Even though Los Angeles is known as the birthplace of tiki and spicy margaritas abound, Angelenos love a good Martini. The stirred classic is perfectly suited to LA’s temperate clime. And though a frosty Martini can cut through the hottest summer days, its silky potency also complements wintry nights. I have some favorite go-to spots for Martinis across the city, and since I usually prefer to sip one alongside food, whether caviar and chips or a burger, most of my picks happen to be restaurants.
Chef Ray Garcia’s restaurant located in the iconic Walt Disney Hall is a must-visit for Martini lovers. The cocktail menu features three variations, two of which are called Martini #2 and Martini #3. I prefer the latter made with a cucumber, dill, and thyme-infused Nikka Coffey gin, dry and blanc vermouth blend, and saline drops. The cocktail is served in a Nick & Nora glass rinsed with maitake mushroom stock. Bar Director Chris Chernock plans to continue making his own takes so a Martini #300 isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
This Los Feliz cocktail bar has long been my go-to for brunch, post-hike drinks, and dinner with cocktails. But they recently debuted what is the best Gibson I’ve ever had: Kirk’s Gibson by Bar Manager Eugene Lee. Pearl onions are grilled before they are pickled in a brine of Korean chiles and black peppercorn. The bianco vermouth is infused with caramelized onions, making for a beautifully savory sipper. As an ode to 1988 LA Dodgers Kirk Gibson, Korean Funyuns are served in a Dodger helmet bowl with the cocktail.
Usually, calling anything “the world’s best” is asking for trouble. But the “World’s Best Martini” at Fanny’s Restaurant, located in the Academy Museum, is totally justifiable. Bartender Julian Cox conducted extensive R&D to craft this cocktail made with equal parts Kastra Elion vodka and Ki No Bi Japanese gin and a dash of orange bitters, yuzu bitters, and saline tincture. It’s batched in decanters and stored in a freezer until it’s time to serve. I highly recommend enjoying this Martini with the double-patty burger.
Here’s Looking at You
Ever since the beloved Koreatown restaurant opened in 2016, a wet Martini variation has taken the top spot on the menu. The first one ever was a strawberry-infused Fifty-Fifty by bartenders Allan Katz and Danielle Crouch (both of Jammyland in Vegas). But today’s variation, created by Bar Director Danny Rubenstein and called Ta-Ta Martini, features barrel-aged Bimini Gin, bianco vermouth, Cocchi Americano, fennel liqueur, and Gancia aperitivo.
The Maybourne Bar
When Maybourne Hotel took over the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, it made the genius move to transform what was the concierge desk into a truly gorgeous lobby bar complete with next-level cocktails by Head Mixologist Chris Amirault. In one of his previous menus, Amirault created his take on the Vesper called Omega, which proved the perfect accompaniment to an order of caviar and chips. But currently, he’s serving up the Bali H’ai, his take on a lychee Martini with Haku vodka, dry vermouth rested with Nepalese cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms-fermented ginjo sake, and lychee juice. “It has a beautiful floral aroma that tastes like biting into a lychee but still undoubtedly drinks like a Martini,” he said.
The Musso & Frank Grill
No LA Martini list would be complete without this century-old landmark on Hollywood Boulevard. But it’s not just the cocktail (ice-cold gin, no vermouth) that makes this steakhouse a must, it’s also the old Hollywood ambiance. The red leather booths and red-jacketed waiters and bartenders have even shown up in Mad Men and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin drank here as did Charles Bukowski, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. Definitely order up a Gibson alongside that sirloin and soak in the history.
For a truly luxurious Martini, reserve a seat at this Michelin-starred restaurant’s bar. Beverage Director Kim Stodel is serving up the Italian Job, a dirty Martini made with Wheatley vodka, roasted hazelnut, black truffle, and Dirty Sue olive brine. The drink’s name comes courtesy of co-owner/general manager Donato Poto who says those ingredients “felt very Italian to him,” according to Stodel.
Bar Director Tobin Shea loves Martinis as both a precursor to dinner as well as something to sip on during the meal. For his variations, he aims to preserve the cocktail’s perfection but “we are also not afraid to add items that would seem a far cry from the classic gin and vermouth,” he said. Although Redbird, located in the historic Vibiana (a former cathedral) has served nori-infused gin Martinis and a Christmas tree-inspired one with St. George Terroir gin and Clear Creek Douglas fir eau de vie, they’re going back to the classics on the current menu with a Turf Club.