Summer Drinking and Dining in the Valley
What a difference a year (or two) makes! As COVID warps and woofs, it may have decimated the ranks of eateries and watering holes across the Valley, but those that remain are both doing brisk business and taking risks, with many bars and restaurants peppering their calendar with themed events, specials and stunts to regale patrons and entice repeat business. One nice trend: everybody now has a patio.
A number of Valley spots rising above the run of the mill this summer starts with Studio City’s Vintage Wine + Eats., known as the wine bar kicking the stuffy conventions of the old wine scene to the curb with fun twists on American Classics and great vino. Sure, on Mondays they have dollar oyster night, an enticement for fans of the bivalves who get there early enough to slurp the limited supply. Sure, they have Taco Tuesdays and Grilled Cheese Wednesdays, featuring Animal Style grilled cheese with ground beef, pickles, American and cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and secret sauce (or the classic for five bucks). But this is also a wine bar that just ran (or will run, depending on when you read this) a Beyoncé themed Brunch July 23 starting bright and early at 11AM with drink specials, trivia, and DJ E-DUB spinning the pop superstar's greatest hits. Down the road on July 30, they’ll be hosting a tropical art show with artist ROB Z and friends with “tiny replica paintings.” So, no matter what day you visit, there’s likely some shenanigans going on.
Further East in Sherman Oaks, Vintage’s cozy, tiny sister venue Buvette has only twelve seats and a toaster oven. While wine (like biodynamic Fernweh (“farsickness” in German) from Martian Ranch in Alisos Canyon) is usually the star here (they offer charcuterie and cheese plates), Buvette occasionally features the stronger stuff; last year they hosted the US launch of exotic Spanish favorite Nordes Gin. It's National Scotch Day July 27 and Buvette’s come up with the perfect summer celebration: SCOTCH PAIRED WITH ICE CREAM! Buvette's mixologist Colin Longstaff has curated a flight of scotch whiskies designed to pair with the flavors in your favorite ice creams. Whether you're a dilettante, a connoisseur or a total whisky aficionado, this pairing is bound to send your taste buds on a magical mystery tour.
Buvette shares a wall (and partial ownership) with “eclectic urban eating house” Tipsy Cow’s. Tipsy’s deservedly well known for veggie nibbles ranging from deviled eggs, spinach and artichoke dip, and signature “haystack fries” smothered in bleu cheese bechamel sauce, to tenderloin tips on toast and three kinds of sliders. For summer, Tipsy has inaugurated late night happy hour from 9PM with two for one drinks; five dollar wing day on Wednesdays; and the ubiquitous frosé for five bucks on Fridays. Oh, and they’ve also added a ton on new TV’s.
Over in Valley Village, Thirsty Merchant opened a sports, game, beverage and bar food palace in May of 2018 and they offer connect four, bocce ball, cornhole, foosball and all manner of games, served alongside a menu heavy on flatbreads and burgers (but also featuring soft pretzels, smoked wings, fried cheddar cheese curds (the stuff you make poutine with) and pan-fried dumplings with ginger sesame sauce), and a rotating selection of a dozen or so beer taps. Specialty hooch concoctions include the Hotsy Totsy (jalapeno vodka, strawberry, ginger beer and agave syrup); the spicy watermelon margarita; and the Hawai’i Five-O, made with Absolut Mandarin, coconut rum, pineapple juice, lime and blue curaçao.
For summer they are upping their (game) game with trike night-- a new unpredictable and entertaining phenomenon where (mostly male) riders careen through the bar and patio on kid-sized tricycles—returning on Wednesday nights; the tamer sport of karaoke is on Thursdays. Sundays Thirsty throws the menu out the window and hosts a backyard barbecue with live music on the patio, and they’ve been known to host crawfish boils out there as well.
