wonder if you’re allowed to eat this,” says bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk, before she shoves a slice of Buddah’s Hand in her mouth. She’s standing behind the well at the Accomplice, a modest, new bar in Mar Vista, just off Venice Boulevard, attempting to work through the logistics of a new drink garnish.
The yellow citrus, with long tentacle-like fingers sticking out of the top, looks like a sea creature from a faraway planet.
“Hmm, smells like citrus but it kind of tastes like an apple,” she says in her British accent. “I can use it in a Halloween drink!”
Cocktail aficionados follow around Mlynarczyk, who moved to Los Angeles from London by way of New York City in 2011, like most diners trail their favorite chefs. She owned her own bar in New York City, and in L.A., has worked at Mark Gold’s now-closed Eva, Michael Voltaggio’s Ink, then the short-lived French-ish restaurant Cadet in Santa Monica, Birch restaurant in Hollywood, and now Accomplice. She’s also working with a new bar in Santa Ana called Vacation.
Mlynarczyk is the drink architect behind some of the most Instagrammed and talked about libations in town — some of her garnishes include sunset-colored Campari dust, mini rainbow sails, caramelized fruit, pineapple leaves and spiralized root vegetables — and now, she’s turning her attention to mocktails.
“I turn 50 this year and I don’t recover very quickly from alcohol anymore,” says Mlynarczyk, as she rifles through a bag of produce she picked up at the Santa Monica farmers market that morning.
She frequents the market to find ingredients for her drinks. “Drinking a cocktail is a ceremony — a celebration — but usually when you get a non-alcoholic drink it doesn’t even have garnish on it sometimes, and it’s really boring.”
Mlynarczyk isn’t afraid to experiment with ingredients, something she credits to her modest upbringing in Devonshire in north England, where she spent most of her time with her family — who grew all their own produce — in the kitchen. Then she went to fashion school in London, and even took pastry courses in New York City.
Bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk makes a Kyoho grape non-alcoholic cocktail.
Bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk makes a Kyoho grape non-alcoholic cocktail. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
“I think that’s where my philosophy of taking things apart and putting them back together came from,” says Mlynarczyk of her time in fashion school. “You’re always trying to reinvent the wheel, make a blouse look different from how it looked last year.”
She started pouring pints and shots at a bar in her hometown before picking up shifts at bars in London, then later in New York City, to make extra money. By the time she arrived in Los Angeles, she was well on her way to becoming a mad scientist behind the bar.
Recently Mlynarczyk finished a book called “Clean + Dirty Drinking” (out from Chronicle in spring 2018), that includes more than 100 recipes for drinks that can be made with, or without alcohol. And you can order mocktails, or what Mlynarczyk calls “fauxtails” at both Accomplice Bar and Vacation.
The drinks may not contain any alcohol, but they are as thoughtful, beautiful and flavorful as her booze-filled creations. -In the Kyoho grape cocktail at the Accomplice Bar (she actually started developing the drink at Ink), Mylnarczyk uses a non-alcoholic spirit made in the U.K. called Seedlip. It’s distilled water that smells and tastes a lot like tonic, with strong botanicals that border on medicinal in flavor. She’s mixing it with fresh yuzu juice, honey syrup, vanilla extract, a drop of gentian tincture (intended to aid with digestion), a splash of soda water, muddled Kyoho grapes and peppery shiso leaves.
“I wanted to do something a little more unusual than mint, so I raided the fridge at Birch,” says Mlynarczyk.
Thus shiso leaves, which lend super-spicy aromatics to the cocktail. The drink, listed as Seedlip Smash on the Accomplice Bar menu, delivers a jolt of acidity and carbonation, and the Seedlip flavor mimics a tame gin. Whether you’re pregnant, adopting Jennifer Lopez’s no-alcohol lifestyle, or simply don’t drink, this is one mocktail that won’t leave you feeling left out at the bar.