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Growthink on the Town: The Convergence of Cocktails, Cuisine and Conversation

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There's an ever-increasing trend, of late, taking place in the restaurant/nightlife industry.  Surely, those of you in major metro areas - where the hip, retro, and trendy tend to congregate - have seen it: the cocktail throwback to drinks like the Sidecar Martini, the Mint Julep and the Manhattan (yes, please, whiskey and vermouth!); as well as to glammed-out, vintage bartenders - suspenders for the lads, pearls and hair-flowers for the lasses.  

Guys and dolls and gin-lovers, the nouveau speakeasy has arrived!  Sans Prohibition, thank you kindly.

Thus was the theme for an event I attended at LA's Union Station last weekend.  Hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning food critic, Jonathan Gold, the evening centered on the "Cocktail Culture" and its impact on lifestyle; especially with regard to cuisine.  An impressive panel of chefs, venue owners and bartenders weighed in on social and historical trends that are shaping today's restaurants and their food/beverage offerings.  Did you know that there's an Italian guy, named Vincenzo Marianella, who is renowned solely for developing cocktail menus at some of the country's top fine-dining establishments?  

Nor did I.

While it's not surprising that an Italian is whipping up spirits (note: my last name is Moffa), what I found particularly interesting is that - more and more - food pairings are not just with wine.  In today's en vogue dining destinations, cuisine is created with cocktail infusions in mind; and vice versa.  The thought process is around a theme and an experience, from the décor through to every last morsel and sip.  Now, while I use the term "speakeasy" in a tongue-and-cheek fashion, I do see new concepts harkening back to the supper-club days, when a night out was special; when people dressed to the nines and 'painted the town red.'

Having worked for one of the leaders of this "retro" movement - Ivan Kane (owner of Forty Deuce and Café wa s) - prior to joining Growthink last year, I've experienced first-hand the planning and detail that goes into bringing a restaurant to life.  Working since, with many other developers and owners in the nightlife industry, I applaud them for the creativity they bring to cities like Los Angeles; and for the impact groups like 213 Downtown have made on the gentrification of the city proper and the renovation of architectural gems.  Like the cocktails to which we seem to be returning, all of this really emphasizes an appreciation of the past.  It says "thank you" to history, with a twist.

So, I sipped my Manhattans and other bourbon beverages as I took in the conversation and the music last Saturday, reveling in the feeling that - just for a little while - I was suspended in a different era.  What an experience...  and shouldn't that be the entire point of a night out?

Thanks to Zócalo Public Square for organizing the event - to read more about the panelists/sponsors and about Zócalo, which is a non-profit  that builds community by broadening access to civic discourse (where were they during Prohibition?? Kidding!), click the following link: http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2009/10/thank-you-zcalo-supporters/

In the meantime, head out this coming weekend and try something new - there's a cocktail napkin with your name on it and, I'm quite certain, a bartender named Joe.  

Maybe even a soapbox for good measure.
 
 
Ms. Moffa on her soapbox: the red carpet! 

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