BIRDS & BEES LA | Just Extraordinary Cocktails
Who can resist the allure of venturing into a hidden establishment, the mystique of what lies behind a secret door or decor that makes you feel you’ve traveled back to another time? During Prohibition, in the 1920s and ‘30s, drinkers were forced into clandestine speakeasies. Purveyors of liquor found endlessly inventive ways to disguise their operations behind seemingly innocuous fronts. And while today Prohibition may be over, the allure of a hidden, exclusive watering hole remains as strong as ever.
Downtown Los Angeles’ hardest-to-find hip bar, Birds & Bees, eschews the traditional Prohibition-era decor for a fresh, 1950’s spin on a speakeasy-style tiki bar. Tiki’s birthplace in LA in the1930’s was by a man who went by the moniker Don the Beachcomber. His original 24-seat bar was decorated with a Polynesian flair and he concocted powerful rum drinks for his customers. Soon after, his rival and friend, Victor Bergeron, started the Trader Vic’s chain of tiki restaurants. Some may think of tiki as kitschy, but at that time it was a chic, black-tie affair and a hot Hollywood hangout for regulars Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and the Marx Brothers to name a few.
Tiki and great tiki cocktails are decidedly back with a vengeance at Birds & Bees, located in the historic district of DTLA. Housed in a space that previously functioned as a gym for the LAPD, it bears no signage to direct you to its entrance at the rear of a parking lot. Emerging from the shadows, a bouncer will lead downstairs to a brick hallway where windows peer into a mid-century inspired industrial space complete with modernist furnishings. Making your way thru the yellow door you are transported to a 1950s lounge.
While the secret entrance and swanky vibe are downright cool, the real draw is the menu filled with uniquely innovative and perfectly formulated seasonal cocktails. Bar manager and master mixologist Jake Larowe’s passion for combining elixirs and creating extraordinary cocktails are evident as every drink emerges an absolute masterpiece, visually stunning and deliciously well crafted. Larowe, a sort of cocktail historian and revolutionary rolled into one, makes everything in house, from the tinctures to infused liquors to syrups. His elevated mixology also relies on utilizing farmers market fresh seasonal produce, balanced with a variety of imaginative techniques to create one of a kind cocktails. If you’ve had a great tiki drink, one that layers rums in a way that really worked, that contained flavors you couldn’t quite put your finger on, you were probably an unknowing beneficiary of a master mixologist like Larowe.
Keeping with the mid-century theme, drinks are named after famous celebrities from the era as well as local neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The cocktails are crafted according to what those celebs would’ve drunk back in the day and the flavors that each L.A. neighborhood evokes, your classic “go-to” classic cocktails with a 1950s twist! If like me, you love a good Old-Fashioned go for the “You Make Me Feel So Young” made with chocolate chip cookie infused rye whiskey and served with homemade chocolate chip cookies. A whiskey connoisseur? Try the savory and balanced flavor of the “Earth Angel” featuring Ballentine 14-year Caribbean Cask, lactobacillus fermented mushroom juice, served with chocolate dipped dehydrated mushrooms and oranges. In the mood for something amazingly surprising and delicious, check out the “Tom Lehrer” a tiki leaning play on a Negroni using a blend of three rums infused with fresh banana and house-made tiki bitters. If you’re feeling the need to escape to a tropical paradise, let the “Summer Wind,” a deconstructed take on a Pina Colada, transport you – it’s a blend of three rums, curaçao, passion fruit, caramelized pineapple, coconut sugar, whipped coconut cream, toasted coconut! Luscious to drink and stunningly beautiful to look at. After all, part of tiki’s charm is how visually appealing the drinks are, bursting with color, personality and occasionally outlandish-ness!
The menu also includes a modern version of the old Trader Vic’s punch bowl, a feat of balanced flavor and presentation. The newest addition is the “Captain Kangaroo” featuring gin and St. Bernardus Witbier. The punch bowls can be shared between anywhere from two to eight friends.
Not to be overlooked is Ryan Koller, General Manager, whose attention to detail raises Birds & Bees to the most exciting destination for 1950’s cool and elevated mixology in DTLA. The work Koller and Larowe put into designing and making each cocktail perfect and unique should be experienced by every cocktail enthusiast. Grab your friends, impress them with the hidden location, treat them to exceptional cocktails all while reliving that swanky 1950’s vibe.
Photography Courtesy Birds&Bess LA