Bartender Eric Alperin, The Varnish, Los Angeles, CA, California, Where to drink, Bartender’s Recommendations, Los Angeles, Where to drink in Los Angeles, Where to eat, Restaurants, Bars, Cocktails, Drinks, Bartenders, Best Bars in LA, Mixers, Sodas, Liquor, Spirits, Pisco, Cane Sugar, Local Recs, Where the locals eat, Insider Recommendations


Recommended By

- Bartender Jim Meehan of PDT in New York, NY

- Bartender Todd Thrasher of PX in Arlington, VA

- Bartender Daniel Shoemaker of Teardrop Lounge in Portland, OR

Q & A


The Varnish



118 East 6th Street / Behind Cole’s

Los Angeles, CA 90014



Los Angeles, CA

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Photographs courtesy of The Varnish

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Q & A with Bartender Eric Alperin

Q. Tell us about The Varnish and the speakeasy element:

A. Cole’s has been around over a hundred years. Mickey Cohen and his “gangster squad” used to commandeer the corner table to the left of the Cole’s bar. Where The Varnish is now (entrance in the back of Cole’s dining room) used to be a dark, windowless dingy storage room. Gangsters, prohibition...  you do the math. 

The Varnish was never an official speakeasy, but then again the definition of one was a table, two chairs and some illegal booze. Illicit stuff happened back there I’m sure, so that’s the story I tell. Or you can just think of it as a former old storage room for Cole’s.

Q. So many respected bartenders (Jim Meehan, Todd Thrasher, Daniel Shoemaker) love your cocktail program at The Varnish, what is it that makes it stand out?

A. Wow.  I love those guys. I have had discussions with each of them on what makes our businesses tick and one thing across the board (however different our programs are) is the importance of hospitality. 

Drinks to me are never better than good and hopefully consistent in their execution. What brings a guests experience to excellent is their experience with us as hosts and the atmosphere of the room. Gracious humbleness is key for us. People have chosen us to spend their hard earned money. We never want to take that for granted. 

In terms of our drinks program, I think that we are very straightforward in our drink selection. We do classics well and with crystal clear ice that we make in-house. We are not re-inventing the wheel here, just helping it turn smoother. I think that the vision for The Varnish program is pretty clear cut. We make a choice to do a classic program and we trust that and then the experience doesn’t get muddied.


Bartender’s Recs

Find | Spirits & Sodas

Liquor | Kappa Pisco

I just got my hands on some very memorable Kappa Pisco. The Marnier-Lapostolle family makes it. I make the most typical drink with it, but I love this one: Pisco Sour. [Read more about Pisco and get a recipe for a Pisco Sour.]

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Soda | Texas Dublin Dr. Pepper

Well, when I’m feeling down and dirty and want a Jack & Coke variation, I pull out some Texas Dublin Dr. Pepper, made with Imperial Sugar Cane, and pour it over ice with some bourbon. One of my friend’s Damian Windsor over at the new Pikey has it on his menu and calls it “Dirty Brown.”


Sadly Dublin Dr. Pepper is no longer in production as of January, so what we all have out there is it.

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Bartender’s Recs | Los Angeles, CA

Antique Barware at Bar Keeper

Photograph courtesy of Bar Keeper

Find | Antique Barware

Silverlake | Bar Keeper

This is a no brainer: Barkeeper in Silver Lake. Ask for Joe. He is a great man and a pioneer for the Los Angeles cocktail movement. Bar tools, antique glassware, craft/artisanal spirits. Bam!

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The Spice Table | Baco Mercat

Photographs courtesy of The Spice Table | Baco Mercat

Eat | Restaurants

Where I’d Take A Visiting Chef

Two places I’d recommend and at both the quality is high, but they are affordable and the atmosphere is humble and welcoming.

The Spice Table

I would go to Spice Table in Little Tokyo and order just about anything, but the Lamb Heart Satay and the Kaya Toast are a must to start. I’m also a sucker for Laksa (rice noodles, laksa leaf , spicy coconut-seafood gravy).

Baco Mercat

Another place on Main in downtown is Baco Mercat. I usually go for lunch or an early dinner. They have these sandwich/taco fusions called “Baco’s.” I get the el pesco (crispy shrimp, sirracha and chive) and a good craft beer.  Right now, they have some razor clams, pork di testa (head cheese) and Caesar brussels sprouts dishes to start the meal that kill.

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Vincenzo Marianella at Copa d’Oro | The Dining Room at The Tasting Kitchen

Photographs courtesy of Copa d’Oro | The Tasting Kitchen

Drink | Cocktails

Where I’d Take A Visiting Bartender

1886 at The Raymond

I like getting out of downtown and heading to South Pasadena to have some drinks at 1886 at The Raymond where the hotel used to be, before it burned down. Go Bartender’s Choice. The talent behind the stick is bar none.

The Tasting Kitchen 

If I am on the Westside the crew at The Tasting Kitchen on Abbot Kinney has it down. 

Copa d’Oro

Also Westside is Vincenzo Marianella at Copa d’Oro. He’ll make you cocktail concoctions with jams and mustards.

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The King Eddy Saloon

Photographs courtesy of The King Eddy Saloon

Off The Beaten Track

The King Eddy Saloon

Want to feel like you’re drinking where Charles Bukowski would have? Then King Eddy Saloon on 5th and Los Angeles, just by Skid Row, is an adventure. I got four Seven & Sevens for $12 at happy hour and I didn’t get knifed. Glorious.

When I’m Not In The Mood For Cocktails


For Mexican fare. Drink a few Margarita’s before going and then bring one for the owner. Just east of downtown on Cesar Chavez. After all this drinking you’re gonna need some tacos!

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Cocktail Recipes

- Southside


Details of Eric Alperin’s recommendations on where to eat, drink and shop in Los Angeles, CA.

City Guides

- Los Angeles City Guide: Download