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Cocktails

17 Jul 2017
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It’s Saturday night, and Workshop Kitchen + Bar, in downtown Palm Springs, is buzzing. The bar is full—and the drink tickets are piling up.

A party of 12 walks in the door. A complicated cocktail order could put the bartenders in the weeds, or sink the ship entirely. (Full disclosure: I work at Workshop and its sister bar/restaurant, Truss and Twine—so trust me, I know.) Instead, Workshop bar manager Michelle Bearden deftly pours a pre-batched drink into a large antique punch bowl, tosses in a block of ice, sprinkles some micro edible flowers over the top, and—voila! The group’s first round is ready.

Punch, America’s first cocktail, is a win-win for the bartender and the guest, and is a perfect option for a party at home.

Bearden first realized the magic of the punch bowl when attending Orange County Bartenders Cabinet meetings, where roughly 50 groggy bartenders might show up at once, looking for a little hair of the dog. The punch bowls allowed attendees to get a drink in their hands before they started introducing themselves and mingling.

Bearden calls punch “a social lubrication.”

“For special events at the restaurant, or if you’re hosting something at your house, I love the idea of punch bowls, because it’s the water cooler of the party,” Bearden said. “It’s such a great way to break the ice, and it’s interactive: You go back to fill up your cup, or someone else’s. It’s very social and can get a dialogue going.”

Bearden said that on a busy Saturday night, Workshop might make six to 10 punch bowls, at least. The 5-year-old Uptown Design District staple offers one punch on the menu—the venerable Pisco Punch, Workshop’s take on the classic concoction containing Peruvian brandy, the house-made pineapple shrub, lemon juice, clove and sparkling wine—but will spin any drinks on the cocktail list into a bowl on request. The Pisco Punch at Workshop is perfectly balanced, refreshing, easy to drink and delicious.

Punch bowls are usually kept on the lighter side, as far as the alcohol by volume is concerned.

“They’re meant to be made so you can have two or three or four, and not get knocked on your ass,” Bearden said. “I love that about them.”

Bearden said she’s made punch bowls for groups in size from four up to 80 (!), and large groups can pre-order a punch bowl so the first round is ready the moment the party walks in the door.

“You walk up to your table, and there’s the vintage punch bowl all set with these cute little vintage tea cups. That just puts a good taste in everyone’s mouth,” Bearden said. “It’s exciting and takes the experience to the next level.”

Punch’s roots run deep, perhaps as early as 17th-century India. Punch has five important elements, which are basically the building blocks of the modern craft cocktail: liquor, sugar, citrus, tea (or spice) and water. It’s believed “punch” may have been derived from the Farsi and Hindi word for “five,” which is pronounced “panch.”

English sailors brought the concept of punch and its necessary spices home with them, and by the end of the 17th century, a bowl of punch was all the rage throughout England and its colonies. Back then, punch was usually served hot, but it was sometimes made with ice or cool water for the upper class.

James Ashley, known as the world’s first celebrity bartender, had a famous tavern—The Sign of the Two Punch Bowls, where punch was the obvious staple—on Ludgate Hill in London from 1731 until his death in 1776. Punch has always been community-oriented, and has crossed class boundaries from lowly sailors to British Lords. It’s odd but true: In the 18th century, men used to carry little silver nutmeg graters around with them for their punch.

A punch and its five elements can easily be thought of as the cornerstone of tiki cocktails as well, and any tiki bar worth its salt should offer punch bowls. The two main tiki bars in town—Bootlegger Tiki and Tonga Hut—fill the bill.

Bootlegger’s signature punch for the summer is called Knee Deep, named after the classic George Clinton song. It includes Cuban-style rum, Blanc Rhum, aquavit, pear brandy, pineapple, lime, pineapple gomme, blue curaçao and soda. Like all the drinks on the list at Bootlegger, the Knee Deep is perfectly balanced and rich with flavor.

