SANTA MONICA COCKTAIL BAR IS SOLID GOLD
From the outside, Copa d’Oro on Broadway near the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica does not look like much, even once you walk in you may not be very impressed, but belly up to the bar and spend a few minutes with head barman Vincenzo Marianella and prepare to not only be impressed but blown away. And even if the Boss Man isn’t there, his staff is trained to his high standards, which means you’re in good hands.
Named among the Top 50 Bars in America by Playboy Magazine in 2012 and among Best New Bars in 2009 by Los Angeles Magazine, Copa d’Oro stands tall among cocktail bars, even in its tiny beachside space. During a conversation with Marianella while he stood tall in his bar well (he actually always stands tall at 6'4" since the age of 13), he said he “believes in ingredients, not recipes.”
"It's not just about the measuring, the mixology," he told the LA Times in 2008. "You really have to know how to balance—so that no one flavor overwhelms another. And you have to be able to improvise for someone else's palate."
Marianella likes to refer to himself and his bar staff as “barmen” noting he has no ego for “mixology.”
“Our aim is to provide quality cocktails sourcing fresh, organic, sustainable produce from local farmers and premium products from around the world,” the Copa d’Oro site reads.
A bartender since the age of 19, Marianella hails from the small Italian town of Tolmezzo in northeastern Italy ("in the middle of nowhere") but has worked in bars in L.A., New York, Sydney, Australia, and in 2003 London where he confesses, "I fell in love with the craft; I really understood and realized it was a career."
Known for crafting first rate bar programs at the Doheny, and Providence here in town, Copa d’Oro stands out for its unique concept of tailoring a cocktail list around fresh produce from the local Farmer’s Market and having a system where the guest in effect "creates" the cocktail.
"Copa d’Oro is groundbreaking in its approach to service and quality," Marianella proudly says. "Here, our guests will be part of the creative process, selecting the fresh ingredients that will be used to make their drinks. At Copa d’Oro, everyone will be a mixologist, with the opportunity to try something new every time and become part of the creative process.”
During a recent visit, I mentioned that I’m a fan of grappa and the affable Vincenzo, who also runs the much in-demand cocktail consulting company MyMixology, improvised and created a grappa and bourbon cocktail on the spot. Because I was impressed with the drink or just because he wanted to show off his imagination and versatility, he made two more cocktails featuring grappa, including the Touristi, which is a bold mix of grappa and Campari.
While Copa d’Oro boasts an extensive cocktail menu (just in case you don’t want to have a hand in crafting your own drink), it’s only a starting point according to its creator. Vincenzo prefers to talk to his guests, get to know their preferences and then make a drink for them.
One drink that I fell in love with was the Hemingway Daiquiri, mixed with Cana Brava Rum, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lime and grapefruit juice and Angostura bitters, which was created for Hemingway at El Floridita Bar in Havana. This is a stiff ass drink the way a classic daiquiri should be made.
Fans of spice should get to know the King of Bahia, made with Ypioca Cachaca, St. Germain, fresh jalapeño pepper and passion fruit. Likewise, the Pancho Villa, mixed with Corralejo Reposado Tequila, Martini Sweet Vermouth, Aperol and peach bitters, is a winner for tequila fans.
Sporting one of the best bars in town, the kitchen at Copa d’Oro is nothing to write home about, it’s tiny and is basically two Panini makers, yet they make delicious Grilled Paninis (a real necessity when you’re drinking pretty stiff cocktails), along with dips, and cheese and charcuterie. Happy Hour is all night Monday, as well as Tuesday thru Saturday from 5:30pm to 8pm.
From the mind of true craft cocktail innovator, Copa d’Oro wins the gold medal when it comes to the competitive world of mixology and dynamic drinking programs in Los Angeles (let alone Santa Monica).
Copa D’Oro is located at 217 Broadway in Santa Monica. Call (310) 576-3030
Photo above courtesy of Vincenzo Marianella