For an old-fashioned romantic evening, head to this downtown mainstay, where you and your fast-talking fella or keen doll can belly up to the mahogany bar or cozy up in a leather banquette. You can't go wrong with Cole's holy trinity of classic cocktails (Old Fashioned, Sazerac, and Manhattan), but we're smitten with The Original Martinez, which uses Bols Genever instead of gin in the martini precursor (along with Dolin sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and orange curaçao) creating a maltier, almost Manhattan-like concoction.
While here in sunny L.A. it's difficult to mimic the cozy romance of a chilly New England night, chef Jason Travi (Fraiche) aims to try with Littlefork, his new "Atlantic Northeast" venture in Hollywood. The cocktail program includes subtle spins on the classics, including the Thai Town Mule (made with Thai basil, lime, peppercorn, and housemade ginger beer and spiked with Leatherbee gin from Chicago) and the 19th Century Sour (a take on a New York sour). But for our money, it's all about the Saskatchewan Summer, Littlefork's version of a Manhattan, made with Rittenhouse Rye, cardamom honey, Fernet, and Forbidden Bitters. It's a smooth, sultry drink, with just a touch of warm complexity from the cardamom.
If you're at the beginning of a relationship, unsure of whether your prospect's tastes tend more toward the sweet or savory, bold or understated, then Santa Monica's Mercado is a good choice for you. The cocktail menu from Gilbert Marquez has something for most palates, from the fruit forward Pocion de Amor (muddled strawberries, vanilla syrup, lime, and Illegal Mezcal Joven) to the off-menu Frances Limon, a subtly smoky blend of Los Javis Silver mezcal, St. Germain, lime, and agave, finished with a rim of worm salt. A seat at the long marble bar provides a view of the bustling dining room, and, yes, you can enjoy an order of chef Jose Acevedo's luscious flan from there too.
Sure, it's a buzzy, celebrity-approved hotspot, but when you arrive early, before the throngs, you and your date are treated to quiet intimacy, whether seated at the long, gleaming bar beneath the flock of butterflies that grace the ceiling, or tucked into one of the lush red benches in the mirrored dining room. To drink, choose from a menu of timeless cocktails (Mai Tai, Sidecar, and Bellini all make the list) or go for one of the simple, understated originals—the Westside (Ketel One Citroen with lemon juice, mint, and spritz of soda) is a West Hollywood favorite—as effervescent and refreshing as fresh squeezed lemonade.
Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Whether you and your date are canoodling on an Abbot Kinney pub-crawl or tucking in for a full meal of Southern small plates (and fried chicken!) at Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, it's worth a pit stop at the Venice newbie's bar. The lounge area is casual and sleek with plenty of stools and high tables, plus a cozy spot for cuddling up by the front windows. And with cocktail maven Daniel Nelson (Writer's Room) at the helm, WISC's drinks menu is small but alluring, offering a full range of spirit-forward libations, plus seasonal specials. Our current favorite is the Dogtown Stormy, which pairs Sailor Jerry spiced rum with fresh ginger, lime, and simple syrup. It's refreshing and genuinely piquant, prompting you to pucker up with that someone special.