Sitting on the roof deck of my apartment in shorts and sunglasses to write about the winter cocktail menu at Downtown’s Drago Centro, the irony hardly escapes me. Despite 80-degree January weather, bars and restaurants across Los Angeles are rolling out winter-themed cocktail menus inspired by seasonal produce. Drago’s Bar Manager, Jaymee Mandeville crafted the all-star drinks lineup that spans from light and bright to dark and aromatic. Using fresh, seasonal ingredients and incorporating homemade syrups and infusions, Mandeville is mindful of taste, presentation and creativity. “I’m always trying to use ingredients in new ways, so you see a lot of that in this menu,” Mandeville said.
In one of her lighter drinks, Mandeville uses rambutan, which at first glance resembles a sort of sea urchin, but the sweet, tropical Southeast Asian fruit does well as the garnish for this Storsjön cocktail. A combination of Karlsson’s Vodka, Dimmi Liquore, Amaro Ramazzotti, Peychauds Bitters, lime, Prosecco and rambutan, the Storsjon is refreshing and goes down easy; a good starter drink if you will.
Fated Seeds takes your palate to an earthier place, highlighting the botanical notes in Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin. Mixed with Miracle Mile Bitters Co., “Bergamot Bitters” and house made persimmon schrub, this tall drink is bright and smooth with a dash of tart and sweet from the schrub. A basil garnish balances it all out nicely, emphasizing the drink’s freshness. The name “Fated Seeds” comes from an old wives’ tale that says you can predict the severity of the winter ahead by cutting into a persimmon: if the kernel inside is shaped like a spoon, a harsh snowy winter is expected, while if it’s shaped like a fork, the winter will be mild.
Silver Screen Quotations is named after a line in Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song “Californication.” One of the best drinks on the menu, this one marries 123 “Uno” Certified Organic Blanco Tequila, house made Thai chili/cinnamon syrup, red bell pepper, mint, lime and saffron salt. “I wanted to recreate Red Hots, but in an organic way,” Mandeville said. The tequila is not only USDA certified organic, but also meets the stricter European organic label standards. Herbal, citrusy and savory with a spicy kick at the end, this drink is well balanced and leaves you craving more before the last sip.
Next up is an ode to Sam Ross’s famous drink: the Penicillin, though Mandeville astutely dubbed her version Remedy X. Rosemary-infused Bushmills Black Bush Blended Irish Whiskey, ginger-infused agave and lemon with a candid ginger garnish makes for a refreshing mix that goes down easy and keeps the doctor at bay.
On the savory and aromatic side, the Rode Duivel (translation: “Red Devil” in Dutch) so neatly flaunts rich flavors that come from Bols Genever, S. Maria al Monte Amaro and Miracle Mile Co. “Sour Cherry Bitters.” The dark color and velvety flavor hold true to its name.
Speaking of names, those that correspond with each cocktail typically undergo great thought before gracing the menu beside each description. Former Drago Beverage Director Michael Shearin would always sneak in a reference to Pirates of the Caribbean in the menu; so in honor of him, Mandeville named this next drink Dead Man’s Tale. The tiki cocktail is a combination of Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum, Bombay Dry Gin, Bertagnolli Grappa, Oloroso Sherry, Bitterman’s Amère Nouvelle, St. Vincent Syrup Orgeat, lemon, orange and Galliano mist. Crisp and refreshing without being too sweet, this poolside-ready drink is suitably paired with LA’s Indian Summer.
Another must-try on the Mandeville menu is the Western All’Italiana. Complex and rich with winter spice, this trophy drink is one you can keep coming back to. The hard to get High West Double Rye Straight Rye Whiskey plays nicely with Cointreau, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, cranberry and oregano infused molasses and muddled Honeycrisp apples. Topped off with an apple garnish, this ruby red concoction leaves you feeling refreshed and satisfied.
Tapping into another way to use apple flavor, Mandeville created the Grimhilda (named after Queen Grimhilde from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). She incorporates Laird’s Bottled in Bond Straight Apple Brandy (yum!), PAMA, chipotle infused honey and lemon. Topped with a sugared rim and lemon twist, and served in a fancy sort of gimlet-meets-wine-glassware, this drink is sweet, packed with flavor and somewhat reminiscent of a Jack Rose.
Entering more of a raw, smoky yet smooth flavor profile, is an frothy combination of Hardy Vsop Cognac, Sombra Mezcal, Bitter Truth Xocolati Mole Bitters, house made Italian chestnut syrup, egg white and nutmeg. Unafraid to put some elbow grease into her drinks, Mandeville had to score each individual chestnut, roast them and peel the shells off to create her homemade chestnut syrup. Now that’s dedication! The men roasting and selling chestnuts (castagne means chestnut in Italian) on the streets on the streets of Italy would be so proud.
Rounding out the new winter menu at Drago, Mandeville’s final masterpiece is Eve’s Demise, named for the apple garnish that acts as temptress in the story of Adam and Eve. Except this apple garnish is unlike something you’d pluck off a tree. The candied apple wedge is coated with seared bacon and maple syrup. To make matters more tempting, the garnish sits atop a cozy mason jar of warm goodness: Black Grouse Scotch Whiskey, Belle de Brillet Pear Cognac and house made hibiscus apple cider. The drink is best when you take a bite of the garnish and wash it down with a sip from the jar. Crisp and inviting, Eve’s Demise makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Perfect for a winter’s night downtown in the city of Angels