Who needs a menu? That's the thinking at Library Bar, tucked in an unmarked corner of Hollywood's famed Roosevelt Hotel, where bartenders Matt Biancaniello and Chris Hewes have been crafting their own drink recipes based mostly on what's available at the farmer's market and personal whim, with no cocktail menu in sight. Instead, the bartenders gauge drink orders based on each customer's preferences, palate, and level of adventurousness—since not everyone is going to be up for mushroom-infused scotch. But Library Bar rewards the open-minded.
I gave Hewes the simple instruction of whiskey. Out comes the Nutty Bloody Scotsman ($15), which Hewes says he came up with by deconstructing a Blood and Sand cocktail and rebuilding it from the bottom up.
A serving of scotch is tossed with an ounce each of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and blood orange juice and served in a highball glass, topped with a Cherry Heering foam. The result is like a beach-worthy Manhattan, a balance of sweet, tart, and crisp that's so refreshing and summery, you almost wish there were a heat wave on. It's dangerously easy going down.
Whiskey drinkers will also enjoy the Bad Habit ($15), which will satisfy the sweet tooth without sacrificing any kick. Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof whiskey and orange bitters team up with caramelized honey and hibiscus syrup, served over ice with a lemon peel garnish, for a sneaky little cocktail with a purplish hue and quite a sting.
Presentation is key, of course, when it comes to modern cocktails, so Library Bar keeps a ready stock of "ice rocks," large, hard-angled cubes and rectangles perfectly sized for the glasses made by the Névé Luxury Ice Company.
The living room-size space is big on shadowy corners, making it a nice place to hide out, but with only a few tables and five zebra-print barstools, it fills up fast. Of course, you can always take your drink out to one of the numerous leather couches in the Roosevelt's dimly lit, Spanish-tile lobby, but part of Library Bar's appeal is its coziness.
It's not all recipe-tinkering and innovation here, as Hewes and Biancaniello are more than happy to whip up a perfectly made martini—a classic is a classic, after all.
Hewes himself likes to keep things simple when he goes out, opting for a shot of Jack Daniels and beer. For beer drinkers at Library Bar, there's Stella and Pacifico available, though Biancaniello might try to ply you with his own beer cocktail, made with IPA, honey, and hops-infused gin. The prices here aren't cheap, but then these aren't cheap drinks. You're paying for a level of attention, care and quality you're not likely to find at most Hollywood Boulevard watering holes. And besides, the guys stand by their recipes. If you don't like it, you don't pay for it.