Mixologist-artists China Morbosa, right, and Justin Pike, left, with… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)
Justin Pike, the talented bartender at the Tasting Kitchen in Venice, draws detailed pictures of the artisanal ingredients and specialty liqueurs he uses in his cocktails on the restaurant's large chalkboards. Pike, who studied illustration at Massachusetts College of Art, initially started bartending to buy time to draw before emerging as a star of the city's impressive craft cocktail scene.
Similar stories exist all over Los Angeles, where bartending is a lucrative way to float other artistic dreams. But over the last few years an interesting thing happened on the way to the booze bank: making cocktails the crafty way with housemade bitters, tinctures, foams, exotic juices and fresh-picked herbs turned into an art in and of itself.
Zahra Bates, a former dancer and mixologist at Providence, was amazed by how many of her colleagues also worked in creative mediums, which in turn made their cocktails all the more fantastical. So she teamed with Daniel Djang, founder of the cocktail blog Thirsty in L.A., to organize an event called Art Beyond the Glass, which takes place Sunday at Sadie in Hollywood and showcases the art, music and live performances of nearly 40 of L.A.'s top bartenders alongside a spirited blitz of their creative mixology skills with proceeds benefiting Inner-City Arts, an arts program for at-risk youth.
"We drove from bar to bar when we first decided to do this, and everywhere we went someone was involved in the arts in some shape or form," says Bates, sitting at a table in Sadie with Pike and China Morbosa from Eveleigh, who paints detailed portraits on salvaged glass windowpanes. "We always support each other in the L.A. bartending community — we're more than just what we put in a glass."
Participants include Joshua Lucas from the Writer's Room (magic); Pablo Moix from Melisse, La Descarga, Harvard & Stone (live graffiti); Erik Trickett from Roe Restaurant & Fish Market (piano performance); and art by Chris Bostick (formerly of Varnish). A band called Mad Planet composed exclusively of bartenders will play a live set, and Aidan Demarest and Marcos Tello of the consulting firm Tello Demarest Liquid Assets will kick off the night with a scene from "The Odd Couple."
"Marcos and I were both actors when we opened Seven Grand," says Demarest. "Maybe we weren't that good and that's why we ended up in the bar."
Asked what medium one of his framed pieces is in, Tasting Kitchen's Pike replied, "Pringles." Titled "Food Fight," the piece is a photograph of a design Pike made of broken chips he found on the ground at a barbecue.
"It's kind of like a joke, or a comic on the ground," explains Pike. "It goes away when someone kicks it."
Morbosa has similar feelings about the fleeting nature of her work, sans the joke part.
"I like painting on glass, it's very fragile," she says. "You spend hours on something, and it could break at any minute."
In this way their work is like their cocktails, which take time and effort to make but disappear into thirsty drinkers in moments.
"Art and bartending are the same in that they are both a form of storytelling," says Bates. "They are both a way to connect with others in a world that is increasingly disconnected."
Art Beyond the Glass at Sadie Kitchen & Lounge, 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A. 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday. $40 pre-sale, $50 at the door. (323) 467-0200; http://www.artbeyondtheglass.com.