Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Mama Mia! Bars are still watering drinks?

I’m almost 43. I’ve been drinking since I was 18 or 21. (I can’t remember what the limit was in Michigan when I turned of age.) I’ve been around bars since Dad took me to the Detroit Press Club when I was in Kindergarten. Heck, I’ve been mixing drinks for just as long, like little Patrick Dennis in “Auntie Mame,” and have never had any complaints.

I have never had a watered drink in all those years, until tonight at an American Italian restaurant in Los Feliz. I’ll identify it only as P------ because there are many positive reviews of it on Yelp! and because people don’t seem to go here for good mixed drinks.

See the “martini” here?


It’s really dry vermouth and water, shaken, not stirred, with extra water.

I ordered it specifically 3-1 Bombay Dry Gin to vermouth. The waiter delivered what looked like a delicious icy martini, with two (actually very tasty and huge) olives. When he returned, I told him, “I think they reversed the proportions. There’s not nearly enough gin in this.” He brought a fresh one back, no argument. It was exactly the same. But since I didn’t want to make a fuss, I sipped it and enjoyed the olives.

What was I to do? Sit at the bar and demand they open a fresh bottle? Show the bartender how to pour? Not worth it. And it wasn’t my imagination. If there was ever a juniper berry within fifty miles of this drink, I’ll eat my Tigers cap. It wasn’t an isolated case. My husband Julian’s gin and tonic was good for fighting malaria, but not much else. Obviously, they put water in the gin bottle. And not very good water.

What century is this? I read in my bartender’s guide about cheap bars that cheat their customers, but I thought they were mostly under the elevated in a bad part of town, across from the OTB.

Across town, at Columbo's, Frank the handsome Greek bartender pours the gin so generously the waitresses bring me a little carafe of vermouth. And you get free live music. Go figure.

Luckily, you can make an excellent martini at home.

For the uninitiated who do not crave gin in E.B. White summer afternoon quantities, use 1.5 ounces of a good gin, like Broker’s, and half-an-ounce of a good dry vermouth (Dolin is especially tasty). Shake the heck out of it, strain it into a cold martini glass, and pour it directly into your veins.

Oh, you can add a twist of lemon or a couple good olives (Armstrong Sicilian or Ranch Style are good), but they’ll just get stuck in the I-V. I don’t recommend anyone’s premade martini olives; they never use good quality vermouth, pimiento, and olives in the same jar.

Mix one fifty-fifty vermouth and gin, add a big twist of lemon and citrus bitters, and you’ve got what the Tar Pit restaurant calls a “Fitty-Fitty.”

But back to P------. Sadly – and I’m not sure if this is a bigger crime – but it seems they also water the ravioli. It was awful, too.

(Check out John's weekly show Off-Ramp.)

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