It’s hard to find a craft bartender in America who doesn’t know Simon Ford. For more than 10 years, he worked as a brand ambassador for drinks giant Pernod Ricard, traveling the country to spread the word about Absolut Vodka, Beefeater and Plymouth gins, and more. (He’s also the longtime emcee of the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the liquor industry’s equivalent to the Oscars.)
In 2012, Ford quit his job to launch The 86 Co., a line of spirits designed by and for bartenders, including Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Caña Brava Rum, Tequila Cabeza and, of course, the eponymous Fords Gin. You’ll find the company’s distinctive bottles—designed to be ergonomically comfortable to pick up and pour, and for reuse holding juices and syrups—behind top cocktail bars everywhere.
Ford moved from New York to Los Angeles soon after he started the company, and he’s discovered a wealth of great cocktails in the West Coast metropolis. Here are three of his favorites.
Under My Thumb at Sassafras Saloon
The exquisitely decorated Sassafras Saloon brings old New Orleans charm to the heart of Hollywood, serving up Big Easy classics like the Hurricane and Sazerac, as well as original cocktails that are perfect for beating the heat. Case in point: this bubbly sipper. It’s “just” a G&T, but the tonic is a house-made lavender one, using botanicals designed to pair well with Fords Gin, including pink peppercorns and fennel seed. It’s even named in the gin’s honor: Fords is distilled on a still named Tom Thumb.
Saladito at The Varnish
Downtown LA’s Cole’s has been around since 1908 and has a credible claim to having invented the French Dip, the city’s signature sandwich. Today, Cole’s still serves delicious sandwiches (and has a very impressive bar), but hidden behind an unlabeled door in the back of the restaurant is The Varnish, a tiny speakeasy with impeccably constructed drinks. Of those, Ford’s current fave is the Saladito, a deceptively simple mix of mezcal, honey and lime. It’s a staggeringly complex twist on the Daiquiri, garnished with chile salt for a little heat, to boot.
Lucky Smoke at The Spare Room
Occupying the mezzanine level of the opulent Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, The Spare Room offers more options for fun than just about any other bar in town: Besides the amazing cocktails, there’s a two-lane bowling alley (rental includes custom George Esquivel bowling shoes) and a “gaming parlor” featuring elegant custom-made editions of everything from dominoes and playing cards to Monopoly and Jenga. The Lucky Smoke is a strong-and-stirred cocktail that still manages to showcase the bar menu’s tropical/tiki feel, mixing Japanese whisky and Jamaican rum with banana liqueur and the unique grassy-coconut flavor of pandan leaf.