What do you get when you take two prolific mixologists and one Santa Monica institution? Brilliance. Or, in this case, Brilliantshine—Julian Cox and Josh Goldman’s “seaside saloon” (their words, not ours) nestled off Wilshire. A converted house of old-timey knickknacks, suspender-clad barkeeps and swills concocted from evaporated cane sugar, rose water and barrel-aged bitters are not what you’d expect eight blocks from the sparkling Pacific. But Cox and Goldman’s flagship restaurant-bar is evidence that craft cocktails were destined to succeed out west. Scotch whiskey drinkers can saddle up for a long evening of Fly By Nights ($12) mixed with ginger and bitters, while the ladies (and gents, for a good giggle) can order the Rye ’n Gosling ($12) made with Gosling's 151 rum, Knob Creek rye, El Dorado 12-year rum, mint and apricot. And if that wasn’t comforting enough, Richie Lopez’s (Paiche) chicken wings ($12) and s’mores ($8) should do the trick.
Great for: A true Julian Cox experience. Just meander through the multi-room maze of copper table-tops, antique mirrors and vintage ceiling fans until you reach the back bar. It’s a cozy, well-stocked nook helmed by guys that really know their stuff. Patiently await your drink of choice (there are nine, plus a bartender’s pick), and then grab a spot on the twinkle-lit patio for optimal people-watching.
The scene: The saloon attracts cocktail-loving Westsiders—the types to both drink and dress casually. None of the pretentiousness normally associated with speakeasies can be found here. It’s a warm, neighborly spot that will be infiltrated with outsiders in no time.
The playlist: Whatever music was playing was drowned out by roaring conversation and rambunctious bartenders. It’s definitely more of a drink-and-chat than a sit-back-and-listen-to-the-playlist kind of place.
The bartender says: Cox gushed to us from behind the stick during our visit that Brilliantshine was his baby. And so you’ll find aspects of the booze master in everything from the visually stunning bar to the dynamic menu of international travel-inspired, reimagined classic drinks not found anywhere else.
Drink this: Cox isn’t one to follow the rules when it comes to mixology. Prepare to be blown away by the Juliet & Romeo ($12), a next-level gin cocktail that’s as refreshing as it is strong. The perfect combination of bitters, lime, cucumber, rose water and evaporated cane sugar make it a truly exceptional libation. For an old-school swill, try the grapefruit sour ($10), a mix of vodka, grapefruit, lemon, bitters and sugar. And for something sweet and strong, That’ll Do Fig ($15) takes fig, lime and cassis, and combines it with mezcal and seltzer. There are also six Calfornia beers on tap, as well as wine and sherry by the glass.