“I think it’s important to remember the idea behind punch is to have something light that can be enjoyed for an hour to a whole afternoon, depending on the event,” said Chad Austin, beverage director at the 3-year old Bootlegger, located in the Uptown Design District and attached to Ernest Coffee. “You aren’t trying to get everyone tanked, just loosened up after a few cups.”

Tonga Hut, in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, lists two punch bowls on its menu: the classic Scorpion Bowl and the Tonga Hut Treasure—but offers any of its drinks as a bowl for two or more people. The Tonga Hut Treasure is an original recipe containing rum, orange liqueur, cream, honey, orgeat and grapefruit. The Scorpion Bowl has rum, brandy and almond. The punches are served in classic volcano bowls—lit on fire and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, tableside, for a spark.

Legend has it the Scorpion Bowl was born in the 1930s at a bar in Honolulu called The Hut as a single-serve concoction, but came to prominence when “Trader Vic” Bergeron scooped up the recipe roughly a dozen years later. He then tweaked it, multiplied it and served it up at his famous Oakland bar.

No matter the setting, from fine dining to tiki to a pool party, a bowl of punch is a great kickoff.

“It gets the energy going,” Bearden said. “No one is looking at each other and asking, ‘Are you going to have a drink, or are you going to have an ice tea?’ It sets the stage and gets things moving in the right direction.”

Patrick Johnson is a journalist and head bartender at Truss and Twine. He can be emailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

20 Jun 2017
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Last month, I admitted experimenting with vodka. Well, I think it’s time for a talk.

Due to the timing of my lease ending, rent going up by $100 a month (seriously?), looming air conditioning bills and summer break at Seymour’s approaching; I decided to spend some time back in the ancestral homeland known as Massachusetts.

How long will I be back here in the East? We shall see, but the desert has certainly grabbed a hold on me, and I can feel it tugging already. Before leaving, I spent quite a bit of time saying my temporary goodbye by consuming potables at my neighborhood bars and restaurants. Being that my neighborhood was the Arenas Road area of downtown Palm Springs, this meant a fair amount of vodka.

Of course, one does not need to drink vodka on Arenas; the bartenders at Chill reach for the Jameson bottle as soon as they see me walk in the door, and on the rare event I make it to Bongo Johnny’s before 2 a.m., they do the same—but vodka is the drink of choice for most people on Arenas, it seems.

I believe every alcoholic spirit has its time and place. When the temps breach 100 degrees, and you are marathon day-drinking with friends and strangers, vodka makes sense. Straight out of the bottle, ice-cold from the freezer with a pickle chaser? Yes, please! 

I was intrigued to see a new place serving both food and drink open on Arenas, after seeing it under construction for months. Blackbook didn’t even have a sign up when I first visited, but some friends who were sort of “unofficial consultants” on the project had informed me that it was, in fact, open. Not only was it open; it was rather busy—word gets around in a small town. I met up with my companions, who informed me that the owners had never done a restaurant before, which is usually not a good sign. The first thing I noticed was the giant wall of Hanson vodkas—different flavors in various hues. Normally, I would find that off-putting, like walking into a bar from a commercial, but I really grew to like the bold statement: “We’re a vodka bar; we’re not pretending to be something else.” The look of the uniform bottles in sharply different hues was rather striking, actually—a back-bar Andy Warhol, in a way.

My friends had informed me ahead of time that there would not yet be a cocktail menu. (Again, this was during the soft opening.) Being that I was a touch hung over that day, I had bartender (and neighbor—I had no idea he was working there!) Justin whip me up something that would be refreshing and light. He had been churning out tall glasses of a sort of cucumber vodka mojito, and suggested one. Sure, why not?

Remember when I said every spirit has a time and a place? Well, when the Devil’s Revenge fried-chicken sandwich came out in all its infernal glory, I was glad to have a cooling cucumber-and-mint drink to soothe the heat. I was told I was the first one to finish the sandwich, after a couple of weeks of selling them. Can’t take that away from me! As for the cocktail list, bartender Daved has some vodka and non-vodka concoctions on the way, including one with bourbon, honey and grapefruit named “Honey Booze-Booze.” He made one for my companion, and I tried it after my mouth stopped burning. Fitting for a party street, it was a tall drink of danger—sort of a whiskey punch and Brown Derby mixed together.

