cocktails.* We aimed for trying one from each category…and then some for good measure. **Our tasting notes after the jump:**
Italian Stallion: Scotch, Carpano, cynar, lemon garnish.
John: This is in the Manhattan taste profile with a Scotch base, but a little richer with the Cynar/Carpano combo and the house brandied cherry. The citrus from the lemon keeps balance. We started here. It was a strong start. Like.
Me: Yes, this was Manhattan-ish with a more complex flavor because of the smokey Scotch and Cynar in place of bitters. But because of the Cynar it was more bitter than I would have liked. Not a bad thing, especially if you’re into Cynar, which I frankly am not, but I’d stick to a regular Manhattan.
Smokey and the Bandit: Laphroaig, honey, orange and lemon peel.
John: Wow, this is my favorite. I could stop right here and stay awhile. Smokey from the Laphraoig and Bandit cause it keeps lightening my wallet (and note that as the current price is $10, it’s going to be repriced up, so go sooner rather than later). It’s so simple, just the Laphraoig, honey with lemon and orange peel. It’s going to be a good summer sipper.
Me: That’s right, at its current $10 this cocktail is a steal considering its use of Laphroaig but the management at the bar realized that and is now going to, if they haven’t already, increase its price. Oh well. In any case, this cocktail is Michel’s personal fave as well as mine and John’s. It’s a bit more sweet than I would have preferred but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed. Great entry-level Scotch drink thanks to the honey and the ice which keep it light, sweet and oh-so drinkable. Yum!
Secret Cocktail: Aged rum, applejack, egg white, lemon, grenadine.
John: This is the girly cocktail. I guess cause it’s frothy? It’s not necessarily sweet, it is a bit, but not cloying. The ingredients appeared promising. Not my thing, though. Too fruity. If you’re into this kind of favor profile, this might be your thing.
Me: Pretty presentation but uh uh, nope, I so did not like this one. Too citrusy plus the raspberries came in strong. Just didn’t taste good with that berry-citrus combo. Michel said it’s a girl drink but it wasn’t all that sweet. I guess it’s a girl drink because of the purty glass and the foam? Or maybe because it’s so light that only girly girls who don’t like the taste of alcohol would like it? In any case, not for me. Next!
Japalac Cocktail: Scotch, dry vermouth, raspberry syrup, OJ, orange peel.
John: This was a Scotch drink? I couldn’t tell, so I went back to reread the menu. Yep, Scotch, dry vermouth, rasberry syrup, orange juice, and an orange peel garnish. It’s all raspberry all the time, too much so. Moving on…
Me: What is up with the raspberries? This one was too raspberry-y for me. None of the telltale smokiness that is associated with Scotch drinks. Can’t tell what the spirit is in this drink and that made me sad.
Morning Glory Fizz: Scotch, absinthe, egg white, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup.
John: This might come as a surprise, but I like this one. For breakfast. It’s name is true. About five these would make any morning glorious. It’s Scotch, absinthe, egg white, lemon juice and simple syrup. It is light and spritely and I can taste the eggs benedict a-comin. Now all they need is a full-on complementary brunch.
Me: Well, good mornin’! It is when you start off with a cocktail like this. Surprisingly, despite the Scotch and absinthe this is a light drink, perfect for easing you into your day…of drinking. Love the creamy texture of foam, but the drink itself is too light for me, at least when compared to the Morning Glory Fizz at the Eveleigh. However, I could see enjoying this baby during brunch on a sunny day on the patio.
Ray’s Swizzle: Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice, pineapple syrup, blackberry and orange.
John: As you can see, I am not into the fruit drinks so this one, like the two above, is good for those of you who are in heaven at the Tiki Ti.
Me: Another meh drink for me. It was just too tart for me on the finish. I blame the lime for that.
Murdered by Death: Gin, maraschino liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice, grapes and tomato.
John: Back to the fruity juice action. Though not sweet or bitter. Much better on my palate than the others. I wouldn’t have expected it. And it even looks girly. Maybe it was the tomato.
Me: Michel brought this cocktail for John, figuring it would be something he liked. “It’s not bitter, it’s not citrusy but it’s a smooth, different concoction,” he said. Sure enough John liked it, especially the “idea of the tomato.” Me? Not so much. It didn’t really do anything for me. Meh, is what I have to say to this one. Blame it on the tomato.
Lait Michel: Scotch, honey, cream and Laphroaig spritz.
John: An off-the menu item and Michel’s “attitude adjuster” as he calls it. Slapped my face, I tells ya. That’ll take you from stressed to chill pretty damn quick. I could use a few of these every day.
Me: OMG, I LOVE this drink, which Michel correctly figured I would. This is a take on the Bee’s Knees but with Scotch instead of gin since Michel prefers Scotch. Like John mentioned above, Michel was asked to create an attitude adjuster and came up with this one which has been described as “milk for a baby.” It’s definitely as comforting as a fluffy pillow and will soothe the savage drunk. But I just want to sip this while on my couch cuddling up next to my dog and watching my stories. Even though it is creamy and sweet, this baby is stronnng, too, so while imbibing it you definitely need to be somewhere you can quickly lie down.
For extra credit, John and I asked for our go-to cocktails, a Manhattan for me and, since I took his stand-by, a Gibson for John. The Manhattan here was a bit more bitter on the finish than I prefer but John attributed that to its use of the John Barr whiskey, which is the well whiskey. Whatever the case, it wasn’t my favorite Manhattan but it wasn’t horrible either.
As for the Gibson, it’s an “R&D” project because of the onion juice. Here, the savoriness of the onion overpowers the gin. Michel and John went back and forth about the possibility of Michel making his own onion garnish.
But yay for my favorite cocktails: Lait Michel, Smokey and the Bandit and the Morning Glory Fizz. And can’t forget the Hanky Panky — gin, Sweet Vermouth, Fernet Branca, orange peel garnish — which I tried during a previous visit and subsequently fell in love with. Flavorful and complex, only serious drinkers need apply.
With a gorgeous setting on the patio — which, by the way, can expand to seat over 500 people during especially hopping nights, this would be a perfect way to pass a warm summer evening. Sure, Stark Bar is more of a destination bar since there really isn’t any other bars near by for a bar hop (unless you count Molly Malone’s and Tom Bergin’s on Fairfax) but with a nice variety of affordable-ish cocktails and people-watching opportunities it wouldn’t be too terrible if you settled in here for the night.
Ray’s, the restaurant, is lovely as well. The dinner menu is a bit pricier than a non-fancy cheapskate like myself prefers — read: $9 grapes and $22 pork belly — but should you be interested in splurging, might I suggest the chile appetizer (wood roasted chile, chorizo, dates, goat cheese, almond sauce) and the Arctic Char which kicked my pork belly’s ass, tasting fresh and savory.
More photos after the jump.
Ray’s and Stark Bar
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90036 (map)
Reservations: (323) 857-6180
Hours: Closed Wednesdays; Ray’s — 12-3p (11:30am on weekends), 5-10p; Stark Bar — 11a-11p
- Dinner and drinks were comped.