Figure 1: Santa Monica Beach. If you get on 1-10 in Houston and drive west for 24 hours, this is where you will end up.
1. I am currently unemployed (unfortunately, being a cocktail connoisseur does not count as employment), and as such have a surfeit of free time.
2. My good friend Jason and his lovely fiancee Rebecca (who writes this great wedding blog) live in Los Angeles and had graciously offered to let me stay with them. (This is important, when you're unemployed.)
3. I've always been intrigued by the fact that 1-10, which runs right through the middle of downtown Houston, goes all the way to California. This freeway I've known my whole life, that goes right past the Budweiser brewery and my parents' house, goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Just one road. So every time I drove to church, or to mom and dad's, there was this tantalizing thought of California, far, far, away.
4. The deserts of the Southwest (which 1-10 spends a lot of time in before it gets to California) were calling my name.
5. Did I mention there's this really great cocktail bar in Santa Monica?
So...did it live up to my expectations?
Figure 2: The Copa D'Oro.
Ambiance: Loved the beach. Loved downtown Santa Monica. (Except that it was a total bear to park, but that's everywhere in LA.) This place...eh. I hate to say this, since the drinks were so good, but the decor was a little bit like what I would expect to see if the Cheesecake Factory were a bar. Very traditional. Lots of overstuffed leather.
Scene: Lots of young professionals. Already pretty hoppin at 7:30 on a Thursday night, and it got even busier as the night wore on.
Post happy hour we switched over to the main cocktail menu, which was a wonder to behold. Seriously, the waitress probably came about three different times to take our order, only to find me still staring raptly at the menu, unable to make a decision. I really, really wanted one of everything. Even now, as I peruse the menu on the Copa D'Oro's website, I feel a lingering sadness that I was unable to try them all.
After much deliberation, I finally settled on the ominous-sounding Judgement Day, a combo of pisco, elderflower liqueur, absinthe, pimento dram, and egg white. (Yeah, I went for the weird stuff.) Jason ordered a King De Bahia, which the waitress assured him was incredibly popular and had won several awards. (I told him he should add "drinker of award-winning cocktails" to his business cards.) Our drinks came, and...Jason won again. And how. The Judgement Day was good, but not mind-blowing. I mean, if you're going to call a drink the Judgement Day, it sure as heck better deliver. The King De Bahia, though - dang. The combo of cachaça, elderflower liqueur, passion fruit, and jalapeño - unusual, to be sure. And also freakishly, freakishly delicious.
One of the most unique things about the Copa D'Oro is they have something called a Market Menu, where you can pick from a list of spirits and then add herbs, fruits, vegetables and different kinds of juice to your drink. So entranced was I by the main cocktail menu that I never got to try this. I was also a little worried. If you picked out a combo that was truly awful - say, Applejack, rosemary, grapefruit and jalapeño - would the bartender tell you that you were way off the mark and make another suggestion? Or would they just serve up your awful cocktail and charge you ten bucks for it? Or...and this possibility is truly mind-boggling - are they just such bartending badasses that it is impossible to go wrong? Someone needs to go to this bar and report back to me, because I am now incredibly curious.
So...the Copa D'Oro gets an enthusiastic (if slightly tipsy) thumbs-up from me. It's really too bad that 24 hours is a little too far to drive to grab a drink at the end of the workday. But hey, within only a few months, I've managed to drink wild and wonderful cocktails at bars on both coasts. All told, not a bad year.