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Cocktail Clinic

At the new Sidebar, Italian-born Vincenzo Marianella creates some of L.A.'s most sensational cocktails. Here, his rules for summer drinks.

Ask a Mixologist

Vincenzo Marianella shares his best drink-making strategies and tells how anyone can mix a cocktail like a bar chef. Plus he reveals his all-time favorite drinks and bars.

What's your best tip for a summer cocktail party? I assemble fruit drinks in a blender ahead of time, adding all of the ingredients except the ice and pulsing once or twice. The mixture can sit for a few hours. Then I blend it again, pour it into a pitcher with ice and serve. To make martinis ahead, put your gin or vodka in the freezer and your vermouth and glasses in the refrigerator. Rinse the glasses with vermouth, then add the frozen gin or vodka.

What are the three best tools for making great cocktails? All I need is a Boston shaker, a hand-juicer to squeeze the citrus (all great cocktails have citrus) and a jigger to make sure the measurements are right.

How can people create their own signature drinks? The best thing you can do is take your favorite classic drink recipe and add a little twist. If you love maple syrup or honey, you can use that in a whiskey sour to replace simple syrup. But do me a favor and taste the drink before you serve it to anyone.

Can you give us a great punch recipe that serves eight? One tropical classic is a planter's punch. There are a lot of slightly varying recipes for it, but this is the one I go by: In a large pitcher, combine 10 ounces of dark rum, 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice, 1 cup of Simple Syrup, 1 1/2 teaspoons of Angostura bitters and ice. Pour into 8 ice-filled collins glasses and add 1/4 cup chilled club soda to each glass; garnish with thin orange slices and serve.

What's your absolute favorite drink garnish? First of all, garnishes have to be edible—please, no little umbrellas or anything plastic. If you're serious about cocktails, you start by looking at the color of the drink and the glass. I love fruit fans because they look great with both tall glasses and martini glasses. I also like combination garnishes—like a lime wheel twisted around a cherry. I love fruit slices. I don't like lime wedges unless they're cut very thin and placed vertically on the rim of a glass.

What's your all-time favorite cocktail? No way do I have one all-time favorite cocktail. In the summer, I love daiquiris (the classic recipe made in a shaker, not a blender) and mai tais (the original Trader Vic's recipe can be found at foodandwine.com/maitai). In the fall and winter, I love whiskey and brandy cocktails like old-fashioneds, manhattans and sidecars. On very cold nights I love a blazer, which is made with aged rum, hot water, orange bitters and a spoonful of sugar. You flame the rum so the sugar melts, then pass the drink back and forth between glasses to cool it. Too bad no one makes it anymore except me.

What's the most fail-safe drink you can order in a bar? The one drink they know how to make everywhere is a martini. I've had some of the worst experiences of my life with margaritas. I don't even want to talk about sidecars.

What's your favorite bar in the world? There are a few bars that I love to death. One is in San Francisco, called Tres Agaves. Julio Bermejo, a co-owner, is the coolest person in the bar world and he's a walking tequila encyclopedia. The best bar for cocktails is Lab in London; the drink menu has more than 100 original cocktails. My third favorite is AKA, a club right in the heart of London. Their spirits selection is huge, they serve only premium spirits, and the vibe is fantastic. The place I want to go to is Salvatore at Fifty, a members-only club in London. Salvatore Calabrese is one of the best bartenders in the universe; I have all nine of his books.

What's the next cosmopolitan? Unfortunately, the next big drink will be whatever someone famous is drinking in the next movie or TV show. Whatever it is, I just hope it's not made with vodka.

What's your favorite bar snack? It's got to be salty—crostini with prosciutto or another kind of ham, or crostini with Gorgonzola. But you have to be careful with cheese and cocktails—sometimes they go great together and sometimes they don't.

Published August 2006
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