Photos: Summertime Pop-Up Bar Whips Up Tasty, Experimental Cocktails
Matthew Biancaniello has some tricks up his sleeve at his pop-up bar at Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake this summer.
Every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the months of June to August, the barman will be whipping up a bevy of creative cocktails at the restaurant. And you can expect lots of fruit-and-veggie-infused alcohols and liqueurs. (We're talking about things like homemade Bergamot-infused tequila and passion fruit-and-kumquat liqueur.)
Biancaniello is seriously passionate about his drinks, as he gets his ingredients from foraging in the Santa Monica mountains and two farms. And one of the main reasons he has his pop-up bar night on Wednesdays is so he can get the freshest produce from the Santa Monica farmers market that runs the same day, he tells LAist.
LAist attended his first pop-up bar night on Wednesday just as the sun was about to set. Biancaniello's bar was in the corner of Cliff's Edge's beautiful outside patio that has lights strewn around trees. There were about five stools that were taken at all times surrounding the tiny bar counter, and a handful of smaller tables surrounding it.
The way it works is that you buy tickets at $15 a pop for each cocktail from the hostess and then you can trade those tickets in at the bar. After you order your drinks, you can try to grab yourself a seat at one of the nearby tables or have a hostess seat you for dinner. There aren't any reservations allowed—just first come, first serve.
It was surprising that Biancaniello and just one other person were mixing the drinks for everyone. He would zoom in and out of the bar and hand-deliver cocktails to tables and explain to guests what were in them. Biancaniello would ask patrons what they liked to drink before whipping up the cocktails. There were no names given for the libations—you basically would hear a top ingredient in it from the barman or another patron who suggested it. "Try the arugula one, or the strawberry and balsamic one, or the bourbon old fashioned that tastes like coffee," people would tell me.
There were wooden bowls full of items like arugula rustica and Surinam cherries sitting on the bar counter that he used in his drinks. I tried a balanced cactus-infused Cachaça drink with elderflower, a hint of tomato juice and lavender. His bourbon old fashioned tasted faintly of mushrooms with a coffee kick. (I was a little apprehensive about this one because I wasn't a big fan of his mushroom cocktail at POT Bar, but yet I was pleasantly surprised—the mushrooms weren't overpowering in this one.) Later that evening, he would make that old fashioned into an egg nog that tasted like a light, creamy "umami milkshake," as he called it.
Other fun drinks included his gin cocktail with organic strawberries, a 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and a St. Germaine foam atop of it. Biancaniello said that changing up the foam is something he loves to do with some varieties including curry, rhubarb and wheat grass. So, we can only imagine some interesting things to look forward to in the future.
There was also a spicy lovage cocktail he made that had scorpion salt in it, which he felt was a much better substitute than muddling jalapenos. "You're going to take the other flavors and the spice will come at the end of your throat [with scorpion salt]," he said. "It's not going to drive the other flavors away. Jalapenos will drive that other flavors away."
And in addition to the drinks, Biancaniello gives guests some of his little homemade bites to sample. I tried a dehydrated orange slice topped with goat cheese and chamomile oil, that was a little hard to chew, but still flavorful. In the future, he'll be having alcohol-infused oysters and lobster ice cream with homemade mugwort beer like a beer float.
It definitely took a long time to get our orders, but what can you expect when each drink is being carefully hand-crafted? Pro-tip is try to go when you're not in a rush to be somewhere else. However, Biancaniello said that things will be smoother going forward when they have more folks working behind the bar.
Some of the drinks were crazy and experimental, and I enjoyed each of them. Every week will be a different adventure in cocktails with new, seasonal produce—and that sounds like a great way to spend the summer trying them out.