Allan Katz, Cana Rum Bar’s GM: “If you show ‘em a great time, they’ll come back.”

"Papa" would approve.

Ben Franklin,  JFK  and Ernest Hemingway — rum drinkers all — would feel right at home at the Cana Rum Bar with its recessed golden lighting (Everyone looks important!), iconic cigar prints on the wall (and the real thing outside on the fire-lit patio), and the comfortably warm atmosphere of an exclusive, private club.  In fact, the Cana charges a (modest) membership fee (donated to a different charity, such as “Independent Film” every month) but if you want to drink like “Papa”, be the first Go Go’er to respond with “I love Cana Rum Bar!” and get a free membership just in time for the monthly Rum Society meeting next Tuesday, August 31st.  (Membership perks and full Rum Society details below.)

Allan Katz enjoys his work. (Photo by Dylan Ho)

In addition to sampling a flight of special cane spirit rums and sipping discounted Nilsson Slings and Caipirinhas while listening to rum experts like “The Rum Dood” Matt Robold discoursing knowledgeably, August Rum Society attendees will have a chance to chat with (and learn from) Allan Katz, Cana Rum Bar’s new General Manager.  Allan and the Cana’s recent, impressively expansive Rum Day 2010 cocktail menu featured some of the best cocktails (Stepping Razor with pepper-infused rum!  All Saints Fizz with frankincense tincture!  Day & Age #3 with a mist of absinthe!) that Ms. Go Go has sampled in recent memory (and that’s saying something, as Go Go’ers know.)

Allan’s background as “drinksmith” includes a stint as corporate beverage director for NYRSG, working with chef Zachary Pelaccio (Fatty Crab and Cabrito); he’s also opened bars with master mixologists Dale DeGroff (author of The Craft of the Cocktail and the pioneer of the gourmet cocktail movement) and Tony Abou-Ganim (winner of the 2007 Iron Chef America competition with Mario Batali, “Battle Mango”, and author of  The Modern Mixologist, Contemporary Classic Cocktails).

Here’s what Allan had to say about cigars, cocktails and Cana Rum Bar….

Ms. Go Go:  Established bars frequently introduce new drinks but you might have set a new record; for Rum Day 2010 (August 16), you debuted 17 drinks (organized, amusingly, in categories entitled “Daggers”, “Pistols” and “Cannons”!)   What was the motivation behind that astonishingly ambitious menu?

Allan Katz: Well, all three of those things can kill, it’s really just a question of how personal you want to make it.  They increase in strength and/or complexity as you work your way towards artillery.  Regarding the breadth of our menu, we’ve been having such a good time experimenting with rum in conjunction with other spirits since we opened, and everyone just had too many good ideas to confine it to a few cocktails.

MGG: How did working with DeGroff, Abou-Ganim and Pelaccio shape your cocktail crafting and consequently, shape Caña Rum Bar?

AK: Dale’s not a snob.  If anybody has the right to be, it’s him.  He reinvented this entire profession.  If it’s good and works well in the cocktail, he pours it.  He taught me that you’ve got nothing to prove beyond how good the drink is.  Working with Tony, I learned the importance of understanding a spirit to its depths and using that to shape the statement you’d like to make with your drink.  Zak taught me that if something is good, it doesn’t matter if you serve it on a plastic plate or a piece of china on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center.  People who enjoy eating and drinking will seek good food and drink, and if you show ‘em a great time, they’ll come back; what’s in the glass is more important than the glass itself.

So at Caña we’ll [use] the best rum for the job, making sure the spirit is matched to its modifying  ingredients, and make sure the cocktail and the time you had are #1… Although, we do have some pretty cool glasses.

MGG: Do you see a difference between cocktail preferences on the East Coast and the West Coast?  If there is a difference, how do you see that playing out at Caña?

AK: Until I arrived in L.A., nobody ever asked me what the best drink is or what my personal specialty is.  It still cracks me up.  Any of our tenders have 300 recipes bouncing around in their heads at any given time.  The drinks that make it to the menu are our favorites.  The ones we’d be happy making night after night.  And yet people get very insistent that there’s some golden ticket we’re hiding when we ask ‘em what they like to determine what they want.

Meanwhile, people on the East Coast are compulsively stealing menus so that they know what to drink next time.  Go fig.  It’s also been written before that people out here are all about produce and people out there are all about spirits, but after being here for a little while I can say that people appreciate a good cocktail just as much in LA as they do in NYC and it’s not like everyone there wants Manhattans and everyone here wants smashes.

MGG: Cana Rum Bar members can enjoy cigars on the patio.  What are some classic cocktail/cigar pairings?  And why do rum and cigars have such a natural affinity compared to other spirits?

