Posted on | February 23, 2012
Written by | Alia Akkam
Aidan Demarest, Neat, Los Angeles, CA
Sipping a bold, well-balanced cocktail in Los Angeles is now a regular occurrence thanks to local mixology pioneers like Aidan Demarest. Demarest, who has made his mark on such bars as the Spare Room, First & Hope, and the Edison, now invites patrons to play bartender at his newest project, Neat.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: You are credited with helping boost LA’s cocktail scene, most notably at the Edison. What is it about the program there you think made it so successful in ushering in a new era?
AIDAN DEMAREST: The past five years have been an exciting time for LA and I have been lucky to land in some great spots. Seven Grand was really the first cocktail bar in LA and from there we moved over to the Edison where a more large-scale mainstream audience discovered it. I was the front man but it was the whole opening crew of Seven Grand who did, and continue, to change the game for LA.
TBN: Neat Bar is completely different from anything else you’ve done. What was your mission in opening this place?
AD: That was exactly my mission: to do something completely different while continuing to elevate the tastes of the LA drinker. We have spent a lot of time talking about cocktails and where we can take liquor, but I felt there was a huge lack of education beyond advertising for the consumer on spirits. A back to basics bar was in order.
TBN: Neat has an interesting program in terms of its interactive approach. How does it work?
AD: The customer chooses a category, a brand, and then based on flavor profile, a sidecar of juices, syrups, or soda to chase or mix with the spirit. It’s served on a wood pallet in two glasses that begs conversation with the bartender and other customers. It has created this great roundtable where everyone is comparing flavors and thoughts all over the room. The bartenders serve as docents through our library of liquor. There are about 250 different bottles at any time that change constantly.
TBN: You opened Neat in Glendale. Did you feel there was a demand for a solid cocktail joint there? Have neighborhoods like Hollywood and downtown become too saturated?
AD: I have been interested in the Glendale-Pasadena area for a long time. Looking at the audience that came into the downtown and Hollywood bars told me that most of them came from neighborhoods like Glendale and would be happy to have a quality drink program locally. I do think there are only so many people out every night in Hollywood and downtown and hundreds of bars pulling from that crowd. I wouldn’t say saturated, but definitely fiercely competitive markets.
TBN: How are customers responding? What trends are you noticing in terms of their preferences?
AD: I have been amazed at how adventurous the customers have been, almost 100 percent willing to go wherever we guide them. I am seeing lots of baby brands and obscure categories getting attention. Whiskey continues to be on the rise and a favorite along with rye and bourbon, but Pisco, genever, and gin are getting their due. Vodka is still a go-to and it’s great to find the flavor that people like in their brand and enhance them with a sidecar.
TBN: LA in general has completely changed from when you first started. What has been your favorite aspect of the transformation? Where do you think LA is headed?
AD: I love where LA is now. It has been better and better every year for the past five. The one good thing from the economy crash is that people had to work harder and smarter for the same dollars, and LA cocktail bars really delivered in terms of quality and experience. I think LA is moving to the forefront as a leader in concept innovation and consumer loyalty.
TBN: Are there any challenges on the LA bar front you are noticing?
AD: The only challenge I see is remaining innovative and not falling into the trap of reproducing copycat bars of successful concepts. It’s tempting to lean toward a safe bet but it makes for a dull game.