You might be asking: “Wait … did he just do a write up about a bar without a cocktail program? Who wrote this, and what did you do with that other guy?!” Yes, I did, and not just to brag about my tolerance for spicy sandwiches; I am trying to prove a point: Vodka is, by its own nature, an unpretentious spirit. It has no age designation and no geographic attribution, and it is made out of the humblest of raw materials. The cognac maker can boast about his grand cru, the Scotch distiller his merroir, and the bourbon baron his rickhouse; even the humble mezcalero has his own terroir and agave varietal over which to swoon. However, the vodka distiller has merely humble grain or another starch. Does “winter wheat” get your heart racing? How about “estate-grown potatoes”? Sexy, right? Six times distilled? Ten times? I hate to break it to you, folks, but that is basically all a bunch of marketing hogwash. Don’t believe me? Get a few drinks into someone who actually makes the stuff. I have—several times, in fact. They know it’s malarkey, and without getting into the nitty-gritty of how continuous stills work, they’re … well, continuous. Distillate goes round and round and gets separated off constantly, with no way to say how many times it has all been distilled. You could use a pot still, of course, but the point of a pot still is to leave more congeners (things that aren’t alcohol and water; they bring flavors and, sometimes, hangovers) in the mix instead of just making neutral grain spirits, so then you have to distill it more times to get it mostly flavorless.

When I worked (briefly) at a place that had more than 200 different vodkas on the menu, and I did my best to know a little something about each one. At that restaurant, I was probably one of the worst servers, but, dammit, I knew the vodka flavor profiles! There were the bread or biscuit ones, the vanilla and butterscotch ones, the spicy ones made with rye (sorry, Polish-vodka drinkers; it’s usually rye, not potato!), the soapy French and Swedish ones, and the sharp and racy Russian ones. That's just the tip of the iceberg … seriously. But the funny thing that happens when you make a cocktail, basically any cocktail, with vodka is that you lose most, if not all, of that flavor. That is why craft bartenders balk when you say, “I want a vodka cocktail, not too sweet!”

But if you still insist on ordering a vodka cocktail at a craft bar, here’s how to get something you actually want to drink:

1. Are you feeling something citrusy? Want something with berries, or herbs? Perhaps something more adventurous? Lead with that: “I’m looking for something with citrus and mint, or maybe basil?”

2. Are there any flavors you hate? Tell me: “I don't like grapefruit, though.”

3. Do you want it in a martini glass (“up”) or with soda (“long”)?

4. Puh-lease don’t say “not too sweet.” I know I am fighting a losing battle here, but saying that leads me to feel like you think I don't know how to balance a cocktail properly. I know that you don't mean it that way, but it is not a great way to start our relationship! If you think a bartender is going to serve you a sugary mess, don't order a custom drink from him or her.

5. If dietary restrictions prevent you from having any sugar at all, like even from juice or vermouth, let me know. That leaves you with maybe two drinkable cocktails … sorry! And, please, no Splenda or Equal; that is just awful.

Friends, stay cool during the summer months. I will still be involved in this column while I am away; you’ll see how next month.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

30 May 2017
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May was a strange month for me—a time of pushing the limits of good sense, as the end-of-season fatigue began to show.

What drinks am I working on? Well, you might get an ancho La Louisiane (delicious) or … well, I was only half-kidding last month about the muddled pretzels.

In my personal drinking, I have experimented with vodka. I swear, I don’t know how some of you do that to yourself.

I also made a shocking discovery: Some people seem to like it when I prattle on about bar geekery. I figured, for some reason, people would prefer to hear about my shoving cocktails and burgers down my gullet over lessons on the minutiae of back bars and obscure liquor suggestions. But lately, I’ve had my assumptions tested. I even had a friend at another publication ask me for my deepest musings on fernet. Well, there is a lot of meat on that bone! However, as far as the home bartender and craft enthusiast is concerned, fernet is a bit of an auxiliary—albeit a worthy one.

