It always surprises me how much fanfare tiny Los Alamos seems to garner.
It’s not a big place. Besides the occasional event on its one main drag, there isn’t much going on in the town that seems to be “happening” only four days a week.
Yet every time I visit, I feel as though I could easily spend a weekend or a few days soaking up the quirky vibes of that one-exit town.
While the restaurants in “Little L.A.” are beyond exception, a couple of new bars recently have grabbed my attention.
1880 Union Hotel & Saloon
This saloon’s storied historical founding by outlaws and crazy gunslingers is only part of its charm.
One glance at this barroom, 362 Bell St., is enough to draw in visitors with quirky antiques on the walls, horses parked in front in place of cars, and stories of secret underground tunnels and how the bar once was a famous hangout for the Rat Pack and Michael Jackson alike.
But don’t expect the saloon skills to stop at slinging whiskey shots and filling beer mugs as it has quite the selection of high-end tequila, vodka and gins behind the bar.
You’ll find local and imported beers, wines and other libations, but nothing that’s been mass-produced, and promises of local moonshine plus 1800’s own beer and wine labels debuting this fall.
The punny names of the drinks on the menu — such as El Lucador and LAPD, or Los Alamos Panty Dropper — are all worth a try, but my top recommendation is the off-menu, oak barrel-aged gin martini infused with Palmina vermouth.
I’m not one to stray from my usual neat vodka martini, but this gin vermouth concoction is like no other and is perfect when stirred not shaken.
There’s also fun events lined up most every night of the week, such as Speakeasy Mondays and Taco Thursdays, plus live music every Saturday night — in case a visit to a real old-timey saloon isn’t enough to convince you this place is worth the trek.
The hours of operation are noon to 10 p.m. weekdays (closed Tuesdays) and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Remember those group projects you had to do in school that all hinged on the type of group you were assigned to?
The staff at Pico, located a couple of short blocks from the Union Hotel, clearly has been assigned to the fun group with equal input and feedback from their chef, part-time bartender, owners and customers alike.
Their “fun not serious” approach to bartending and farm-to-bar concoctions are evident in their simple yet sophisticated drinks.
My favorite was the Bing Bong made with pickled bing cherries, lemon and bourbon. It’s close to an Old Fashioned, but definitely takes the classic recipe to the next level.
Take this drink over the top and pair it with the Little Gem Lettuce Salad, which is anything but typical or boring.
A close second for me was the Junipero that blends apricots fermented in winter spice flavors with a dash of tonic and flowery gin.
The chef’s behind-the-scenes fun in the kitchen of fermented and pickled fruits are what make these supposedly simple three- and four-ingredient cocktails not so simple to the taste.
Be sure to ask for a scoop of Chef Drew’s housemade Granddaddy’s Favorite Wild Turkey ice cream at the end of your meal. Disclaimer: This one’s not safe for the kiddies as it’s made with straight whiskey and is sure to hit the spot in lieu of an after-dinner drink.
With a rotating and inventive food and cocktail menu, there’s plenty of reason to come back to Pico again and again.
The hours of operation are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
— Tara Jones Haaf leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.