Most Valley Scene readers are no strangers to The Federal Bar In North Hollywood, which pretty much got the first gastropub memo ten years ago, but has been reinterpreting it ever since. In 2017, Valley Scene called the Fed’s Dirty Chips “a symphony of crispy bacon, bleu cheese, spicy pickled red onion, and green onion, cilantro crème intermingled with thick-cut potato chips.” Beloved dishes come—like the OMH (Oh My Habañero, a habanero infused patty, leaf lettuce, tomato, avocado, habanero jam, pepper jack, fried onion strings, chipotle aioli, on a brioche bun) and salmon salad (arugula, hearts of palm, quinoa, dried apricots, lemon vinaigrette)—and go (vegan weena, short rib poutine), but the menu changes often. This summer, they’ll roll out mac and cheese Mondays with five different macs: regular, buffalo, chicken, vegan, BBQ and Flamin’ Hot. Other stalwarts include classic grilled cheese and tomato soup, (cheddar, havarti, and swiss on garlic sourdough; a grilled artichoke with garlic, parmesan cheese, basil aioli; and a savory bread pudding with bacon, gorgonzola, and rosemary. The Federal has wine but skip it in favor of fourteen craft cocktails and two dozen draft beers from local brewers like Boomtown and Angel City to craft favorites from Allagash and Sierra Nevada.
Because it’s owned by music company Knitting Factory Entertainment, the Federal’s always had a sidebar club/music venue upstairs which features a number of upcoming shows like Marq Torien and Ira Black July 23, and for two nights—July 30 and 31—the Puerto Rican duo Cometta and their band who will have the audience dancing to their fusion of Latin R&B, hip hop, Salsa and Merengue por una noche que explota!
Finally, far afield but worth the trip, is Cantiki in Glendale. Originally slated to open as El Tejano’s Rockin’ Cantina on the eve of the pandemic, energetic and ingenious mixologist Amanda Sasser mashed up two concepts to create a cantina-style cocktail bar with tiki flair that brings an up-scaled vibe that features lush tropical design and intimate lighting, cozy lounge-style seating, a long horseshoe-shaped bar and a (real) piano, tiny stage, and DJ booth. The CanTiki serves up a mix of highly stylized and ingredient-rich cocktails, while still remaining a local watering hole for those just looking for a Pabst Blue Ribbon with a shot of Jack Daniels, a vodka soda or a whiskey coke.
But live a little, OK? Cantiki’s fully plant-based menu features draft cocktails like Scorpion bowls and “LA River Water,” as well as cocktails. “Kill Mai Pain” is a signature drink that is a cross between a Mai Tai and a Painkiller with orgeat, rhum (differentiated by its use of pure sugar cane in place of molasses for tang and depth), house made pineapple-washed rum, orange liqueur (from local DTLA distillery Greenbar), caramelized pineapple, coconut, yellow curry sauce, a little lime, a spritz of fresh-squeezed orange and allspice dram for clove and anise. “Hemingway’s Mistress #2” is a house daquiri inspired by the Hemingway daiquiri and his long list of mistresses. This refreshing and palatable cocktail uses sotol (which is indigenous to Chihuahua, from the asparagus family and known for its vegetal taste), Luxardo Bitter Bianco, kiwi turbinado oleo saccharum, and celery bitters.
Sasser serves up new cocktails all the time. This summer she brings us the “Cobra’s Fang:” Aged Rum, Falernum, Fassionola Syrup (blueberry, gooseberry, strawberry, guava, passionfruit, guava), orange juice, lime juice, Angostura Bitters and Absinthe. Also, once a month she puts on popups with specialty drinks, specials and entertainment. We just missed her “Christmas in July,” but Sunday July 24 brings Cantiki keyboardist Greg Clienna, MC Kevin Beaty, and “maybe a conga line and a limbo. The August 23rd Tiki Pop-Up, they’ll be serving up the ubiquitous frosé and doing “Amanda Squared” with guest bartender and sommelier Amanda Greenbaum from Aja Vineyards.
Vintage Wine + Eats (12023 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604)
Tipsy Cow and Buvette (15005 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, CA 91403)
The CanTiki (1300 S Brand Blvd. Glendale, CA 91204)