LA's Chinatown and nightlife aren't always associated with each other, but neither are mushrooms and cocktails. This dichotomy is the reason General Lee's is so on-point: Once a century-old restaurant by the same name, the nondescript lounge honors its heritage with apothecary-inspired cocktails you won't find anywhere else. Take the Yat Sen Old Fashioned ($10). Bourbon is about the only ingredient you'll recognize in this concoction, while a simple syrup made from reishi (that's mushroom) and a cinnamon-Sichuan pepper tincture give the classic an Asian twist—the outcome of which is bizarre yet downright delicious. Expect that sort of thing from the other nine seasonal swills on the menu (all between $9 and $12, so getting tipsy won't break the bank). The guys behind the stick are as friendly as can be and happy to play show-and-tell with freakish fungi or let newbies sample their house-made gomme (don't worry, it's just another word for simple syrup). Plenty of comfortable seating throughout make this a great hangout—definitely worth the trek to Chinatown.
Great for: The apothecary bar experience. These drinks lean heavily on bitters and tinctures, and incorporate the likes of Chinese mushrooms and cough syrup. Yeah, we're not denying how weird that sounds, but if you're going to give it a try, General Lee's is the place. And while they won't work medical wonders, these tipples will sure make you feel good.
The scene: Despite the elaborate house-made infusions and purees, General Lee's is anything but snobby. Sprawled across two floors, the bartenders on both levels are accommodating—which is a relief when you look at some of the ingredients on the menu. The layout also means that guests tend to keep to themselves, unless they're seated at the bar. And that's a good thing, given that the crowd is comprised of two group: tourists who happen to stumble upon the place, and hipster cocktailians who, of course, new about General Lee's before anyone else.
The playlist: This wouldn't be a proper LA lounge without a DJ and dance-inducing sound system. According to one of the owners, there are plans in place to amp up the PA system—until then, enjoy the opportunity to carry on a normal conversation with either a date or the bar staff.
Bartender says: Apparently, the Lucky Buddha ($6)—a pale lager that comes in a green glass bottle shaped like the Laughing Buddha—is a hot commodity. One of the owners manning the bar on our visit confessed that customers have been known to sneak them out of the bar and sell them on eBay. They've been repurposed for everything from soap dispensers to chandeliers. Quite creative.
Drink this: Hands down, the best drink on the menu is the Yat Sen Old Fashioned ($10). I mean, where else can you get an old-fashioned made with a mushroom reduction? That, stirred with a cinnamon and sichuan pepper infusion, gives the complex concoction a sweet tinge. For a great daiquiri-style drink, try the China Beach ($12): white rum, lime juice, pineapple and green chartreuse. And for the real booze hounds, the Chinese Whisper ($12) does the trick with a heady mix of Sochu, lemon, dry curacaou, Lillet and a licorice root tincture. One of those will definitely cleanse the palate following a big Chinatown meal. There are also two beers on draft: a Scrimshaw Pilsner and Sapporo (both $6), along with six bottles, including the highly coveted Lucky Buddha.