The age of the cocktail parlor -- the modern speak-easy -- is here, and patrons are requested, nay, required, to behave accordingly. Bartenders are going to the trouble of making their own bitters, sourcing obscure vermouths, hand-chipping ice, precision-stirring and wearing dapper vests, and in return, they're asking that their customers show some manners, in appreciation of a great cocktail. To enforce etiquette, they've made rules. And these rules, more and more common in New York, are starting to show up in Los Angeles.
Why demand the best behavior? Because in the midst of a coast-to-coast cocktail renaissance, the focus -- as some see it -- is not on getting drunk and rowdy but on the drinks themselves. These bars are like civilized restaurants of drink.
You might be asked to remove your baseball hat. Especially if you're about to sip an Elder Fashion cocktail (Plymouth gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and a dash of orange bitters with a grapefruit twist) or an Air Mail (Champagne, Santa Teresa 1776 rum, honey and fresh lime juice) at Death & Co., in New York's East Village.
Or you might be told politely to keep it down at Sasha Petraske's New York cocktail sanctum Milk & Honey, so that someone else can contemplate her Rome With a View (dry vermouth, Campari, fresh lime juice and a little sugar, shaken, and topped with club soda).
There are rules even in L.A. now, written or assumed. Cedd Moses' new members-only bar, the Doheny, is set to open in December, complete with a list of house rules.
"The house rules are inspired by the house rules in London and New York bars and private clubs, but modified for Angelenos," said Moses, owner of downtown watering holes such as Seven Grand and Golden Gopher. "It will be posted at our entrance and let people know that it is a serious cocktail spot and not a sports bar."
Most sports bars don't have a $2,175 initiation fee either. Vincenzo Marianella of Providence is creating the cocktail menu (and Neal Fraser of Grace the small-plates menu).
'I like policies'
SOME of those rules are: "Absolutely no cellphone/BlackBerry use inside. Please use our porte cochere. . . . No brown-nosing. . . . Red Bull? Don't even think of ordering it here. . . . No screaming -- unless Lakers win the finals."
"I like policies," said Sang Yoon, who is opening a second Father's Office, in Culver City, planned for December. "It gives us choices; 'that place is for me, that place isn't.' " And for bar owners, it's saying, 'Here's who we are, and here's who we want our customers to be.' You can't say, 'No schmucks.' "
At SBE Entertainment Group's new Philippe Starck-designed S-Bar in Hollywood, there aren't any rules per se, but the "schmucks" might be discouraged not only by the doorman and velvet ropes but also by the price of a cocktail -- $20 for an Imperial Prince of Wales (Cognac, Benedictine, angostura bitters and brut Champagne) or $19 for a horseradish and pomegranate margarita.
"You can't do it with pricing," Yoon said. "You get rich schmucks."
Yoon has rules, but they're not written anywhere. "The way I set rules is by not offering certain choices," he said. "You rid yourself of pitchers of beer, or light beer. No beer from a bottle."
And no vodka. You won't find any on his cocktail menu at the new Father's Office, where you'll drink what Yoon wants you to drink. You'll have a choice, but only among four classic cocktails (Manhattan, Sidecar, classic gin martini, Negroni) plus a seasonal cocktail (say, white grapefruit juice with gin, rimmed with fleur de sel) -- and a couple of secret ones. "I don't like vodka," Yoon said. "It has little to no character, and most people abuse it by covering up what little character there is."
"But we're a bar; there's no kids," he said. "I'm not going to tell them not to pass notes, or no chewing gum."
If he won't, others will. "We've been known to ask people to spit out their chewing gum," said Death & Co. co-founder David Kaplan. Chewing gum "is like a slap in the face after all the hard work" on the part of the bartender. The written rules are no baseball hats, no cellphones and no flash photography. And just as at Milk & Honey and PDT, there's no standing. "I don't know why more bars don't do this," Kaplan said. "We don't overcrowd the place, it really enhances the experience for people, and the bottom line doesn't suffer."
"The key thing to note in the 'rules' going round is that they typically stem from one of two thoughts," Kaplan said. "Rules for rules' sake because speak-easies had them and speak-easies are in vogue or simple guidelines of etiquette to ensure that everyone has a great experience and leaves their worries and woes behind them -- or at least outside."
'No hooting, hollering'