Cocktail Academy’s founder and CEO, Matt Landes, has come a long way since his cabana-boy beginnings, slinging poolside blended drinks at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. He now runs one of the city’s premier cocktail consulting firms and catering operations, working with the likes of Victoria’s Secret, SpaceX, Disney and Nike. Needless to say, he’s constantly sipping his way through the city—and providing sips for everyone else along the way. Here are his tips on serving cocktails and the L.A. bars where you should be drinking.
How do you like to build a menu?
We work with a philosophy called the “families of cocktails,” which comes from Milk & Honey in New York: We believe there are 12 cocktails, which we can modify 7 trillion different ways. The reason they’re classic is because they’ve been very popular for a long time; instead of reinventing the wheel or risk someone not liking them—we have a 100-percent guarantee—we go that route. And sometimes we’ll see the menu from the caterer and we’ll be inspired and pair [to that].
What are two types of drinks everyone should have at their party?
If you’re only going to have two, I say have an old-fashioned, a Manhattan or a negroni as one of them; for the other, have a sour, a gimlet or a ginger highball. I split those between sweet, fruity and refreshing, and round, savory and sophisticated. If you have a stirred cocktail and a shaken cocktail, I think you can cover the whole crowd.
When you want a good drink, where do you go?
If I’m in the Venice area, Scopa; in Culver City, the Wallace and Hatchet Hall, and if I’m in the West Hollywood area, I’ll want a drink at Rosaliné and Bibo, and the cocktails at Night + Market are amazing.
When I’m looking for taco Tuesday margaritas, I love the upstairs at the back of Toca Madera. In Santa Monica, I think Chestnut Club is still a lot of fun, and, Downtown, I’m all about NoMad and Freehand right now, and in Los Feliz, Big Bar does an incredible job.
What do you think is starting to trend in the L.A. bar scene that’s surprising, or something people might not be aware of?
So the big trend right now that people might not be aware of is that nobody was really drinking gin and tonics in the cocktail world for the last eight years, until the end of 2017 into 2018. I’ve noticed it a lot, especially internationally, even in countries known for wine. Why is that? Because it’s really conducive to pick a gin that you can add to it—fresh herbs, crack some pepper, muddle some grapefruit, add salt—there’s so much you can put in there. And there are so many premium tonics now—Twotonic, East Imperial tonics, Fever-Tree tonic, Schweppes is catching up—and then within those tonics they sell regular tonics, elderflower tonics, sour lemon tonics. You can get so many fun, complex flavors in gin and tonics, and believe it or not, that’s really big right now.