The real hero is fernet’s larger family group: amaro!

This is a big topic … where to begin? Well, it’s hard to start this discussion without mentioning the most important member of the family: Averna. I remember many years ago watching a middle-age man walk into one of the more cutting-edge cocktail bars in Boston, and start ripping shots of the stuff. After he walked out, I asked the bartender: “What kind of person drinks Averna like that?” He answered simply: “A (expletive deleted) legend.”

Amaro is a type of bitter liquor; that simple description could really cover a lot of ground, but amaro varieties are (generally) dark, (often) semi-sweet and (most often) from Italy. The recipes are closely guarded secrets, with common ingredients being saffron, cassia bark, cinchona bark, citrus peel, thistle, rhubarb, myrrh and on and on. No Italian restaurant is complete without a few different flavors of amaro, up on a shelf over the service bar, collecting dust. Some of you might even have a bottle sitting in your liquor cabinet. Well, dust that baby off, ’cuz we’re making some cocktails!

Arguably, the first amaro cocktail you should be making (or having your bartender make for you) is the Black Manhattan. Want a nice, balanced Manhattan, but hate vermouth? This is the drink for you. This little gem comes from what I refer to as the “rye-revolution” of the early 21st century, a time when Manhattan variations were popping up all over Brooklyn like moistened mogwai. It even has an easy-to-remember recipe based on that famous Manhattan area code, 212:

2 ounces of rye whiskey

1 ounce of amaro Averna

2 dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters

Do you have a friend who hates Campari? No worries! Just substitute Averna, and they, too, can join you for Negroni week!

Want to see how versatile this black, sticky stuff is? Try my new baby, the Strangelove:

1 ounce of gin

3/4 ounce of Averna

3/4 ounce of lime juice

1/2 ounce of creme de pêche

A dash of simple syrup to taste

I consider this drink a nod to Depeche Mode fans. (Get it? Creme de pêche? Sorry.) You can also be just like that unnamed legend and shoot three or four shots of Averna in a row, but I don’t advise it.

Amaro Nonino certainly deserves a shout-out here, as it is featured in a modern classic known as the Paper Plane (despite a beloved guest who insists it’s called a Sweet and Sour). This beauty is equal parts Nonino, bourbon, Aperol and lemon juice, shaken and served up. Amaro Nonino is lighter in body than Averna, but if you want to use Averna in this one, it works.

Don’t think I would forget about Cynar, Sicily’s artichoke-laced contribution to the amaro world. Cynar is one of the ultimate utility infielders of the back bar; I can’t count how many times I have had a young bartender, smiling like he invented yoga pants, tell me how he likes to substitute a little Cynar in his Manhattan for vermouth, or in his Negroni for Campari, etc.; it never gets old. Also, don’t worry about the artichoke thing; it doesn’t actually taste like artichokes at all. In fact, the day someone tries Cynar completely ignorant of the label and says, “Oooh, tastes like artichokes!” is the day I hang up my Hawthorne strainers for good.


Enough learning for one day; I think it’s time for a road trip.

Due to the fact that I have no car, I’ve barely left Palm Springs for nine months … so where should I go for a day trip? San Diego? Los Angeles?

Nah, Indio. Someone told me Neil’s Lounge might be a good remedy for months of tiki, martinis and electro Cher. I really had no idea what to expect, to be honest. I walked in to the sounds of contemporary country music, and moved past the pool table into the main lounge. It was late afternoon; a few regulars were hanging around, sipping beer and highballs. If there was a cocktail list, I didn’t see one, and I didn’t ask to see one.

I ordered a burger and a whiskey, and tried to not look too out of place. I didn’t ask about amaro.

I actually built a bar once that looked more than a little like this place. I mean built, too—my body still bears some scars from the construction. It was in Northern Arizona, and we called it The Lodge. I had no idea what I was doing. They said I was the best bartender in town, aside from the cute girl at the place down the road, and the other one who gave the place away. That’s where the bartending bug started—I was a recent college kid slinging Crown-and-cokes for the cowboys and country girls. It was perfect.

