Sarah L.M. Mengoni, cocktail curator and founder of media platform Historically Drinking and Katie Brightside, artist, illustrator, and imagineer recently collaborated on this stunning cocktail volume: Once Upon a Cocktail - West Hollywood. It offers 54 different cocktail recipes from venues across West Hollywood, using cocktails and their creation to tell the story of the neighborhood's beloved personalities and places.
We ran across their book somewhere out there on internet-land, and were struck by its hyper-local cocktail-centric subject matter, credentialed authors, and gorgeous aesthetics! Chatting with the duo has been terrific fun as they share all about their creative vision, their inspirations, this work of art that is their book and, of course, a few excellent cocktail recipes.
Let’s start broad! Since your book celebrates cocktails from a place that carries a lot of historical, cultural, and local significant, can you give us a taste of your point of view on cocktails and the role they play in culture?
Sarah: I love thinking about this question, and indeed often think about the even larger one of the role of alcohol in history. Its production and consumption has grown and evolved alongside many cultures around the globe. It has been medicine, religious rite, nourishment, craft, artistic expression, banned substance.
And most importantly for this context, it has been used as a social lubricant. The act of sharing a drink can bring people together. The slight lowering of inhibitions and increased confidence that comes with even a very small amount of imbibing helps people talk to one another. The “third spaces” where we gather for those moments provide not just a place to share a drink, but also a place to talk about ideas and to build community. Those spaces create the perfect platform on which Cocktail Culture can emerge. Creators and guests come together over liquid concoctions, they share in the fun of tasting. They delight over new ingredients and techniques. They learn and retell the stories behind the cocktails. When these things come together- bartenders pouring their love into their work, delicious cocktails, wonderful surroundings and guests who are open to all of this- then the ultimate experience has been had.
Our book - Once Upon a Cocktail- West Hollywood celebrates this holistic nature of the cocktail experience, highlighting not only the cocktails, but also the very special spaces and personalities that have shaped them.
Katie: I believe history is only history if people are there to witness the happenings, a shared time and space! Nobody should ever look back to 1984 and remember that incredible cocktail they had alone, that is a subjective context and a bias to conditions. However it could be that same year, you and your friend walked a desert for two days and when you returned to civilization that Coors Light was the best drink you had in your life! Now that's a shared palette memory and experience you will never forget.
Speaking of your book – tell us more! What is it all about? And how did it come about?
Katie: Once Upon a Cocktail - West Hollywood is a bonanza of history, culture and cocktails written as a love letter to a city.
It takes you on a journey through the eyes of the creators, community, friendship all celebrating over a drink recipe from one of the 54 venues represented.
Once Upon a Cocktail - West Hollywood is for tourists and locals alike, whether you are a visitor who is looking for a guide of where to go or a resident who wants to reconnect to their city. It has something for everyone!
I had been specializing in menu design, bar and restaurant branding. I was between clients when the infancy of Once Upon a Cocktail was noodled. The idea grew legs in 2022, which was a perfect time to bring support to the hospitality industry.
With Sarah’s gusto and expertise she immediately saw the vision to celebrate the bartenders and unite a community together over a drink.
Can you give us a small taste of the kinds of cocktails showcased in the book?
The Nikko Niigata made by Dave Whitton for The London West Hollywood is a fun one to make at home.
- 2 oz Shibui Grain Select Japanese Whisky
- .5 oz Liquid Alchemist Passion Fruit Syrup
- .25 oz honey syrup (dissolve ½ cup honey with ¼ cup simmering water)
- 1 oz fresh pineapple juice
- .75 oz fresh lemon juice
- Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over a big ice cube.
Sarah, as a professional drink creator, when it comes to the craft of cocktails – what are you aiming for? What factors do you take into account, what are you seeking to achieve?
Sarah: I love cocktails and the ingredients that go into them, I want the people who drink them to be able to taste that love and care. When making spirited cocktails (as opposed to non-alcoholic) I like to work with the flavors and aromas present in whatever liquor/s I’m using as a base. Whether it be tequila, whiskey, vodka, or something much more obscure, a well made spirit should be appreciated and valued, so I want it, whatever “it” is, to really shine. I also strive for the other ingredients in the drinks I make to be high quality and fresh (often better than what I use for myself!), as this can make a big difference in the taste of the final product.
Hit us with the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever had or used in a cocktail?
Katie: Wasabi and Ice Cream.
Sarah: I think squid ink cocktails are pretty unusual, though I haven’t made one myself. Another crazy ingredient is gold. In the early 2000s Goldschläger was really popular at the college bar where I worked at the time. It was a cinnamon schnapps that contained real gold flakes in the bottle. It seems so strange now, to think of college kids throwing back shots of precious metals.
Katie: Were you at some rich college? Definitely didn’t have gold flakes in Swindon!
When it comes to drinks, what do you find yourself reaching for these days?
Katie: My Limoncello is a Mexican/Californian twist on its Italian cousin, made with Tequila. I have been promising to make Sarah a batch for two years. I also want to make Sgroppino from it. I lived in Northern Italy for a year and drank quite a significant amount of these aperitifs, so it is both a nostalgic and romantic notion to maybe popularize these drinks as they are a personal forever favorite.
Sarah: A favorite of mine is the combo of mezcal, chartreuse (or other herbal liqueur), and hot chocolate. I’ve been working with this combo in different iterations for years now, I come back to it every winter. Here’s a recipe for my most recent variation:
- 6 oz Abuelita hot chocolate (coconut milk is a great dairy alternative in this)
- .5 oz Strega
- .5 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
- Method: Melt the Abuelita Chocolate then stir in the Strega and Mezcal. Garnish with a little freshly grated cinnamon.
Any tips for cocktail lovers visiting (or maybe residing in!) West Hollywood/LA?
Katie: Here’s a pub crawl of my top 5 cocktails from the Sunset Strip (that are walking distance from each other).
Stop 1: Pea Diddy at Tesse
Stop 2: Honeydew Me at Sunset Marquis
Stop 4: Sibling Warfare from Eveleigh
Stop 5: Last stop for the night, The Rainbow Bar & Grill for a “Lemmy” Jack & Coke
Bonus stop: followed by a nightcap made at home! (As the venue Warrior transitioned into an event space but its cocktail, Morning Glory, is awesome to conclude a pub crawl adventure, in pajamas by an open fire!)
I would then recommend my second favorite cocktail, a cocktail of vitamins, an IV Drip, this will pep up your vacation and put a spring in your step for any adventure you may wish to have.
Sarah: Something super fun to do in West Hollywood is to visit one of the ever increasing number of cannabis consumption lounges. Though none of them are in the book, we have included a cannabis cocktail because we thought this is such an important emerging activity in the city. We even had one of our book launch parties at “The Woods,” a gorgeous secret garden of a consumption venue that has you sitting amongst the greenery while parrots squawk and Koi fish swim up to everyone who stops and stares.
Huge thanks to Katie & Sarah for their time and generosity!
If you would like to order Once Upon a Cocktail - you can do that here!
Attention: this was a small printing and it's going fast, so order soon so you don't miss out! Use the code CURIADALOVE for 25% off the list price (valid for 3 months or until the book is sold out).
Do you know someone we should feature as part of this series? (Maybe it's you?) Tell us! You can submit a recommendation here.