No one would ever call the 1970s and '80s a golden age for cocktails; in fact, it’s a time that many bartenders would like to forget. But Dan Sabo, the beverage manager at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, looked to this era for inspiration when he created the new drink menu at the Mezzanine at L.A. Chapter. “One of the things I’m most interested in is taking the preciousness out of cocktails,” he says. “I think it’s time we laugh more and have a good time behind the bar.” The new menu is meant to be funny—but Sabo also wants to deliver great-tasting versions of cocktails that the industry scoffs at. Here, five retro drinks that Sabo thinks deserve another chance.
“When Michiko Torres, one of our bartenders, came to me with the idea for this drink, I was afraid,” Sabo says. “But she was very confident.” This punch line of a cocktail is typically made with Midori (a neon green honeydew liqueur), vodka, sour mix and a dash of Sprite. Torres keeps the Midori and vodka but mixes them with green Chartreuse, house-made green tea tincture, lime juice and an egg white for a luxe, creamy texture. “There’s no way you can say we take ourselves too seriously with a Midori sour on the menu,” Sabo says.
“Sex and the City aside, this is a great drink,” Sabo says. "My first job was at a nightclub on the Upper West Side in New York. We made a Cosmo in a martini glass rimmed with crushed sugar—that’s what everyone thinks of." But a real Cosmopolitan is anything but a sugar bomb. Made with fresh juices, it's tart, citrusy and refreshing. Sabo makes his elevated, lightly floral version with Ketel One Citroen, house-made cranberry-apple syrup, a touch of rose liqueur, dry curaçao and fresh lime juice.
“This is one of the most famous misappropriated cocktails,” Sabo says. “It’s become a cold bucket of vodka with salt water. Made incorrectly, it’s a slushy, watery mess. But it can be a bold, masculine drink if made right.” For his version, Sabo infuses Dolin Dry vermouth with a mix of different olives and clarifies olive brine with agar. He mixes the crystal-clear brine with the infused vermouth, fino sherry and Grey Goose vodka and finishes the cocktail with a few drops of olive oil to give the drink the fat content normally provided by olive brine.
The Dude’s favorite cocktail can be so much more than just cream and booze. Sabo stirs Elyx vodka with Kahlúa, coffee bitters and chocolate bitters, then strains the mix into a coffee mug over a large ice cube and finishes the drink with a float of Fernet-infused cream. “Instead of becoming a milkshake, this is a strong and stirred drink with a decadent, creamy top,” he says. “It’s accessible and recognizable, but it has much more structure than the original drink.”
“When I first started bartending, my understanding of a strawberry daiquiri was mix, blender, rum and a scoop of ice, slopped into a hurricane glass,” Sabo says. “I wanted my strawberry daiquiri to have some balls.” He makes his with grassy, funky rhum agricole, fresh strawberry puree, lime juice, Demerara syrup, a touch of Campari and rhubarb bitters. “People think it’s going to be overly sweet, but actually it’s super complex,” he says.