I recently interviewed Michael Biancaniello and Brian Summers, head bartender and mixologist (respectively) of Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar. While several LA establishments – think Hungry Cat and the Varnish – are going the farmers' market route with locally-sourced ingredients for their cocktails, I was simply astounded at how high the Library Bar had raised the – figurative – bar. How, you ask? In addition to having a huge array of fresh produce on their bar top, hand-making their own mixers, reductions and bitters, they've established relationships with over five local farms that keep them supplied with the freshest, seasonal produce. Beyond that, the artistry with which Biancaniello and Summers make their cocktails is pretty awesome. It's a pleasure to watch as well as drink.
Biancaniello whipped up a fresh passion fruit apertif, served in the fruit itself.
Here's my full article (written for LA Weekly). It's even got Summers original recipe for a blood orange cocktail, the Sicilian Sling.
Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar: The Cocktail Lounge Meets The Farmers Market
The Slow Food movement is in full force, and the Slow Drink movement is catching up fast, particularly at the Roosevelt Hotel's somewhat-hidden Library Bar, smack in the middle of Hollywood. It's run by head bartender Matthew Biancanello - soon to be featured in Bon Appetit's September Restaurant Issue - and supported by mixologist Brian Summers - previously of comme Ça and The Bazaar by José Andrés.
"When you walk into the Library Bar, you'll see an elaborate spread of produce on the bar top. It's always changing due to market availability," says Summers. On a given night you might find chocolate mint, arugula, jalapeños, kumquats, Persian lemons, Bearss limes, even Buddha's Hand citrons. If the bar thing doesn't work out, they can always start their own farmers market.
Library Bar's spread of fresh produce, juices and more
But organic cocktailing wasn't always the method behind Library Bar's madness. Biancanello, who was hired by Library Bar in 2008 with no previous bartending experience, says, "We didn't have a back bar so I had nothing to mix with my drinks. I replaced everything on the menu with farmers markers ingredients, educating myself and going with what I liked. I spent $5000 out of pocket for ingredients for the bar. When my manager tried one of my drinks she asked, 'What's in this? It's so good.' I told her about the farmers market ingredients and she gave me a monthly budget to move forward with."
Biancanello got to work creating partnerships with local farms that now provide Library Bar's produce. For most things citrus - kumquats, Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, Bearss limes, satsumas and more - Biancanello goes to Santa Monica's Garcia Farms. Nicholas Family Farms in Studio City supplies blood and Cara Cara oranges, homemade preserves and unpasteurized pomegranate, grapefruit, mandarin and blood orange juices. Fresh herbs including basil, mint, thyme, rosemary and sage come from Maggie's and Coleman Farms, both at Santa Monica's farmers market. And last but not least, Summers swears, "Harry's Berries grows the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted."
Summers pouring his original cocktail, the Sicilian Sling
As far as liquor and mixers go, Biancanello and Summers are hand-crafting many of those, too. "I want people to know they have better drink options available than vodka redbulls and appletinis," Summers says. While housemade syrups and tinctures (aka alcoholic extracts) are standard - think ginger, grenadine and bitters - they're also working on lavender and rhubarb purées for Spring/Summer drinks. That's in addition to the bar's 100-day Limoncello, 17-step Bloody Mary with flowering basil, shiitake mushroom-infused bourbon (for the Umami Manhattan), fennel- and saffron-infused gins as well as white peppercorn vodka. Oh, and let's not forget the 25-year-old aged Modena Balsamic vinegar muddled with fresh strawberries and topped with housemade St. Germaine foam.
Biancaniello hand-squeezing lemon juice for the night's service
When it comes to actually making the cocktails, prep and precision are key. Prior to opening, cucumbers are cut into exactly four millimeter slices. More than 130 limes and 100 lemons are juiced, along with oranges and grapefruits. All the fruit, vegetables and herbs are cleaned and plated, with everything cut to order except lemons and limes. Biancanello tells us, "No one in city doing this amount of organic prep. Our approach is much more culinary. I like to call it the slow drink movement."
Turn the page for a recipe for Summers' Sicilian Sling cocktail.
From: Brian Summers
Makes: one drink
Summer's Sicilian Sling
1 egg white (organic brown egg preferred)
4 basil leaves
2 slices of blood orange
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Aperol
1. Place egg white into your tall shaking can. In a separate glass, muddle basil, blood orange, lemon juice and simple syrup.
2. Pour muddled mixture, gin and Aperol into tall shaking can. Shake hard for one minute without ice to emulsify egg whites. Add ice and shake for another six seconds.
3. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve immediately.