After a couple of years of that, I headed back East to see what would happen next. I am feeling back in a happy place right now.

The best drinks and memories are both bittersweet. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have next on the pool table.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

18 Apr 2017
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I, perhaps foolishly, put off buying a car after moving to the Coachella Valley—and, therefore, have been depriving myself of all that the Coachella Valley has to offer outside of Palm Springs proper.

However, I recently was able to get a taste of what I’ve been missing. It happened after an abortive trip to help my friend get locals’ Coachella tickets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden; we decided to make the most of the trip and have an early lunch—and perhaps an adult beverage or two. We decided to try Eureka! in Indian Wells, a place that several people had suggested to me over the last few months.

The bartender, Kris, was super-attentive, guiding me through the cocktail menu as my companion desperately searched Craigslist for tickets (against my advice!). I settled on The Industry and Holy Smokes! to start.

The Industry is an easy-going mix of tequila, pineapple, ginger, orange and cilantro. Should you find yourself looking for a cocktail to mollify a disappointing morning, I highly suggest it. It is a tasty concoction (it’s hard not to be tasty with pineapple and orange; they go together like peanut butter and jelly) and went down smoothly on an empty stomach. Breakfast!

I waited until my (very tasty) burger showed up to get the Holy Smokes!, a riff on an Old Fashioned. It comes with no shortage of flash; they use a smoker with hickory chips to fumigate the Mason jar in which it is served. After waiting the recommended 45 seconds, I took the lid off and got my first taste of the smoke, bourbon, maple syrup and chocolate bitters. It tasted like childhood—minus the bourbon, of course, like summer by the lake in New England toasting s’mores over a campfire. Interestingly, it took a couple of sips to get that memory right. At first, I thought of campfires, then hard chocolate candy, then marshmallow; finally, I put it all together. I would prefer a tad less maple—the sweetness became a bit much as I sipped—but I would definitely order it again, because it is a really nice cocktail. (For heaven’s sake, though, never order a drink “less sweet” if you haven’t tried it before. Trust your bartender!)

Kris then walked me through the most impressive part of the place: the back bar. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I always judge a place by its back bar. The selection of whiskey was unique, to say the least. Not to toot my own horn, but it is rare for me to not know even one bottle on a back bar, and they had at least 10 with which I was not familiar. Since I wasn’t driving, and had already planned on a nap, I treated myself to a pour of their house label (!) single malt, Cask 311. It was served in a snifter, and the first thing that hit me was the alcohol—whoa, was it hot. After adding a few drops of water (trust and try, folks), I got maple and honey on the nose, changing to pecans and hazelnuts on the palate. It was a nice American take on a Highland Scotch.

Back in Palm Springs … speaking of back bars, I got a chance to see one of the best around at Truss and Twine. Actually, I got to see it twice—once before the bar’s opening, and once a few weeks into operation.

I always like to give a place a little time to find its rhythm before I show up with my obnoxious criticism. Full disclosure: Several of the guys who work here are buddies of mine … and that means I really want to bust their chops. That being said, there isn’t too much to bust here. The menu is unlike any in the Coachella Valley (that I have seen or heard about, at least), having been broken into cocktail eras. They cover it all (ambitious!), even the “Dark Ages” of the Surfer on Acid and the White Russian. Never mind that I began my bartending journey in the “Dark Ages”; we have come a long way in just a couple of decades, and reinventing these drinks has been a minor trend in the big cities for a couple of years. It’s novel to see it here in Palm Springs, as I do enjoy a quality White Russian now and then.

The first time I showed up—hilariously and accidentally in a blue denim shirt, which happens to be the Truss and Twine uniform—I got a sneak peak at bar manager Dave Castillo’s Game Changer, a marriage of the Eastside and the Oceanside cocktail with the mint replaced with … wait for it … onion brine! Kudos to him for using an actual original ingredient. (My experiments with muddled pretzels are not going as well as planned.) The onion brine brings a funky dimension to the drink. It’s not for everyone, but give it try if you’re feeling frisky.

