The Orange County Bartenders Cabinet Shake It Up

The group of county libation crafters is teaching you to drink as you've never drunk before

When he moved to Orange County to work at Fullerton's Continental Room, Schiffer started hanging out at craft cocktail bars in Los Angeles such as the Varnish, hoping to soak up whatever he could because the local scene suffered so. Eventually, he decided to reinvent 320 Main as a craft cocktail bar. Today, it stands as the mecca of cocktails in Orange County, a place so hallowed that even Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold made a rare OC appearance to pay a pilgrimage, including one of Schiffer's concoctions among his list of great LA cocktails.

Schiffer is a very technical bartender—despite the muted theatrics, you can see him counting revolutions as he stirs drinks (a nearly lost art, he says; transparent or translucent cocktails should always be stirred). Sour mix is banished in favor of homemade simple syrup ("There is a reason it's called 'simple' syrup!" he says with a laugh), and juices are squeezed fresh every day. Yet the man who started the Bartenders Cabinet doesn't drink due to a kidney transplant a few years ago. "I'll have a few sips now and then," he says. He prefers bitter drinks to sweet ones, he says, since they're more interesting and substantial. For the non-professional bartender, Jason recommends Home Bar Basics (And Not-So-Basics) by Dave Stolte.

1 oz. Laird's Applejack
1 oz. Cynar
0.75 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
0.75 oz. clover honey syrup
Twist of grapefruit

Gabrielle Dion:
Not pictured: Moscow Mules on tap
John Gilhooley
Gabrielle Dion: Not pictured: Moscow Mules on tap
Snap to the Beet:
Drink your veggies
John Gilhooley
Snap to the Beet: Drink your veggies

Location Info


Memphis At The Santora

201 N. Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Restaurant > Southern

Region: Santa Ana

320 Main

320 Main St.
Seal Beach, CA 90740

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Seal Beach

Broadway By Amar Santana

328 Glenneyre St.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Laguna Beach

Two 40 South

240 S. Brea Blvd.
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Brea

Bar and Kitchen

819 S. Flower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Los Angeles


OC Weekly/KCRW Happy Hour at Memphis At the Santora, Tues., 7 p.m. Free.

Bartenders interested in attending the Orange County Bartenders Cabinet should visit the group's website at

To make clover honey syrup, mix two parts clover honey with one part water, bring to a boil, then allow to cool.

Shake ingredients in cocktail shaker with cube ice, then strain with cocktail strainer into an old-fashioned glass and serve on the rocks with a twist of grapefruit.

* * *

Broadway By Amar Santana

328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-8234;

P.F. Chang's doesn't top any cocktail-lover's list when it comes to craft cocktails, but it'll always occupy a space in Gabrielle Dion's heart. "I wouldn't trade that start for anything," she says. "Without that high-volume beginning, I would never have developed the speed I have now."

Given that people line up three and four deep, crowding the tables at Laguna Beach's Broadway By Amar Santana, in order to get one of her custom drinks, that speed is of paramount importance. Covering every alcohol you've ever heard of—and some you haven't—the list of her creations is so good that her clientele followed her when she left Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza last year.

Just the other night, Dion created what she dubbed Widow's Kiss, a cocktail involving Calvados, yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine and bitters—an intensely flavored but perfectly balanced cocktail.

"Calvados? I didn't know you could use Calvados in cocktails," said a man who'd lived in France. The intensely flavored apple brandy from Normandy is drunk neat after a meal, leaving the drinker feeling as though he were smacked in the mouth with an apple-flavored 2-by-4. Yellow Chartreuse is a floral, herbal liquor that has the cloying taste of Japanese plum wine; Benedictine tastes as though one mixed medicine with cognac. There's no way these three flavors should ever go together, but Dion gave him a straw taste and deftly moved the bottles in front of him. The cue worked; he ordered a Widow's Kiss.

When Gabrielle is not behind the bar, she's learning about wine and beer, trying new spirits, and looking for the next great cocktail. "I love aquavit," she says. "The caraway and anise are kind of an acquired taste, but the savoriness of it in cocktails is just awesome."

1.25 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
0.75 oz. Meletti Amaro
0.5 oz. beet juice
0.75 oz. freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 barspoon Meyer lemon oleo-saccharum
Caraway essence sprayed on top

To make Meyer lemon oleo-saccharum, peel a few Meyer lemons and muddle with 2 oz. by weight of sugar per lemon; let sit overnight. The syrup that exudes is oleo-saccharum—easy as pie!

Shake the first five ingredients with cube ice, then double-strain into a cocktail glass and serve with a spray of caraway essence.

* * *

320 Main

320 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 799-6246;

Matt Robold isn't a craft bartender by trade. His day job is as a geek, writing software for police and fire departments; in his down time, he plays video games and hangs out at Disneyland. But to the Southern California cocktail scene, he's Rumdood, the master of the spirit, someone who posts his concoctions and has almost singlehandedly rescued the lost art of tiki drinks from VFW Halls.

"I sort of came at spirits and cocktails backward, compared to most people, by getting really into a spirit category first, and then coming around to the idea that, yes, you can mix awesome spirits and create something even better," says Robold, who started making drinks Sunday nights—traditionally a slow night, but not anymore—at 320 Main in Seal Beach under Schiffer's tutelage.

But Robold isn't wedded solely to rum. One night, the Bartenders Cabinet hosted Pernod-Ricard, whose representatives brought bottles of absinthe. Absinthe has its own service traditions involving dripping water from a glass fountain over a sugar cube, causing the liquor to turn cloudy, but hosting bartender Dion made a cloudy, pink cocktail involving absinthe, beet juice, lime juice, simple syrup and wheels of cucumber.

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