Barfly: Liquid Kitty
Absinthe is decidedly an acquired taste, mostly depending on a person's affinity for combining the flavors of black liquorice and premium unleaded. But those who have acquired it simply can't quit it, and it's not because of its delicious anise aroma or the way it warms the cockles. Absinthe – besides being ripe with history, and tradition, and scandal – also provides a really, really enjoyable drunk.
Hailing from the opium era, this seems appropriate. So whether you take yours with a traditional water drip, stirred into a sazerac, or (God help you) straight up, Liquid Kitty's got your green fairy poison.
You've driven by Liquid Kitty, located on Pico Blvd., over a thousand times. You probably didn't notice because the only way to identify the smoky martini lounge is a clever neon sign that flashes a martini glass and then a cigarette, with the martini's olive becoming the cigarette's cherry.
The bar is on the classier side of the dive bar divide, accentuating its dark atmosphere with minimal lighting and superb leather benches and barstools. The amount of moving room is perfect, feeling spacious without feeling spartan, and the people, I'm sure, were all based on characters from Golden Age graphic novels. The mood is light and accessible, and the establishment is, well, embellished, but Liquid Kitty's liquor selection is the bing on this cheery cherry.
Specifically, the bar serves absinthe – and not many bars even do that – but they don't just lash a splash into a shot glass, they perform the entire nostalgic ritual.
After arranging the various absinthiana, bartender Jason Gochin poured a large shot (read: a small glass) of the eerily emerald elixir, a drink whose social popularity has impacted everything from Van Gogh's painting to Hemingway's literature – it plays a major role in "Moulin Rouge," Nine Inch Nails called it "The Perfect Drug," and everyone's favorite barely-clad green fairy reference still opens every Disney movie.
Over the glass, Gochin set a fancy spoon with a flat, slotted bowl upon which he placed a single cube of sugar. After positioning the spigot of a frosted fountain above the cube, Gouchin opened the spout to a slow and steady drip, which dissolved the sugar into the glass, diluting the absinthe's deep green into opalescent yellow, and it's bitter taste into a sweeter flavor. He then set it on fire.
While the drinking experience of Liquid Kitty is divine, the bar also offers ample entertainment, and my experience was a slow karaoke Monday. As small clusters of patrons wandered in and out of the cover-free bar, karaoke regulars Starr (a star to Sparkles), Sparkles (a fan of Starr), O'Dean (Motley Crue's original, gloved singer) and Mark the Roctor ("like ‘doctor,'" he'd say) rotated on the open mic. They weren't pulling huge crowds, but then, that would have killed the atmosphere anyway. "Crowded" and "lounge" are, by definition, diametrically opposed, and Liquid Kitty is unapologetically a lounge bar – a martini lounge, at that. It's a quite comfortable neighborhood dive that mixes in a little more redolence and a little more class than what you're used to finding in West LA; and while it may not leave you shaken, it will surely leave you stirred.