In our compulsive need to celebrate most anything it should come as no surprise that May 13 is World Cocktail Day. No, seriously. Other legitimate holidays are World Pasta Day (October 25), National Pie Day (January 23) and the always-popular Barbershop Music Appreciation Day (July 13). So what the hell, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right? Aside from idiotic marketing drinks like the $100 truffle martini at the Donovan Bar in London, or the Merchant’s Hotel’s $1,400 Mai Tai in Belfast, or the embarrassingly inexpensive Million Dollar Grandtini at the Vine Street Lounge in Hollywood for a pathetic $35, cocktails are still part of an evening out.
At Hush in Ventura, bartender Matt Roe still sees the 21 – 24-year-old crowd clinging to the unadventurous Red Bull and cranberry juice, "anything that amps them up," he said. But the older crowd is willing to spend $20 on a shot of Jonnie Walker Black Label or the pricy Don Julio 1942 tequila at $25.
"Once you give the customer the option of going premium, they want it," he says. Hush’s cocktail prices are $8-$11, and they offer 15 unique cocktails created on site and are planning another 15 for the summer, specifically using fresh fruits. "Living near the beach we want to give people that light, summer feeling, and fresh fruit works well."
In Oxnard, Michelle Kenney, owner of La Dolce Vita Lounge sees limoncello as a trend prompting their popular limoncello martini. Their cocktails range from $7.50 to $9, however, "People don’t mind paying for something fancy," she said. It’s the after work crowd that’s more adventurous. "They have time to relax and are willing to experiment with exotic drinks. They want the bartender to create something for them." Some of those creations include shots like the Gummy Bear, raspberry vodka, peach schnapps, sweet & sour, Sprite and lime juice, or the Pineapple Upside Down Cake; Absolut Vanilla, pineapple and grenadine.
Andy Brooks of Restaurant Brooks in Ventura and his bartender have created exotic and funky cocktails priced in the $9-$12 range. His clients are looking for the "fun, boutique stuff," he says. He points to his tequila-sage blood orange margarita that he rims with chili salt as one example. Then there’s what he calls the Trifecta; Blue Coat gin (from Philadelphia), mixed with a shot of St. Germain liqueur (made from wild elderflowers), orange, lemon and lime juice, and rimmed with toasted coriander sugar. But Brooks doesn’t charge the hyper prices that L.A. does.
"You can top out at maybe $15," he says.
Kenney agrees: "People waiting in line to get into a place for expensive drinks? That doesn’t happen in Ventura County."
So if you’re looking for the flamboyant, trendy cocktail, you’ll need to cross the border into L.A. Or better yet check out one of these local places and challenge the bartender to create something new. Otherwise you can save your money for National Iced Tea month, which comes up in June.