For those feeling less-adventurous, I suggest the Queen’s Park Swizzle, a drink with Caribbean roots dating back to the 1920s. At its heart, it’s Demerara rum, lime, mint and Angostura bitters (or “ango” in the business parlance). The drink comes out looking like a traffic light, with the red ango on top, green mint on the bottom, and yellow in the middle—an inviting presentation. It goes down easy.

Sadly, I was not really in a cocktail mood, as I’d been dosing myself with tiki drinks before arriving, so I mostly accompanied the (excellent) steak tartare with a couple of glasses of nice rye whiskey. The whiskey options are great, and the DJ spinning throwback jams added a nice touch. The cocktails run between $10 and $16, but there are several nice happy-hour options for us thrifty locals looking to unwind in the afternoon.

And afternoon drinking is a basic right in the desert, yes?

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17 Mar 2017
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It’s time to take a break from walking around town, grabbing drinks at local establishments and pontificating. Instead, let’s talk cocktails and cocktail culture for a bit!

Tipplers of all types can enhance nights on the town by being savvy about what to expect from an establishment. How do you know what a bar does well? Well, there are certain tells, and with just a little knowledge, you can get the most out of your night, no matter where you go. Just like you would have more fun off-road with a Jeep than a Porsche, and the opposite on a racetrack, understanding what a bar does best is easy to discover once you learn what to look for.

First, look at the back bar (what we bartenders call the shelves behind the bar). There is no truer sign of what the bar director envisions for the bar program: How much room is given to flavored vodkas? How many labels are variations of the same brand? If the answer to either is more than a few, you are not in a craft-cocktail bar. You are in a bar that has probably been in business for a long time (there’s nothing wrong with that) that doesn’t want to challenge guests (which, again, makes business sense). The guest wants a “(blank) and soda,” and they get it. This bar is not trying to make the guest read a menu of Prohibition-era variations. Don’t see a bottle of Green Chartreuse? Then don’t order a Last Word at this bar. Don’t see little bottles of bitters on the bar—or at least that stalwart white-paper wrapper of Angostura? Then this place is probably not going to make a good old fashioned. I spent a lot of time over my long career working at places like this, and plenty of good bartenders still do. Maybe they make great money; maybe they have fun at work, a good relationship with ownership, or aren’t into cocktails. There’s no sense trying to embarrass him or her by ordering a Penicillin.

So … how do you make the most out of drinking here? Be specific: “A Manhattan, two parts to one rye whiskey to vermouth, with three dashes of bitters, stirred, with twist of orange.” If the bartender says they don’t have rye, gives you a blank stare, or says they don’t have bitters, perhaps you should just have a bourbon and soda. We are past the point where this should still be excusable, but it will happen. If this is a restaurant you really like otherwise, let the bartender or manager know that you would come in more often if they could make your drink. They may take the hint!

Also: The next time you have a great … let’s say a Manhattan, ask the bartender for the recipe. (Say: “This is great; what are your specs on this drink?” You’ll sound like a pro.) That way you can get it the way you want anywhere, theoretically.

Now, let’s say the back bar is super-varied, perhaps with brands you aren’t familiar with, and lacking some of the famous labels. It would seem you have found yourself a craft program! This is a truer sign than twisty mustaches and suspenders. Are the bottles mostly whiskey, gin, tequila or rum back there? Maybe they’re dominated by bitter-sweet bottles with Italian names, or mescal—that would tell you how the program is grounded. A whiskey bar should still be able to make a margarita, of course, but chances are the bartender is more proud of his or her classic sour. Looks can be deceiving, of course; we only have two mezcals at Seymour’s, for instance, but I am super-proud of my mezcal drinks. Nine times out of 10, though, the extent of a bar’s selection is a good sign of its strength.

So, how do you make the most out of your experience? Well, firstly, please don’t ask which drinks are “sweet.” A good craft program is going to have balanced drinks—sweet, tart and bitter, all in the right proportions. Save that question for the flavored-vodka bars!

