Open for only a month, The Parish in Downtown Los Angeles has quickly become one of the city's most-talked-about gastropubs (and there are, indeed, many gastropubs in this city). Located on a thin, V-shaped sliver of real estate, the wedge of a building that houses The Parish consists of two levels marked by a stark contrast in decor. Where white tiles and bright lights envelope the bottom floor cafe and open kitchen, there are dark woods, exposed brick and dimly lit sconces that adorn the second level where the long bar and dining room are located.
Despite this contrast in decor, the kitchen downstairs and the bar upstairs are in complete lockstep when it comes to the food and drinks menu. Executive Chef Casey Lane (also of The Tasting Kitchen in Venice) creates contemporary pub food that is specifically designed around the cocktails created upstairs by head bartender John Coltharp.
"Back in the day, gastropubs served really rich and flavorful food to go with the booze. And that's what Casey does with his menu here at The Parish," said Coltharp. "So there's a certain harmony with our boldly flavored food that stands up to our strong cocktails."
Spend any amount of time at The Parish bar with Coltharp, and you'll find that he is just as likely to wax poetic about the history of Los Angeles as he is to speak on the origins of seemingly any and all types of spirits new and old. And though he's only 29, Coltharp has already established his own boozy history as one of L.A.'s most talented (and knowledgeable) bartenders.
"Sam Ross from Milk and Honey [in New York] trained me at Sona and then at Comme Ca [both in Los Angeles]," said Coltharp. "And that was really the first time I started to learn about spirits, and the first times I really had truly great cocktails. Since then, I just wanted to extend that experience to more people." Coltharp has also spent time behind the bar at Copa D' Oro, Seven Grand, and Caña Rum Bar.
"I'm extremely influenced by classic drinks...to the point of excess, " said Coltharp. "But I really do believe that the classics are classics for a reason. There's a certain comfort level in classic drinks, especially when they are made right."
Coltharp's historical viewpoint of both Los Angeles and classic cocktails can be seen in his signature cocktail, The Historic Core—his riff on a classic Manhattan. Named after the "Historic Core" district of Los Angeles, the cocktail features rye whiskey, apple brandy, green Chartreuse, and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth—spirits that Coltharp says Angelenos would have enjoyed at the turn of the century.
Besides having an encyclopedic knowledge of classic cocktails, Coltharp is meticulous when it comes to making drinks. Of course, all juices are freshly squeezed each day at The Parish, and whatever syrups that aren't already made in-house are at least made by a local artisan (such as St. Vincent Orgeat). Specially designed Japanese Yarai bottles are used to dispense just the right amount of bitters for each cocktail. And even the ice is made to Coltharp's exact specifications—for example, a single large ice cube (a bit smaller than a Rubik's Cube perhaps) is used for shaken drinks at The Parish.
"We shake with just one big cube of ice in order to get a beautifully controlled dilution and texture without over-diluting our drink, or equally as bad, under-diluting our drink," explained Coltharp. "Shaking like this also creates thousands and thousands, if not millions, of tiny tiny bubbles that give the drink great froth and mouthfeel," he believes.
"We do make our cocktails strong here," said Coltharp. "We strive for balanced drinks, but we also want to always highlight the base spirit. The items that go in our cocktails are truly great base spirits, so we don't want to water them down. We want people to taste the booze."
About the author: Marvin Gapultos is the author of the Filipino food blog, Burnt Lumpia. His first cookbook is due out in 2013. When he isn't cooking or writing about Filipino food, Marvin is usually enjoying a beer or cocktail, and thinking about what to eat with said beer or cocktail. You can follow him on Twitter @BurntLumpia.