The Weekly Mix: Verjus and the Texture of the Lush Life at Honeycut
Behind 819 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA
Mixing craft cocktails in most any bar is difficult: cramped space, dim lighting, throngs of thirsty revelers. Now imagine mixing at Honeycut—the savvy, new addition to the Los Angeles scenester line-up—where craft cocktails meet the kind of chaos-chic only L.A. can produce (think: bottle service, featured DJs, secret alleyway entrance, and maybe a Kardashian). Seems unlikely you'll have the focus, let alone the sanity, to make a decent drink, right? Well, no. Bartenders like Devon Tarby who came up in the L.A. scene, know it from the inside out, and aren't afraid of a little 90s Hip Hop Night while they build a divinely composed bar program in the City of Angels.
Four to the Floor: Campo de Encanto Pisco, Giffard Pamplemousse, Verjus Blanc, and Dolin Blanc Vermouth
Deadpan: Sesame El Dorado 12yr Rum, Krogstad Gamle Aquavit, Velvet Falernum, Miracle Mile Honeycut, and Aromatic Bitters
Mixologist Devon Tarby of HoneyCut- Los Angeles, CA
HoneyCut- Los Angeles, CA
"We're still a fairly young community compared to some of the more established cocktail cities like New York or San Francisco," says Tarby, who moved to L.A. from Boston 10 years ago. "There's a fearlessness that can exist when you're not beholden to established rules." Tarby, who developed a taste for the physicality and chemistry of tending bar while in college, fearlessly pursued Eric Alperin for six months before finally landing a job at The Varnish (it took her three more months to move from host stand to the bar). And it was there that Tarby met Alex Day, her boss and now partner in Proprietors LLC, the folks behind the velvet curtain at Honeycut.
Craft cocktails are on one side of Honeycut, and an incandescent dance floor on the other—that line is continually blurred. "We'd always envisioned the vibe [on the cocktail side] to be a bit more sedated than the disco, but since we opened we've seen that the party stays pretty consistent on both sides." But Tarby and crew are holding on strong to standards, which is how you get a drink like Four to the Floor: a "reverse Sauvignon blanc" made with verjus, Campo Encanto pisco, Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose, and Dolin Blanc.
"When we were developing the menu for Honeycut, one of the common themes that kept coming up was taking a certain style of drink and manipulating its traditional format." The Four to the Floor was one such experiment. "This cocktail started as a 'stirred sour' using verjus," says Tarby. "From there we picked other things that we thought were really pretty' and the drink just fell into place." And that acid—in the form of verjus—is key to the drink, in both its shaken drink and Sauvignon blanc avatars.
"Fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice needs a bit more agitation than stirring can provide for it to become fully integrated into the cocktail, so we looked to other forms of acid for the sour element," says Tarby. "Verjus has an acidity level just slightly below lemon juice, is fairly neutral in flavor, and contains no solids that could get in the way of proper integration." Busy bartenders can stir it and still end up with the kind of juicy homogeneity of something shaken.
As for the slight Sauvignon blanc-ness of it all? That's a happy accident. "You have zesty grapefruit stuff going on from the Pamplemousse, as well as some great vegetal notes from the vermouth," says Tarby, all against the backdrop of a "floral, fruity pisco" and "mouth-filling, juicy" verjus. The name is less of an accident. "We have a running list of words and phrases that we keep on hand for when the time comes to name cocktails. Most of them are silly, some are words that look beautiful on paper, and more rarely there will be an esoteric reference to something really nerdy. The uh, adult nature of Four to the Floor usually goes unnoticed in Honeycut's busy bar. But in the rare instance when a guest does register the meaning, it's pretty priceless."