Welcome to the final installment of Brother Cleve's Tall Cocktail Tale of the Day and the final post of Cocktail Week 2012. Brother Cleve, a musician and a cocktail consultant, spent years on the road touring with the band Combustible Edison, among others, and had a few drinks along the way. In the earliest days of the cocktail revival, Cleve stumbled upon a solid Negroni in one of the least likely of places.
I was in Los Angeles in 1995, and somebody told me you can go this bar, I think it was on Beverly Boulevard around La Brea, that's hidden away and where there's no sign or anything. They said look for the big sign that says "Bargain Clown Mart." I said what are you talking about? What is a Bargain Clown Mart? Like a clown specialty shop? You're saying there's a place where I can go buy a red nose and rubber shoes and then go have a drink in the back? And they were like, yeah, that is what I'm telling you.
I thought this is insane, but what the hell. So I get in the car, I got nothing to lose, I know where Beverly Boulevard is. My wife was out there with me, so we drove down, and when get out there we see the big sign that says Bargain Clown Mart. I think well, okay. Sure enough, there on the side of the building there's a little velvet rope and a door. I guess this is the place.
It was kind of early at night, probably eight o' clock. We knocked on the door, it opened, and inside was a 40's era cocktail lounge. Straight out of Raymond Chandler, with the red banquettes and really dark mahogany wood - no taxidermy or Maltese falcon overlooking the bar - but very nice, and definitely either created back then or a Hollywood set designer's wet dream.
It was great. It was sparsely populated at that time, and I think we were the only patrons at the bar. I ordered a Negroni and asked 'do you know what that is?' And he said "Yeah, I do. I don't think anybody's ever ordered one here. So you actually like Campari?"
Yeah. I love Campari. My band has a Campari sponsorship. I drink Campari every day. And he said "Guess what. I'm so impressed that somebody's actually drinking Campari and a Negroni, I can't charge you. These drinks are on the house. You're actually the coolest guy that's ever been in here."
It was an excellent Negroni. A Negroni's hard to fuck up anyway, but it was a great drink and a lovely experience, we befriended the bartender that night and that was when I knew: the world was changing.
Brother Cleve is currently bartending at the "Speakeasy to Repeal" parties at Noir, in the Charles Hotel, on Wednesdays from 6pm to 8pm. He also plays the monthly Jive Party at An Tua Nua on the first Friday of every month, featuring Electro Swing music and classic-influenced cocktails.