Secondly, if you normally drink vodka, please give gin a chance. I have drinks that use gin and taste nothing like that plastic-bottle stuff you got sick drinking in 1988. Yes, I can substitute vodka, but I promise it won’t taste as good; vodka gets pushed around by strong flavors, trust me. Start with a Bee’s Knees or a Corpse Reviver No. 2, and you will be pleasantly surprised. If gin is still too scary, maybe try a fruit brandy. They are generally clear and like vodka in many ways, but retain some of the natural flavor of the fruit. I use Clear Creek pear brandy often; pisco (a South American brandy made with grapes) used to make a classic sour is another great choice for those who don’t like brown spirits.

Thirdly, please don’t rewrite a recipe you haven’t tried. We get people all the time asking for “no simple syrup” or “no egg white” or whatever. If you have dietary restrictions, just let us know, and we can tailor a drink just for you. Just want rum and lime juice? Cool; I think it would be better with a little sugar, but if you insist, I will be happy to make it. But, really, there’s no need to deconstruct a balanced, complicated drink to get something the bartender won’t be proud to serve. Besides, egg whites are delicious in cocktails, so give them a chance! Trust me—it’s a lot more work to put them into drinks, and I wouldn’t recommend them if I weren’t convinced they make a better product.

I know I sound preachy or fussy, but I promise you most of us are not stuck up divas. I drink a beer and a shot when I go out after work much of the time, and so do most of my bartender friends. We just are proud of what we make, and want you to enjoy our drinks. (That said, if you see the bartender up to his or her eyeballs in drink orders, ordering a vodka soda instead of a Ramos fizz is just fine!)

Wait … did I say I was going to take a break from pontificating? Well, sorry, I can’t help it, and here’s just a little more before I conclude: Not every place needs a craft program, but every place should make balanced drinks, and have pride in what they do. It’s nice to see that here in the Coachella Valley, there is an honest desire on the part of the service industry to raise the quality level of the local cocktail scene.

In the upcoming months, I will be exploring two different approaches by two of the bigger players in town: Workshop’s new endeavor at Truss and Twine, and the Taco Maria-designed program at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. I will also be checking out smaller bar programs around the valley that are taking pride in what they do, and I am always happy to hear suggestions of places that might not be on my radar.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17 Feb 2017
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I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it was due to a post-holiday malaise; maybe I was simply succumbing to the general trend in popular culture.

Whatever the cause, I began reminiscing on my first experiences drinking in public places: a smoky blues club, Chinese restaurant lounges, fancy dinners out with family, etc. While I was unable to locate a smoky blues club here in the Coachella Valley (send me suggestions!), I did visit two analogues of the other places to see how they matched up with my first memories of drinking.

I had never been to Melvyn’s before, but I felt like I had: So many people have told me about the place that I had a pretty good mental picture before walking in for the first time—and that picture was pretty spot-on. It was busy for a weekday (judging by the comments of the regulars surrounding me), but I managed to snag a prime barstool. I usually can; it’s kind of my superpower.

Surrounded by pictures of faces of celebrities living and deceased, I settled in and made friends with a couple of Canadian teetotalers next to me. They said they came here all the time, and were wondering if I was here to see it before the new ownership possibly changes things (which is apparently a big concern among regulars).

The bartender, Michael, was working the whole restaurant alone. I got anxiety just watching him, but he kept his cool. The maître d’ made the rounds and knew the guests by name. I asked the maître d’ what time the music started, and he pointed at the piano player: “At 7, or whenever the spirit moves him.” A minute or two later, the tinkling of ivory floated out from the corner. I guess the spirit was moving him—as it was beginning to move me.

