There was a time when you could replicate a bar’s cocktail without having to buy anything more unusual than grenadine and angostura bitters. A tattered copy of “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” is not enough anymore. As bartenders morphed into mixologists, and back into bartenders again, ingredients have become increasingly exotic. A recent tasting at Grandpa Johnson’s featured cocktails with special ingredients like green tea syrup and black walnut bitters, as well as uncommon liquers like amaro and cynar. Cocktail creator Alex Straus, a member of the a mysterious secret society known as Bon Vivant, has developed eight standard cocktails for the bar. There are off the menu specials, including some developed especially for Portland Cocktail Week, where Grandpa Johnson’s will have an opening night pop-up. Ask about “The Mind Eraser.”
Alex Straus’ cocktails combine several flavors to create a new, balanced flavor without ever getting muddy. He is able to mix in these exotic ingredients while allowing the taste of the quality liquor to shine through. I think Caroline on Crack has disabused people of the notion that bourbon and rocks glasses are exclusively for men, while pretty, fruity drinks are only for the ladies. Rather than describing the drinks as masculine and feminine, I would say I categorized them as either intense or refreshing.
The “Crockard”, which included Atlantico Reserva and Cognac, was pretty intense, as was one of our favorites, the “Eddie,” with Auchentoshan 3 wood (a Scottish single malt), Ancho Reyes, Banana Syrup and Coffee Tincture. The Ancho definitely left its mark. We also enjoyed the sweet and refreshing “Seymour,” with Mandarine Napoleon (a combination of 10-year Cognac and mandarins) Fernet (a bitter Argentinian liquor), Lemon Juice and Ginger Syrup with a mint tea sugar rim. My British genes must have been guiding me, because my absolute favorite cocktail, the “Winnie” also included tea. Besides Djarling Syrup, it features Beefeater Gin and Giffard Apricot.
The proper names of the cocktails are a result of owner Johnny Zander naming them after family members, as well as naming the cocktail lounge after his grandfather. I assume the “Sidewinder” is an exception. The charming Mr. Zander’s credentials include relatives that founded The French Laundry and modeling experience, as well as conceptualizing and designing Tropicana and Teddy’s at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Green Door and Hemingway’s Lounge.
Grandpa Johnson’s is located in the former Beauty Bar space on Cahuenga next to a velvet rope bottle service club. This lounge is much more understated and intimate, but they do enforce a strict dress code — no shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirts, or fanny packs [OK, I added the fanny packs. I hate them]. The name “Grandpa Johnson’s” may sound like a laid-back pancake house, but it is all about the glamour.
Johnny Zander has definitely created a glamorous space to complement your little black dress or Oxford shirt. One of Zander’s main design influences was the Overlook Hotel bar in ‘The Shining.” It speaks of Art Deco elegance, with a large marble bar and gorgeous sconces. On the night we visited, the lights were dim and the music from the small DJ booth was unobtrusive, with David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Interpol being house favorites. Just don’t expect to find Lloyd behind the bar. But Alex Straus and Erik Trickett will take good care of you.
1638 N Cahuenga Blvd. Hollywood CA