Rich Man, Pour Man
Meet the bartenders of the South Bay. Whether a shiny, new hot spot or a classic watering hole, it’s the man behind the bar who makes it memorable. grab a stool and raise a glass to these FIVE mixology masters.
- Written byDarren Elms
Mike, Ercoles, Manhattan Beach
When two regulars walk into Ercoles on a Thursday afternoon, the man behind the bar, Mike Benavidez, is already pouring them a drink, no order necessary. That’s what you’d expect from a 24-year veteran of this Manhattan Beach staple, one of the oldest in the town. Ercoles was a family-owned business since 1924, purchased from the Ercoles family by current owner Gary in the ‘70s. More than two decades ago, Hermosa Beach native Mike was running a surf shop over on 10th Street, losing the business during a bad economic climate (sounds familiar). Hired by Jimmy and Julie at Old Venice as a waiter and cook, his new skills caught the attention of Gary, who planned to introduce a grill to the bar. Years later, Mike’s still flipping those famous burgers in between shaking mai tais and pouring beer. “I get a mixed crowd here,” says Mike of his typical clientele. “Construction workers, retired stockbrokers, school teachers, fire and police.” Sure enough, just as he finished that sentence, three 40-something and retired financial guys walk in for a burger and a cocktail. Cheers, gentleman. Could we all be so lucky?
Ercoles Mai Tai
1 part white rum
1 part orange juice
1 part pineapple juice
splash of sweet and sour
dash of grenadine
dark rum floater
Serve him: A Coors Light or brandy and Baileys with a splash of coffee
Anthony, Kincaid’s, Redondo Beach
“I thought about shaving it off for the photo,” says Kincaid’s Anthony Libutti of the thick moustache he recently grew for charity. “But my friend insisted it was a must, so I’m keeping it another day.”
With the exception of getting his communications degree at UCSB, the Hermosa Beach native has stayed close to home, currently enjoying a place on the Strand. “I’m able to ride my bike to work from my place,” he says. “I love working on the waterfront, with my water and sand view from behind the bar,” Before his current four-plus-year stint climbing the ladder at Kincaid’s in Redondo Beach, Anthony served beers and cocktails at popular Hermosa Pier watering hole Hennessey’s Tavern.“To me bartending is not a career, but it pays the rent and allows me to live here,” he shares. “After college, I thought I’d just bartend for the summer and maybe a little longer. But here I am, eight years later, still going.”
1½ ounces Absolut Mandrin
equal parts fresh lime and cranberry juice
splash of Parfait Amour liqueur
Serve in a martini glass rimmed on one side with lavender-infused sugar.
Serve him: A vodka soda
Levi, The Strand House
“I began bartending from the day I turned 21,” says Levi Lupercio, a 15-year veteran and bar manager at the new, pristine Strand House in Manhattan Beach. “In order to do this for so many years, I would definitely have to say that bartending is a passion. You have to be passionate to come in on a daily basis and perform at this level.” Prior to Strand House, Levi did time behind bars at Katana in West Hollywood, Rock’N Fish at L.A. Live and recently spent eight years at Trump National in Palos Verdes. At his current gig, he enjoys the gratification of stocking the bar with spirits of his choosing and designing many of the artisan cocktails that rival the venue’s amazing view of the pier. “Bar culture, to me, is an environment conducive to relaxation,” he says. “Ultimately, a place for persons of all types to unwind and get away from their daily battles.”
2½ ounces Hirsch bourbon
1/2 ounce Strand House sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Couple of dashes of orange bitters
Serve up in a martini glass with an orange-zested rim and garnished with a Luxardo maraschino cherry.
Serve Him: A bloody mary
Manny, Old Tony’s, Redondo Beach
“The best tip I ever got was $1,000,” beams Manny Jimenez, holding court where he always does at the panoramic bar above Tony’s restaurant on Redondo Beach Pier. “For service with a smile,” he adds. Just about sunset on a damp winter day, it’s the patrons circling the bar that smile at Manny’s arrival. Two women enjoying a beer between smoke breaks share, “Manny’s the best. We spend a lot of time here, and he’s always our guy.” Starting as a bar back for original owner Tony T. back in 1982, he climbed his way to front of the bar in a few years, observing the “Tony way” of service and hospitality. These lessons served him well, and now more than 25 years later, Manny has poured for generations of locals—family and friends in need of a great drink, nice views and a familiar face. “Tony’s is a home away from home for me,” he says.
Ocean Breeze Martini
1 ounce blueberry Stoli
splash of Apple Pucker
splash of apple juice
top with blue Curacao Pour into a martini glass.
Serve him: a manhattan
Tom, The Mermaid, Hermosa Beach
Deeply rooted at the western end of the ever-evolving Hermosa Beach Pier, the Mermaid Restaurant and Bar survives as one of the landmark’s oldest and most endearing establishments. Since opening just off the sandy Strand in the ‘50s, this salty staple of old school South Bay bar culture hasn’t changed much during the last half-century. The weathered red exterior, the coffee shop, the classic wood bar … Tom Slater can be considered a youngster in comparison—and he’s a 10-year veteran of the place. Truth is, Tom’s been tending bars for nearly four decades, serving at venues like Del Conte’s in Torrance and Critters (now the North End Bar & Grill). The Redondo Beach native likes the easy-going vibe of The Mermaid, taking in the beach view through the large window he faces from the bar. “A lot of the regulars have regular stops they make along the way here,” he says, pouring a beer for a friend who sits on a well-worn stool nearby. “We’ve got free parking on the beach. How can you beat that?” When asked what cocktail he enjoys making the most, he replies without a beat, “The next one that needs to be made.”
Surfer on Acid
1 part Jägermeister
1 part Malibu Rum
1 part pineapple
Shake and serve to a crew of thirsty boarders.
Serve him: An old-fashioned
We chose FIG in Santa Monica, the hot new revamp of the old Grille space at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. As I have observed before in these pages, it has always seemed weird to me that so many high-end hotels with coveted Ocean addresses put such little effort into their restaurants.