I got a dry martini … what else am I going to put on a napkin featuring Frank Sinatra’s face? I ordered Bombay gin—craft gin’s not an option here. Shaken lightly, giant olives, hardly any vermouth … yeah, this is not the way you’d get it at my bar, but there are eras to cocktails, and they need to be acknowledged. For a place from this era, the tinkling of chip ice against the thin walls of a three-part shaker was a sound of success. I’m sure even Dale DeGroff was shaking plenty of gin martinis once upon a time. (That said, if you work at any place built in the last 20 years, and you shake my gin martini … well, let’s not go there.) Cold gin, a shrimp cocktail, piano music, Old Blue Eyes regarding me warmly from his paper prison … how much more old Palm Springs does it get?

The bartender suggested a Maker’s Mark Manhattan next, as though he were reading my mind; this drink was a mainstay of my early-to-mid-20s. Just like the ones I drank in my early-to-mid-20s, it was also shaken and light on vermouth, with nary a bitters bottle in sight. I didn’t come here for a Death and Co. Manhattan; I came for the kind my dad made at his bar—and I got it. (Again, bartenders: Don’t you dare do this if your clientele is younger than 75, on average.)

All and all, it was a lovely journey back to an era that we will never see again, since modern restaurant philosophy has changed so much—and so irreversibly.


So … there’s craft tiki; there’s tiki; and there is what I grew up drinking at the (long-gone) Aloha and other lounges that once peppered the Northeast: a sort of tiki/American-Chinese chimera with sour mix galore, and with loose interpretations of recipes by Trader Vic and Donn Beach (the creator of Don the Beachcomber), along with lots of greasy pork and noodles to sop up the ample booze. Oh, and ID checks were lenient, too. It was heaven. Luckily for me, some pockets of California held on to tiki in its more-or-less-original form. I’d heard that Tonga Hut, with a location in Palm Springs, was one of those places. I went to investigate.

First of all, it totally looks the part, aside from a balcony overlooking Palm Canyon Drive, but that’s a nice touch my Aloha could never have had. Everything was just as I imagined. I ordered a mai tai, which was made according to the Trader Vic recipe. (With all due respect to Donn Beach, I prefer the Trader Vic recipe, too—mostly because it’s way less complicated.) It was tasty and citrus-forward, with plenty of rum and a backbone of orange liqueur and almond—thankfully nothing like the pineapple-juice-and-rum versions of my youth! They had crab rangoons and beef teriyaki, and these dishes were actually much lighter-tasting and way less greasy than what I grew up eating (although I am not sure how I feel about that).

Next, I had bartender Josh make me a painkiller, one of those rarely seen tiki concoctions which was actually trademarked by Pusser’s Rum. It is a tasty mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream and a garnish of nutmeg. Because glassware is crucial to proper tiki, Josh even served it in a classic Pusser’s enameled metal mug. If you haven’t had one of these, give it a try: The ample nutmeg may seem a little odd at first, but once you get used to it, it really makes the drink feel festive. It has the DNA of a piña colada, but ends up tasting very different; the orange juice and nutmeg offer it a unique flavor.

Tonga Hut is definitely a good spot for those seeking a classic tiki fix, or for those, like me, who are just trying to scratch that itch for nostalgia.


Nostalgia cured, I went back to work.

I felt like I left the Bloody Mary debate a little unresolved last month, so I set about trying the drink at various places around town, despite my aversion to it in general. I felt it was my duty to know where the best one was; call it a sense of journalistic integrity, if you’d like.

I had been hearing over the last few months that Sparrows Lodge was a nice place to grab lunch, so when a friend called me up on a sunny afternoon, we decided to give it a go.

I had been to Sparrows once before, for an evening event, so I already knew the environment is unreal: You literally cannot take a bad picture here. I have tried. I ordered the Bloody Mary, knowing it could make or break my experience. It was wonderful, light and almost refreshing, with a sensible garnish of pickled okra. There seemed to be chili oil floating on top; I tasted mustard seeds and citrus. The vinegar was bright but not overpowering, with no congealed horseradish chunks in sight. While I would not have a second one in succession, because it’s still a Bloody Mary, I was impressed—so impressed that I am calling it the best one in town (at least that I have had so far).

So … goodbye nostalgia (and goodbye, Bloody Marys); time to move on and explore some new ground, even though it has been a fun trip down memory lane.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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