Before this month we never thought we’d be trying a rummy peanut-and-banana drink served in a large red paper bucket, a matcha take on a grasshopper, or a thin layer of Manischewitz floating atop scotch and a salted-macadamia cordial. But then again, we should always expect the unexpected whenever Yael Vengroff puts together a new cocktail menu.
It’s usually best to leave your drink choice in the hands of the L.A. beverage vet, whether she’s shaking things up behind the bar at the Spare Room or in Chinese-American standby Genghis Cohen. Even when she’s not present, you can spot her sticky-with-orgeat-and-glitter fingerprints all over the menus, and that’s especially the case at Genghis now that the fully-realized bar program—after years of planning and months of trial and error—is finally here.
Behold the silver and glass duck as it hits your table, its translucent belly sloshing with gin, jasmine-infused white vermouth, peach, lemon, orange bitters and a bright yuzu tonic, its nest built of shiny blue pebbles. Gaze upon the Chinese lucky-cat–inspired blend of cucumber vodka, plum wine, gin and tonic, all shimmery from edible gold.
There are orchids and tiki umbrellas and Seinfeld references scattered throughout the menu, an eclectic and showy showing from a bartender who spent the better part of 2019 building a program that would do the space justice. The result? What she’s dubbed “Foo Foo drinks.”
The nexus of a New York-style Chinese restaurant and decades of Hollywood names and faces, the Fairfax spot became one of the area’s most popular hangouts thanks to its extensive Chinese-American menu, a rotating cast of A-list regulars, comedy nights and live music, and saccharine, nebulous cocktails involving anything from Hi-C to cream soda. By the time the venue made its way into the hands of now-owners Med Abrous and Marc Rose, it was in need of a few modern updates after 35 years of business and heavy use—especially when it came to the drinks.
“We’ve been working on this for a few years now, really trying to get the regulars to trust us,” says Vengroff. She’s had to strike a balance between the restaurant’s playful, colorful history and setting and, well, updating some of those classics the three-decade regulars might miss.
The original Genghis mai tai—which sported that Hi-C and wasn’t technically a mai tai—is gone, but in its place is a trio of mai tais: some of the most fun you’ll find on the new menu. There’s the Old School, still not technically a mai tai and with a similar flavor profile to the OG, but it swaps in dark rum, orgeat, pineapple, mango brandy, cherry brandy, lime and a float of overproof rum. There’s the New School, featuring orange blossom and cinnamon, and finally, the gem of them all: the Hebrew School, made with blended scotch, aged rum, spiced pineapple cordial, salted-macadamia, lime and a float of Manischewitz. L’chaim.
“I wanted them to be classic American Chinese drinks: Drinks that were kind of birthed and spawned within these kind of spaces,” says Vengroff. “Drinks like a lychee martini were an obvious no-brainer; there’s also the Jewish sentiment here as well, because of the history of the space [founder, Jewish music producer Allan Rinde], so I was drawing a lot of inspiration from my Jewish background.”
The Zaydee’s Manhattan, named for her grandfather, takes its inspiration from the Passover stalwart, charoset—the fruit-and-nut dish gets the Vengroff treatment as a blend of walnut brandy, apple brandy dry madeira, toasted-pecan bitters and salt. And then there are some more modern-Jewish nods, such as the Seinfeld-referencing Soup for Yous (that previously mentioned peanut-and-banana cocktail served in a bucket).
Even the glassware is worth a visit, the eccentric product of Vengroff’s hours of poring over catalogues and Rose’s scouring eBay for vintage finds. Drinks arrive in silver ducks and traditional Chinese tea vessels and glass tiki mugs, and come garnished with the likes of pineapple leaves cut to resemble a dragon’s back.
You can find one of the most apt garnishes of the bunch in the Shabbat Ranks, a frozen passion fruit take on the Dark and Stormy: Typically bartenders fill half a lime with overproof rum and set it on fire, placing a sugar cube or a crouton in the lime so it stays ablaze; Vengroff, ever the innovator, uses a crispy wonton noodle—maybe the most Genghis Cohen detail we could possibly imagine. If you balk at the thought of a drink featuring a fried noodle, well, just remember: We’ve never met a Yael Vengroff cocktail we didn’t like.
You can find Genghis Cohen’s absurd, eccentric new cocktails at 740 N Fairfax Ave daily.