Any bartender can shake up one of David Embury’s six classic cocktails, but it takes a true connoisseur to master The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Embury’s bartending bible not only defined the basics of crafting the proper cocktail, but also immortalized the classics as we know them: the daiquiri, Jack Rose, Manhattan, martini, old-fashioned, and sidecar. A few bars throughout Greater Palm Springs have not only perfected the art of making these standbys — they’ve re-engineered and reinvented them.
Call it the barometer of bars. For Bootlegger Tiki beverage director Chad Austin, this traditional Cuban cocktail reveals all: “The daiquiri is my go-to drink,” says Austin, adding that sipping one of these is his favorite way to judge a bar he’s visiting for the first time. The secret is simplicity: “If you can’t make one of the most classic three-ingredient cocktails, then I most likely will not be trying one of your obscure eight-ingredient cocktails.” Austin’s spin on this fruity drink is “more refined, with no brain freeze.” His recipe will make any purist proud: Carta Blanca (dry, white Cuban-style rum), fresh lime juice, and castor sugar (though a basic simple syrup can be substituted).
Bootlegger Tiki, 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-318-4154; www.bootleggertiki.com
“This is one beautiful drink,” says Dave Castillo, bar manager at Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Here, the cocktail concept embraces the traditional as well as house originals because “you must first learn the classics before you can come up with originals,” Castillo says. Customarily made with fresh lemon juice, grenadine, and applejack brandy, this cocktail (a favorite of Ernest Hemingway) gets a slight twist with Clear Creek apple brandy, lime juice, and grenadine. “Forget that horrible, artificially colored and flavored grenadine you find at the grocery store,” Castillo says. “Our grenadine is one of the many ingredients we make in-house.”
Workshop Kitchen + Bar, 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-459-3451; www.workshoppalmsprings.com
At The Edge Steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, this sophisticated cocktail is never mixed to order behind the bar, but is eight weeks in the making. “[It’s] aged in sherry oak casks [for two months] to really get the aromas and flavors of the cask,” says General Manager Damian Jenkins. “The aging process mellows out the strength of the drink and it becomes quite a nice sipping cocktail.” Made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters, The Edge Manhattan is aged and bottled, then served over a large ice sphere and garnished with a Luxardo cherry. The Edge has a great view, but you’ll only see Manhattan.
The Edge Steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, 68900 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage. 760-321-8282; www.ritzcarlton.com
James Bond might have taken them shaken, but at Arrive Palm Springs’ recently opened Draughtsman bar, martinis are making a stir: “A proper martini is always stirred and made with gin,” says Austin, who also serves as beverage director at this hip hotel. He wants his classics to be just that — classic. He wanted a crowd-pleaser that pays homage to “Old Palm Springs,” he says, “and nothing says ‘elegance’ better than a proper martini.” Stirring both London dry gin and dry vermouth, Austin adds a splash of orange bitters and a lemon twist for garnish. Don’t expect it served in a martini glass, either — Austin prefers a coupe or Nick and Nora glasses.
Draughtsman, 1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-507-1644; www.draughtsmanpalmsprings.com
Cozy into a booth at Mr. Lyons Steakhouse, and it’s hard to remember you’re still in the 21st century. This swanky lounge is best enjoyed with a sidecar, says bartender Kevin Carlow: “[It] evokes the feel of a classic era without feeling stuck in that time period.” The origin of this cocktail is a mystery, though Carlow notes, “A [similar] 19th-century New Orleans drink called a crusta never really caught on.” While Embury calls for eight parts cognac to two of lemon juice and one of triple sec, at Mr. Lyons, the sidecar is made with two parts Park VS cognac to one part Cointreau and one part lemon juice, served in a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass. Want to try the crusta? Carlow can make that too.
Mr. Lyons Steakhouse, 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-327-1551; www.mrlyonsps.com
With roughly 70 whiskeys on the menu, it’s no wonder that Bar sets the bar in the valley for the old-fashioned. “It’s an amazingly simple yet elegant and delicious cocktail,” says owner Donovan Funkey, who notes its popularity among patrons. This drink has been around in one form or another since the 1800s, according to Funkey. “In its simplest form, it is defined as bitters, sugar, and spirits,” he says. At Bar, he uses a few dashes of bitters, a bar-spoon of simple syrup, and 2 ounces of whiskey over a large cube. But that’s not all that distinguishes this version from two centuries’ worth of variations: Sip it slowly and you’ll notice the aroma of lemon and orange zest lingering around the rim.
Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-537-7337; www.barwastaken.com