Amidst a sea of overwrought cocktail lounges, this fast-casual bar from a former Mozza sommelier and Cube GM merits a toast to simplicity. Inspired by the convivial vibe of Italy’s aperitivo tradition (akin to the American happy hour), Baldoria sticks to a no-frills formula. Head to the counter and grab the attention of a charming (in a totally genuine way) bartender. Allow him or her to arrange a lovely cheese and charcuterie board based on what’s available that day, then order one of their bottled cocktails to start (bet you’ve never had a carbonated Cuba Libre!). Now roam the clean space of white brick walls, polished cement floors set beneath soft mid-century lighting, and look for a seat. If you’d like to have a lesson in Italian amari, of which Baldoria has 12 varieties, grab a stool at the long bar. Prefer to socialize with friends, coworkers and neighbors? For that, there are communal tables inside—but if the weather’s nice, you should grab a spot on the sun-soaked patio along San Pedro. By now, your server should have arrived with a rocks glass, an uncorked bottle and that cheese plate. Might as well add chef Duke Gervais’ ricotta toast to the tab. Does this mean the start of an aperitivo renaissance in Los Angeles? We hope so.
Good for: Kicking back after a long work week the Italian way. Go ahead and add Baldoria to your regular happy hour circuit, where you can commune over the simple pleasures of bottled cocktails and elevated finger food. Their signature pizzas, from margherita to charred octopus, are only $8, plus wine and beer is 20 percent off 4-7pm, Monday through Friday.
The scene: While the traditional aperitivo hour kicks off around 6pm, Baldoria starts popping bottles at noon on Monday. By the way, “baldoria” is defined as a “wild gathering involving excessive drinking and promiscuity.” That’s a bit of a stretch, given how tame it was on our visit, but we could definitely see it being a place for lively conversation mixed with a bit of drunken flirtation. The clientele is a cross-section of residents from nearby apartment complexes, the Downtown post-work crowd and a scattering of unsuspecting out-of-towners.
Drink this: Given the fact that all of Baldoria’s cocktails are limited edition, definitely try the Barrel Aged Earl “Grey Dog” Old Fashioned ($12) before the batch is gone. The classic is taken to a whole new level with the Bergamot-infused white whiskey. There’s a spicy citrus flavor on the nose, but the taste is sweet—and not overly so. The Bay of Pigs ($12) is also barrel-aged, which really softens and melds the ingredients: 10-year rye whiskey, rum, Italian bitter liqueur and vermouth. Fair warning: This one is stiff. And, of course, you’d be remiss not to try one of their carbonated libations. The Sparkling Margarita ($12) made with Mexican Damiana liqueur is light, refreshing and best sipped at brunch. Beer drinkers can also find solace in Baldoria's bottle selection, from “Belgium Style Beauties” to “Mother-Puckers” meant for sharing. Sommelier Matt Bostick has also curated a fantastic “doctor approved” wine list, complete with clever descriptions. There’s a 2010 Rioja that will “send you back in time to the Wild West!”
Our tip: Our server sold us on the weekend brunch, 10:30am-3pm Saturdays and Sundays, when Gervais whips up his beloved chicken and waffle taco ($12) made with Whistle Pig whiskey maple syrup. Mic drop.