Los Angeles’s Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Third just received a healthy dose of booze. Mixology, to be specific. The airy new bar Mixology 101 opened up this week, ready to serve a lengthy list of cocktails (over forty at last count) as well as beer, wine, spirits, and various bites. Steered by acclaimed bartender Salvatore Calabrese (known affectionately as “The Maestro”), the airy watering hole — located up a flight of stairs adjacent to Sur La Table — offers pleasant views of The Grove and The Farmer’s Market, and while gazing upon Zara or Banana Republic might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the space is actually a nice hideout from the masses of slowly-ambling shoppers down below. For some, that hideout might be necessary because, let’s face it: The Grove is somewhat awful. Packs of tourists, annoying teenagers, slowly-moving confused people — it can be a disaster. Lord knows anyone who visits needs a stiff drink or two. But will Mixology 101 be the place for that? Or will it fall in line with all the other restaurants and bars at The Grove: average and overpriced.

Last week, I was invited to a media-comped preview event for Mixology 101 where I was allowed to sample some of the bar’s signature cocktails (as well as a few bites from the new restaurant next door, Planet Dailes). Pictures and impressions after the jump…

The first page of the extensive, promising menu.

Upon arriving, we were all given this: a refreshing, fizzy cocktail with a secret recipe involving melon. I’m not a huge a melon person; so a few sips were all I needed.

I actually loved the look and feel of the big, airy bar, and on hot summer nights, it might be an ideal pre-movie destination. Although, as we all know, the Arclight is truly the place to see movies, but that’s neither here nor there.

Calabrese mans the bar with his second in command, Joseph Brooke, formerly of Next Door Lounge on Highland.

A few of the bites that came around: a Southwest egg roll and a Sichuan eggplant. Both perfectly tasty, even if they seemed more at home at a Cheesecake Factory rather than a mixology destination.

The demo continues. Calabrese clearly loved telling stories to the assembled crowd.

The Maestro mixes.

And the Maestro shakes.

Food blogger paparazzi.

A sampling of The Breakfast Martini: Bombay Sapphire, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice and orange marmalade. Sweet and zingy, it’s almost like candy. Perhaps too much. I like it, but sweet cocktails don’t totally hit my, er, sweet spot.

The staff prepares our next cocktail en masse: the Spicy Fifty.

The Spicy Fifty arrives. It contains Stolichnaya Vanil vodka, elderflower cordial, fresh lime juice, honey syrup, and chili pepper. I see the words “lime juice” and “chili pepper” and become unduly excited.

Whoa Nelly. This is one sweet drink. Too sweet. I can only muster two sips. And there’s no spice whatsoever. I have to rub the Thai chili garnish around the rim and drop it in the cocktail to generate some heat (I’m not the only one who does this). Upon reexamining the ingredients — vanilla vodka, elderflower, honey syrup — I should have known that I was in for trouble. The super friendly bartender suggests that perhaps my cocktail fell victim to having come from a batch as opposed to being made specifically for me. Who knows.

Lining up glasses for our next cocktail. So far we’ve had three sweet ones. I’m hoping for something a big more herbaceous or citrus-oriented this round. God, I sound pretentious.

The guys happily mix their next concoction, which involves homemade blue curaçao. Color me intrigued.

A sampling of the Farmer’s Martini: frozen Stoli Elit, a dash of the aforementioned blue curaçao, Salvatore’s bitters, and champagne. It’s strong. And intense. And surprisingly not that sweet. I enjoy this strange, little blue drink, especially the hint of curry powder that I assume must come from the homemade bitters.

Lastly, we have the very pretty Hollywood Bubbles: Bénédictine, fresh raspberry purée, pomegranate juice and champagne. I really hate raspberries; so I refrained from tasting this one, and at $18 a pop, it looks like I’ll be saving myself some money should I come back here. Word on the street with this cocktail was that it was fruity and, you guessed it, sweet!

My overall impressions of Mixology 101 are appropriately enough mixed. On the one hand, the sizable menu and the mixologist pedigree is very impressive. On the other, nearly every cocktail I tried at the event was intensely sweet. In fact, the majority of the drinks on the menu feature fruity ingredients (passion fruit, peach, elderflower, strawberry, pear) or sweet components (honey syrup, crème de menthe, crème de cacao), which obviously is fine (even if it’s not totally what jives with my palate).

The problem is that while sweet is certainly represented, there’s not a lot of variety beyond that. Popular ingredients such as mint, ginger, jalapeño, and cucumber have only cameo appearances while others such as basil don’t even make it onto the menu. Also, there’s not a huge sense that the menu fully exploits the farmer’s market downstairs. Sure, there are a lot of fruits, but where are the interesting uses of vegetables and herbs that we see all around town (Library Bar, Harvard & Stone, Roger Room, e.g.)? It’s not to say that Mixology 101 ought to follow the pack, but a little menu balance could be a great thing.

That being said, I have no doubt that the mixologists behind the bar would be totally willing to whip up a cocktail on the spot based on one’s tastes and inclinations. The service was all very friendly, and again, the space felt pleasantly serene, making the overall experience a positive one. The hors d’oeuvres were also tasty; although, given that the food menu includes items such as jalapeño poppers, potato skins, nachos grande, potstickers, and spinach and artichoke dip, one does have to question the vibe the place is going for. Hey, don’t get me wrong — I will eat all of the above food items until the cows come home — but they do seem like an odd pairing for some high-minded cocktails. A concession for the Grove crowd? Or another example of a not-quite-right menu choice. Perhaps both.

Mixology 101
6333 W 3rd St
Ste O20
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 370-6560

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