Cocktails aren't an afterthought at parties and weddings anymore. Just ask Talmadge Lowe, the co-founder of a roving underground cocktail club and catering company. He's among several bartenders who have built their own drinks catering companies and raised the quality and customization of cocktails at events.
"People are going to go to the bar first thing they do, and they’re going to go back to the bar several times," Lowe says. "So why not design a bar to be just as special as the menu?"
And since summer's the height of L.A.'s private event season, here are five cocktail caterers who are bringing the craft of cocktails to the party:
The focus is now on more than party food thanks to people like Lowe. A longtime cocktail and catering pro who co-founded Pharmacie, Lowe has built cocktail menus around spirits like bourbon and tequila and works with patrons to create relevant themes. He recently worked a Gatsby wedding, creating custom cocktails that reflected Jazz Age drinking habits. www.pharmaciela.com.
Market-driven bartender Matthew Biancaniello built a national reputation behind the Hollywood Roosevelt's Library Bar, and he left to eventually open his own spot. In the interim, he's creating unique cocktail experiences at private venues as far away as Seattle and New York. "Everything I do is pretty customized," says Biancaniello. "It’s pretty much understood that if someone’s hiring me, I'm doing fresh juices and fresh ingredients." Experiences range from intimate 12-person cocktail classes that teach attendees to make his signature infusions, to 120-person weddings with coursed cocktails. www.matthewbiancaniello.com.
Joel Black, who was on the opening bar crew at Comme Ca and initially helmed Caña Rum Bar, co-founded Black LAB Ventures with marketing pro Heather Storm. Their catering services include seasonal cocktails and themed parties like old-school Speakeasy or Adult Ice Cream Bar with bourbon root beer floats, and new for summer, boozy ice cream bars and “spirited snow cones.” They can also keep things simple, with straightforward Scotch and tequila tastings. Black LAB’s partners also pride themselves on sustainability, insisting on recycling and using compostable straws and cups. www.blacklab-ventures.com.
Bars have also entered the catering business. For instance, the Roger Room farms out its bartenders for private parties. As long as you gather at least 50 guests and are willing to pay $65 per person, expect signature drinks, cocktails, beer and wine to flow for four hours straight. www.therogerroom.com/catering.php.
Here's one to watch for. Consultants Alex Day and Dave Kaplan of Proprietors LLC are also getting cocktail catering operations off the ground. According to Day, "We are actively pursuing a fully licensed operation with an eye towards events of any size: a small cocktail gathering to a large trade event with thousands of guests." www.proprietorsllc.com.