The Lincoln sets a new standard for complex craft cocktails in artful surroundings

By Richard Foss (richard@richardfoss.com)

Cocktail-Yelp

The craft cocktail revolution has made an unprecedented variety of flavors available in our drinks, plus historic ingenuity in combining them. It doesn’t mean that those combinations are always sensible and pleasing, or that they’re presented in environments in which most people would choose to linger.

That last bit is important. If you’re going to spend good money on a beverage worth contemplating, you should be able to relax and savor it in a comfortable place. If you like loud, bright spaces that are elbow to elbow, you have plenty of options. If you are seeking more low-key bars designed with creative flair, your choices narrow.

Take special note of the latest craft cocktail hotspot — a visually fascinating space called The Lincoln, located (naturally) on Lincoln Boulevard.

Walk past the corrugated iron frontage and you find yourself with the choice of a spacious patio dominated by an improbably wide dining table, or an eclectically furnished interior room with candles on the tables, which are of various heights and sizes. It’s reminiscent of an art deco-era industrial enterprise that has been remodeled by art students using whatever they could creatively repurpose, and it’s surprisingly tasteful.

You’ll want to stroll the room and look at it from different angles, but first comes the important business of getting a drink. And you did come here to drink, not eat. The Lincoln does serve peanuts, pretzels and hot dogs, but this is for emergency refueling purposes rather than the focal point of your evening.

Beer drinkers may find the selection odd, since along with some local taps they carry the magnificent Dogfish Head and Deschutes products as well as the rather less trendy Shiner Bock, Coors Light and Peroni, an Italian lager with an odd sweet finish. Whoever put this list together wasn’t using a focus group to do it, and though it’s not the most wide-ranging in town you’ll find something to like.

The wine list is also unusual, and despite my intention to have cocktails here I momentarily considered a South African Chenin Blanc that I have never seen before. Nevertheless, I stayed with my original goal and spent some time examining the cocktail menu with the amiable fellow who offered to take my order.

They make the classics here — the top item on the menu is a Boulevardier, a Prohibition-era variation on the Negroni, and, with the exception of the dash of orange bitters, they make it just as it was in 1930. It’s a superb cocktail that is one of my favorites, but on this visit I wanted to sample the creations of mixologist Cameron Dodge-White. My companion and I started with a “Jorge Wallbanger” and a concoction called “Mid Autumn at 2:27 in Upstate New York.”

And no, I didn’t order the second one because I liked the name, but because I was intrigued by the combination of rye whiskey, amaro Averna, clove, coriander and orange bitters. If clove and coriander sound like unusual components for a cocktail, they shouldn’t. They’re both botanicals that are used in flavoring some gins, so adding them to a spicy rye whiskey is another way of achieving the goal of an aromatic herbal beverage. I might compare it to a gin without the juniper, but I’m not sure how many people will visualize that. The Averna, an herb liqueur that combines sweet and bitter flavors of caramel, citrus and herbs, completes the package, creating a complex but not intense drink that rewards slow sipping. I don’t think the name is going to catch on, but the drink should.

The “Jorge Wallbanger” is a considerable upgrade from the Harvey Wallbanger, a mix of vodka with orange juice and Galliano. The Harvey is most people’s introduction to herb liqueur cocktails, and the only reason some bars keep a bottle of Galliano around. Jorge is a much more interesting mix of smoky mezcal with Galliano, grapefruit juice, Cynar liqueur and bitters, and it’s a far better drink, since the tart grapefruit juice and bittersweet Cynar add some pucker to the smoke. Cynar is a polarizing ingredient — one of the strongest and most vegetal of the Italian liqueurs — but even if you never liked it before, you may here.

We thought we detected the signature of the mixologist, who seems to like playing with herb liqueurs and citrus with rather less sweetness than usual. This hunch was confirmed by a “Waking Dead” and something called a U.A.W.D.

I remember asking what that last name stood for but was distracted by the savory mix of Aperol liqueur and tequila infused with honey, salt, pepper and cayenne. Aperol is so popular and is in so many drinks that it’s sometimes called “bartender’s ketchup,” and its delicate citrusy flavor was well matched with spice. It’s rare to find a drink with both cayenne and black pepper that doesn’t overdo the burn, but this one hits the mark.

The Waking Dead took Dodge-White’s aesthetic in a slightly different direction — the sweet hibiscus and mandarin orange flavors balanced against gin, dry vermouth and Cocchi Americano liqueur with just a touch of absinthe. If you’re wondering about hibiscus in a drink, just think of the last time you had a glass of jamaica with your tacos, since that Mexican soft drink is just hibiscus, sugar and water. This was the sweetest drink we had on our visit, though not at all reminiscent of anything you’d get in a tiki bar.

Our evening was a master class in the art of balancing cocktail elements, and conducted in chill surroundings. Like just about everyone else, we spent a few moments puzzling over the heavily modified Model T hot rod that is behind glass at the back, and we admired the odd beauty of the tin panels that are nailed along one wall.

Despite the high-end ingredients and house infusions, each cocktail was modestly priced at $12. That’s another incentive to come back to a place where everything in the glass and the environment is perfectly balanced.

The Lincoln, 2536 Lincoln Blvd., Venice – (310) 822-1715 thelincolnvenice.com

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