We sat wedged in the corner of the dim, post-apocalyptic bar. On the small round table in front of us sat glasses, cups, and a tiny carafe of a claret-colored fluid. Propped along the bar like limber, sag-stringed puppets were a bulbous-chested white bunny, a shredded, virile angel, and a luchador. They passed a bottle of gin back and forth between them. The scene looked like a rustic Lynchian dream sequence. All that was missing was a tuxedoed midget. The vibe was odd. Without knowing more than the somewhat vague title of the show, this scene clearly wasn't what the audience had mentally prepared for.
We were gathered to see the new incarnation of Rob Floyd's Cocktail Theatre at the Melrose Umbrella Co., West Hollywood's latest speakeasy jaunt. It was a surreal evening of stories and booze that astutely combined the history and craft of cocktails, theatrical narrative, and superb drinks. Rob Floyd is the handsome, charismatic protagonist, spinning yarns and driving the show, and with his silent supporting cast of actors/servers he creates a show like nothing else out there.
Cocktail Theatre has been in operation for about two years, and has sold out every show to date. He has taken the event to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles, and has received a lot of praise for his knowledge, attention to detail, and wholly fresh approach to explaining the often-convoluted history of cocktails and spirits.
“Outside of a fun time and some great drinks, my aim is that the audience learns at least one new way to customize the taste of any cocktail and put their own thumbprint on it,” says Floyd, “and you also get a great story to go with it.”
Rob has been in the business of drink slinging for almost 25 years. After starting out in one of those now-kitschy blender cocktail bars in Miami in the early ‘90s, he got a glimpse at the cocktail's future potential in the chic New York City hideout Employees Only. What followed was a shift west to pioneer the Californian cocktail movement, with stints at Chateau Marmont, Scarpetta, and the SLS's Bazaar.
These days Rob swoons around the Library Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel with a can of butane and a canister of liquid nitrogen, convincing people that $17 isn't actually a lot of money to spend on a cocktail when you get part of him with it. Across the bar, strangers passionately converse with one another over a set of customized, nameless drinks he and his team built to suit the customer's tastes. They’ll take sips from one another’s glass, throwing the risk of cooties into the wind, swap drinks, exchange names and for at least the time that they are sat there, become friends. This is the kind of environment that Rob Floyd creates.
While he's making a name for himself as Los Angeles' go-to bartender in the heart of this new cocktail revolution, Rob is distinctly old school. The new crop of mustache-twiddling “mixologists” might have the skills to work at the moment, but as the craft cocktail trend starts to slow, their prioritizing of knowledge over personality will come back to haunt them. Rob has been making cocktails for many years, and for all his skills and knowledge, his strongest attribute is his endearing charisma.
He and his trippy cast of mute assistants drew the show to a close with a heartfelt anecdote about his father. Rob sat on the bar and raised a glass — a rich, silky Old Fashioned-Manhattan hybrid — and the figurative curtains closed on the show. The room was well-liquored and relaxed, and every table was littered with stiff, half-finished cocktails. The people had gotten their money's worth. They drank some great drinks, received a laid-back, yet comprehensive education, and enjoyed an intimate evening with Los Angeles' most-astute bartender.
For more information on Rob Floyd's Cocktail Theatre follow him on Twitter @RobFloyd1.