Worship at a temple of spirits
Walk through Cole's sandwich shop to a door at the back, marked only with a picture of a cocktail glass. That's your entry to The Varnish (213/622-9999), the stylish standard-bearer for L.A.'s cocktail scene. Soft jazz drifts out of the sound system. The lights are low but not crepuscular, so you can still actually see. Bartenders wear vests and rolled-ups shirt-sleeves, a uniform that, somehow, instantly communicates competence. Fresh ingredients are on display—citrus, berries, herbs, and rows of flasks with carefully prepared syrups. The cocktail menu presents just a half-dozen excellent and serious cocktails, and when there's ice, it's hand cracked. Or opt for the bartender's choice—actually more of a bartender-customer collaboration, with your pick of spirits and style—and you'll learn about parts of the cocktail universe you hadn't known existed.