Education, not pretension says LA's "Neat-est" new spot to get your drink on - Neat
The new kids on the block aren’t kids at all, in fact, they’re some of the most talented, creatively-inclined bartenders this side of the 405.
Neat, which opened only mere months ago has quickly grown into a neighborhood favorite. With a menu showcasing the best of both worlds, a spotlight on the classics, next to a list of their spellbinding house originals.
“For us, the most important part of constructing the cocktail list was the classics. With so many cocktails especially now, with just how insanely creative LA is, and the cocktail scene in LA has taken off, we wanted to make sure that we nailed down the classics,” says Jameson Algatt, bartender and “operations guy,” as he put it, at Neat.
“Things like the Aviation have been around for 100 years. The Old Fashioned, even older than that, the Penicillin. The El Diablo, the Sazerac, which is very much a New Orleans classic, we wanted people to sort of get back to that point of cocktails that are classics for a reason, and when they’re made properly with fresh ingredients, using high quality spirits, they’re fantastic. For the originals, we wanted to showcase our creativity as a staff, it’s a rotating menu, it hasn’t rotated yet, of course, but most bartenders have one or two cocktails on the menu that showcases their spirit of choice and their style. We wanted to have a cocktail with each spirit, and a cocktail from each cocktail family, if that makes sense. For the beer and wine, I mean, the spirits are obviously the selling point, but we probably tasted more wine than spirits for the menu."
We sat down with with Jameson and Wen Yeh to talk simplicity, high-quality liquor, and about the unpretentious tone this quickly growing favorite has to offer anyone willing to learn a thing or two from their cocktail experience. Wen has started up local favorites such as Bru Haus, The Belmont, and West End in Santa Monica. The two met while working at Bru Haus about a year ago. From an idea to a reality, planning was set in motion to create a concept bar on the west side, and Wen so graciously asked Jameson to help him open this masterpiece.
So what is the concept here exactly?
Wen: “The concept behind Neat goes back to the basics with quality spirits being the main focus. We like to generally drink quality spirits, it’s nothing about big marketing dollars. When you drink something neat, that’s just as simple as you can get. So it’s focused on anything where it doesn’t matter what the price point is, it could be very affordable, it could be very expensive, but just quality.”
Jameson: “With that being said, we know the most accessible point for a lot of unknown spirits is through cocktails. So when we designed the cocktail program, we wanted to make sure we had a good split between classics and originals, but each one doing it’s job to showcase the spirit that was underlined beneath. Whether it’s tequila, or mezcal, or even a vodka that no ones ever heard of, we knew that was going to be the access point for a lot of people.”
Jameson: “One of the best compliments that we’ve gotten, I mean, is people coming back. That’s the best compliment you can get as a business, but also that it’s approachable. I have a lot of friends in the Hollywood cocktail scene and sometimes you go into these bars where you feel like you’re not cool enough to be there, you know? You feel like you’re the dorkiest person there and don’t deserve the drink you get. We wanted to make sure that anyone could come in, they could ask as many questions as they wanted. We have spirits nobody’s ever heard of, thus education’s going to be huge. We didn’t want people to be bashful if they didn’t know what mezcal is, or what’s in a Sazerac, because we’ll tell you, that’s why we do this. So the approachability was a big thing for us, we didn’t want to be a stuck up West LA cocktail bar, we wanted to be somewhere where people come in and try new things and take it somewhere else.”
Wen: “We also kind of want to avoid the “mixology” template. It’s not what we’re about. We don’t want to spend ten minutes on a cocktail and make things complicated. We just want the classics, something good, something simple, so people can appreciate it.”
Jameson: “What it comes down to, is every bartender here loves what they do. It’s just fun. It’s fun to measure out things exactly, it’s fun to see someone’s face when they try something new. It’s not about being cool, it’s about people loving what they get. It sounds really cliche and cheesy but that’s what it is, you know? And it’s great, it’s fun because the environment is intimate enough where people see their cocktails being made, or they see other people’s cocktails being made and they’ll ask questions. I always love explaining it. There’s this veil of secrecy behind bartending and it’s like, it’s not secret at all, you just have to work hard at it.”
Next, Jameson mixed up a couple of Neat’s most popular libations for us to try.
“Our hands down most popular cocktail is The Buxom Duck, it’s made with vodka on the menu but you can always sub it out with mezcal. Other spirits don’t work as well. It has jalapeño and cucumber in it, basically the idea is that the jalapeño adds flavor and the cucumber sort of chills things out, but it’s still got some kick to it.”
The Buxom Duck features Aylesbury Duck Vodka, jalapeño, cucumber, lime, ginger syrup, and bitters.
“The Penicillin is super popular as well, not an original, definitely a classic, and the El Diablo is also huge. It’s kind of like the bartender’s margarita, it’s got the lime-sour taste to it but a little finer. The idea behind the El Diablo is that it needs a little bit of sweetness to round it out, so we add a barspoon of cassis, float it over the top and it bleeds through the ice.”
The El Diablo Ocho is made with Tequila Ocho Blanco, lime, ginger, and cassis, which is a currant liqueur.
So, if you find yourself wandering down West Pico, looking for a sophisticated, yet relaxing evening with some of the highest quality cocktails and service that you’ll find in this day and age, head into Neat and order yourself The Buxom Duck, or whatever lifts you up where you belong.