We have to go to Highland Park on Tuesday, because it’s Tiki Night at Sonny’s Hideaway. We are bartenders and should know better than to come on days when the crowd might be too thick, but there is still something about a tall glass of booze and pebbled ice with a tropical leaf stuck in it that triggers a Pavlovian joy response in me.
My companion, Gelly, grew up around here. She doesn’t even need to get started on how the area has changed. As a former New Yorker, I can sympathize with the bewilderment of returning to your old neighborhood—a place you once desperately wanted to escape—as a destination. Gelly likes the bar. The décor is sweet—dark brown half-moon booths and dark wood with kitsch touches. There is no outside view, no street noise. It is designed for intimacy.
The Sonny’s back bar is truly impressive–a wall of high quality spirits and esoteric liqueurs. Bar manager Kelly O’Hare came from Austin and fell hard for California’s liquor distribution. He admits with a smile to having free reign over what goes on the shelves, and his creativity is apparent in both the bottle selection and the cocktails: Japanese whisky, Jamaican rums, amaro.
I order a Rififi (mezcal, Cynar, Sapins, cinnamon tincture and grapefruit oil). For those who don’t know, Sapins is pine liqueur from France, Cynar is artichoke amaro from Italy, and mezcal is nectar from heaven. The scored grapefruit peel is perched on the edge of my coupe like a butterfly. Gelly asks for the bartender’s favorite. He makes a Three Sheets (California rum, lime, coconut, spices)–simple but intensely tasty and just sweet enough.
Part of the appeal of the tiki trend is the challenge of making a balanced drink with all those sweet fruits shouldering in. These guys nail it.
5137 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Photo courtesy of Gianluca Riccio