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Spirits: Toscana Twist

Christy Grosz

Toscana has long been a favorite gathering place for power brokers, epicures, entertainment personalities, and residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. For more than two decades, these loyal patrons have flocked to the contemporary trattoria to enjoy its casual atmosphere and the flavorful output of its wood-burning oven. On busy Saturday evenings, these hungry crowds often overflowed from the host area into the foyer of the small commercial building in which the restaurant is housed. So when retail space across the entryway became available in 2008, co-owners Mike and Kathie Gordon and their son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Amy Gordon, took this opportunity to transform the vacant square footage into an elegant lounge where Toscana’s devoted followers could relax.

After discussing various concepts with renowned mixologist and bar consultant Francesco Lafranconi, the Gordons decided that the most appropriate complement to the restaurant would be to create Los Angeles’ first and only Italian-liqueur-driven cocktail lounge. To realize this concept, they needed to put exactly the right man behind the shaker, and so Lafranconi suggested a visit to Italy.

"My husband and I went to Italy in search of the best bartender there," says Amy Gordon with a laugh. "If I were 30 years younger, it would have been amazing."

With Lafranconi’s help, the Gordons succeeded in recruiting Hotel Cipriani alum William Perbellini and, last December, opened Bar Toscana, a stylish counterpart to its namesake that serves small plates from executive chef Luca Crestanelli and Perbellini’s handcrafted cocktails.

Perbellini, who presses all of his own fruit purees each morning and makes his own flavor-infused syrups, encourages guests to pair his creations with the chef’s. For instance, the Speziato—a savory concoction of pisco, Aperol, red pepper, and basil—complements the caper sauce and red pepper in Crestanelli’s vitello tonnato. The popular My Italian Sazerac—a blend of herbal Amaro Nonino, peach bitters, and Amer­ican rye whiskey—makes the perfect accompaniment to the kitchen’s selezione di salami or an assortment of formaggi.

"You can have two or three different drinks and two or three different tapas, and you can have a beautiful experience," says Perbellini, who features a special cocktail and small-plate pairing each evening.

One of Perbellini’s signature drinks, the Pearbellini, pays homage to his tenure at Hotel Cipriani, where he poured about 100 Bellinis each day. Though he makes the Prosecco-based cocktail with fresh pears year-round, he mixes the classic version only when white peaches are in season, usually July through September.

"When the peaches are just right, there’s nothing like it," says Gordon. "They’re insane."

Gordon believes that Bar Toscana offers a distinctive twist on today’s imaginative mixology trend by combining fresh fruits with the finest-quality Italian and American liquors. This inventive approach to cocktail hour is reflected in the bar’s contemporary interiors, which were designed by architect Hagy Belzberg and include a video art installation by Jennifer Steinkamp. Despite these modern touches, however, Gordon wants her family’s latest enterprise to remain as timeless as Toscana itself. "We can call ourselves a mixology bar," she says. "But we have to make it something that’s going to last forever."

Bar Toscana, 310.820.2448, www.toscanabrentwood.com/bartoscana

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Photo by Jason Tinacci