I love dive bars; cheap drinks, surly bartenders and easy women.
But every so often I like to step my game up, put on the polished dress shoes and blazer and head out for some sophisticated fun. When I’m in the mood to bag a wealthy cougar with plenty of life experience, I tend to head over to one of Santa Monica’s plush Ocean Avenue hotels.
There’s an inherent excitement when hotel hopping because of the uncertainty. You never know what kind of stranger you’ll strike up a conversation with over a smooth gin and tonic. They could be in town for business from Brazil, or on vacation and looking to make memories. It’s almost like taking your own vacation, but without the baggage.
Casa del Mar, with its classic touches, plush leather sofas, soft lighting and live jazz, is one of my favorite haunts. Parking can be a pain, but isn’t that what valet is for?
I stumbled in recently and was surprised to learn that there’s a new chef, new lounge and restaurant menus and, most importantly for me, a refreshing libation concept that involves aging whole cocktails in American white oak barrels.

Casa del Mar hotel is offering visitors barrel-aged cocktails. Folks can purchase their own barrels, starting at $500 a pop.(Photo courtesy Casa del Mar)

Casa del Mar hotel is offering visitors barrel-aged cocktails. Folks can purchase their own barrels, starting at $500 a pop.(Photo courtesy Casa del Mar)

To set itself apart from the rest, Casa and its new director of food and beverage, Simon Sorpresi, have created a barrel-aged program in which individuals and companies can purchase their own barrel, have it engraved and filled with their favorite cocktail. The barrels start at $500, with prices varying depending on the booze inside.
“With every new cocktail that we create and age, we taste them periodically to observe the development,” Sorpresi told me. “There is very little information and knowledge out there, so experimenting is very much a part of the course before we put [a] drink on the menu.”
Aging whole cocktails is a relatively new fad in the ever-changing world of mixology. The trend started about three years ago and has been relatively slow to catch on, mainly because of the time it takes to create the perfect cocktail.

While $500 is too rich for my blood, I did try a few of the aged cocktails  a la carte and highly recommend them, in particular the Model T, a combination of Herradura reposado tequila (basically a young anejo), Cointreau Noir (a combination of orange-flavored liqueur and Remy Martin cognac) and Alipus mezcal. The drink is aged for nearly six weeks, lending it a richer, smokier flavor. It’s smooth and slightly tastes of citrus, making for a pleasing combination that went well with Chef Sven Mede’s wagyu beef sliders served on a pepper glazed bun, and Farmers’ Market-fresh beet salad with spicy arugula, creamy burrata and crunchy pistachio.

Chef Sven Mede’s wagyu beef sliders are featured on a revamped  lounge menu at Casa del Mar. Wash them down with a barrel-aged cocktail.

Chef Sven Mede’s wagyu beef sliders are featured on a revamped lounge menu at Casa del Mar. Wash them down with a barrel-aged cocktail.

With an already impressive line-up of live bands and farm-fresh cocktails made by trained mixologists, the barrel-aged concept can only add to Casa’s allure as one of the more refined places to imbibe.
My next mission is to try the revised menu at Casa’s restaurant Catch, which is now seafood centric. More on that later. In the meantime, I think I need another drink — bartender!

kevinh@smdp.com