Laguna Beach’s signature cocktails range from classic to sweet—and some come served with an ocean view.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Whether it be after a long day at the office or a fun day at the beach—or setting the stage for the evening ahead—there’s nothing like sipping a skillfully made cocktail. Many of Laguna Beach’s local establishments tout their own signature cocktails. Whether you like a sweet sip or a tried-and-true traditional bar beverage, we’ve rounded up a few of the standouts in town.
Lavender & Meringue Martini
Oak Laguna Beach
Named for the specialty rosemary-and-lavender vodka used in its recipe, the Lavender & Meringue Martini is one of Oak’s most popular drinks, according to general manager Carmen Wildfong.
Oak’s mixologists enjoy creating unique and tasty cocktails, and this one in particular has been well-received by locals and tourists alike. Now a staple of the establishment, it is light enough to enjoy in the afternoon, yet decadent enough to pair with a dinner entree.
“This cocktail is a luxurious play on a lemon drop. It is made with the rosemary-and-lavender vodka, Licor 43, lemon juice and a touch of simple syrup,” Wildfong says. “We top the cocktail with our lemon-infused egg white foam that we torch till brown and toasty. It is then topped with lemon zest and a sprig of fresh lavender.”
The Rooftop Lounge
The mojito selection at The Rooftop Lounge is not only enticing, but also reminiscent of the beachy paradise that is Laguna Beach. Offered as a classic mojito or flavored to be tropical, mango or berry, the base ingredients include white rum, fresh lime juice, mint leaves and house-made simple syrup mixed together and topped off with soda water.
For the tropical version, white rum is swapped with coconut rum and pineapple juice is added. The berry variety typically incorporates blackberries, but, depending on the season, other fresh berries may be used. Each drink is garnished with a delectable piece of sugar cane. The presentation is as beautiful as the coastal views, and it’s a refreshing sip on a hot day.
“This cocktail is the perfect choice [at] The Rooftop Lounge because it’s refreshing and bubbly with a hint of mint,” says bartender Lucas Jackson. “It transports you to a tropical place and, … [with the] 180-degree ocean view, you get to feel that bit of escapism from your everyday life.”
Chief Lapu Lapu
Despite several ownership changes, the Royal Hawaiian’s Lapu Lapu stands the test of time with its recipe, which is still offered to customers in its original form as well as a modernized version. The new iteration, called the Chief Lapu Lapu, is concocted with light and dark rums, house-made passion fruit syrup, simple syrup and both orange and lemon juice. This show-stopper is garnished with a cinnamon stick, fresh mint and a hollowed out passion fruit half that’s filled with rum and set on fire. A refreshing ode to nostalgia, the drink’s new twist creates a bridge between the past and the present.
The original Lapu Lapu from the 1940s—when the eatery was called the Royal Hawaiian Charcoal Broiler—can also be ordered as a secret menu item; some customers request both for a tasting comparison.
“[The Lapu Lapu] has long been a staple of the imbibing community here in Laguna since the inception of The Royal Hawaiian and the Cabang family who made it famous,” says Royal Hawaiian bar manager Julian Flores Torres. “The main difference between the old and new version is that the new version is much more balanced in its flavor profile. The old recipe was missing citrus to balance and complement the sugars. … We also included a fiery bruleed passion fruit garnish to enjoy alongside the drink.”
Marine Room Tavern
Known for its whiskey bar vibe, the Marine Room Tavern’s top-ordered drink is the Old-Fashioned. Lead mixologist Karl Girolamo believes the reason the bar’s Old-Fashioned is so popular is not due just to the simplicity of the ingredients. Instead, he says the feeling you get when you’re sipping the cocktail in the dark watering hole is why people consider this a go-to cocktail.
“With other cocktails, you can find an exact recipe and follow the instructions to make a consistent drink. However, with an Old-Fashioned, it’s something that each establishment or even each bartender can make slightly differently,” Girolamo says.
The Marine Room team uses 5 dashes of Angostura bitters, a half ounce of simple syrup and 2 ounces of the patron’s choice of whiskey. After stirring in a mixing glass for about 20 seconds to perfectly chill the cocktail, it’s strained over a large ice cube in a glass and garnished with an orange peel and Luxardo maraschino cherries.
“While keeping the bones of the
cocktail intact, there is so much room for variation,” Girolamo says. “Different kinds of bitters, the amount of sugar, the type of whiskey—all of it is malleable, which makes the Old-Fashioned such a unique and desirable cocktail.”
Splashes’ oceanfront location and seaside vibe call for a signature cocktail to properly represent both. The Oceans 1555 cocktail fits the bill and even takes into consideration the establishment’s address.
The epitome of a craft cocktail, Oceans 1555 contains strawberry- and raspberry-infused Empress 1908 Gin, which creates a unique color that fluctuates based on the ripeness of the berries and makes the cocktail approachable for even those who don’t usually drink gin. Pamplemousse (pink grapefruit) liqueur and Splashes’ house-made citrus infusion, which combines oranges, lemons, limes and juniper berries, add to the flavor, while superfood blue spirulina is added to enhance the ocean color of the drink.
To enhance the already aromatic cocktail, an atomizer is used to spritz rose water on a bed of foaming bitters, which is decorated with blue spirulina hearts. An edible flower garnish is also added as a finishing touch.
The Popo and Pine-o
The Saloon boasts not one, but two popular signature drinks. The Pine-o was originally designed by former Saloon bartender Dan Vincent as a refreshing summer drink nearly 30 years ago; the vodka for this drink is infused with pineapple slices in a large jar behind the bar. The Popo was first crafted in 1979 by and named after notable Saloon bartender, J. “Popo” Galsini.
“The Pine-o is a twist on a cosmopolitan and a kamikaze—a crani-kaze. It’s made with pineapple-infused vodka, cranberry juice and a splash of triple sec. It’s not as sweet as you’d think and it’s ridiculously refreshing,” says Saloon owner Michael Byrne.
“Popo created the original version of his namesake drink, which has changed over the years, but not by much. Now, the ingredients are a completely secret combination of boozes mixed with coffee. Despite daily attempts to trick the bartenders into revealing the ingredients, I’ll only admit to half of it being coffee.”