AK: Cigars and Rum go so well together because tobacco is very tannic and rum is a spirit whose complexity doesn’t necessarily have to come from a big tannic presence.  Some folks love Islay Scotch and cigars.  To me, that’s just smoke on smoke.  It’s overkill.  But if you enjoy a spicy, robust cigar and an equally robust spirit to go along with it, the inherent sweetness of rum amplifies the other flavors of the tobacco.  Personally, I love me an El Presidente with a cedar wrapped Nicaraguan.  Dry spice, a hint of sweetness, and creamy smoke… Can’t mess with that.  I also enjoy the sweeter style Spanish Rums with cigars because they provide a nice counter point to the tobacco without being syrupy like a cordial.  I’ve gotten a lot of scotch drinkers hooked on aged Caribbean rum via the opportunity to better appreciate their stogies.

MGG:  What was the most inspirational cocktail that you’ve ever had?  Conversely, what’s your favorite cocktail that you’ve ever created?

AK: The most inspirational cocktail I ever had was my first Margarita at Chili’s.  Sugary, fake-tasting load of crap that it was.  It had nothing in common with what I was used to.  My uncle had me muddling his caipirinhas when I was a little kid, so sour mix was just an assault to my senses the first time I tried it.  As Tony says, “For a nickel more, you go first class.”

It’s tough to pick a favorite, but I tried my friend Marko’s pomegranate dessert wine last year when I made a visit up to his family’s winery and micro-distillery in St. Helena, and immediately thought “I must use this in place of sweet vermouth in a Manhattan, somehow.”  A few months later I was looking for an aromatic cocktail that connected Kuala Lumpur and New York for the new Fatty Crab.  KL has that monstrous tower, which is pretty New York by my opinion.  So I made some lemongrass bitters, used a few drops of maraschino, bought a barrel of Buffalo Trace [excess is fun], split the Charbay Pomegranate Dessert Wine with Dolin Dry, and came up with a distinctly exotic Manhattan.  It could’ve been an awful mess, so getting the Petronas Cocktail right on the first try makes it memorable.

MGG: In addition to the monthly Rum Society meetings and the addition of Rum Day 2010 cocktails to the already stellar menu, what can members  look forward to at Cana Rum Bar in the months ahead?

AK: Wednesdays this fall we’ll have cockfights on the patio hosted by Michael Vick… just kidding.  He’s learned his lesson.

Caña’s hitting the road a lil’ bit.  They can come see us at Jonathan Gold’s Zocalo cocktail party in Union Station on October 9th.  Later that week members can visit us at Whisky Live LA at ridiculous reduced rate.  I wouldn’t be surprised if after-party shenanigans ensue back at the rum bar.  Rum Day was so much fun.  You can expect us to always make a celebration of a new menu one way or the other.  We’ll likely have guest spots from some of our globe-trotting friends from other towns the cocktail world is booming.  I’m always up for suggestions, too.  There’s an endless array of activities that go well with a good cocktail.  But seriously, no cockfights.

MGG: Thanks, Allan!

Go Go’ers, want the 411 on the secret world of the Cana Rum Society?

Here’s Allan’s invitation to the Cana Rum Society meeting on Tuesday, August 31st:

We will be featuring a taste of Ypioca Ouro Estate grown and bottled Cachaca right out of the same wood it was aged in.  That’s right.  Aged Cachaca straight from the cask.  There will also be Dos Maderas 5+5 Caribbean Rum, which receives 5 years of secondary aging in 20 year old Pedro Jimenez casks in Jerez.  Last but not least, we’ll taste Cognac Ferrand’s latest Plantation series bottling from Panama, which has become a house favorite this summer with its robust spice.  CRS August is all about these three unique cane spirits whose maturation is anything but ordinary for their respective origins.”

Go Go’ers will undoubtedly want membership details ASAP after hearing Allan “opine about his favorite subject” (as he put it)  so here’s the official Cana Rum Bar word on membership perks:

“Cana membership has many inherent benefits including  access to the club for members and up to 3 guests each time they come.   Members also receive invites to monthly Cana Rum Society tastings the last Tuesday of every month (gratis!) featuring the  most delicious and best spirits from the world’s rum producing capitals hosted by the always enlightening and entertaining  GM Allan Katz and lead barman John Coltharp (Note: Sadly, August 31st is Coltharp’s last day at Cana. MGG)  +  rum experts and ambassadors from the spirits featured that evening.”  There are also a limited number of complimentary parking spaces on a first come, first served basis.

Good news for Go Go’ers!   If you’re not the U Want 2 Go Go membership winner, Cana Rum Bar is offering a special promotion for an indefinite amount of time: as a bonus, you can get a $20 membership with your first $6 drink during Cana Rum Bar’s “La Hora de Oro”

Go Go’ers, Happy Hour just got a whole lot happier.

Ready?  U Know U Want 2 Go Go….

Cana Rum Bar “La Hora de Oro” (For an indefinite amount of time, a $6 drink during Happy Hour gets you a bonus Cana Rum Bar membership)

Tuesday 6PM – 2AM (except for Rum Society days)

Wednesday – Friday 6PM – 8PM

Cana Rum Society meeting

Tuesday, August 31 @ 7pm

Cana Rum Bar at the Doheny

Petroleum Building

714 West Olympic (first entrance South of
Olympic on Flower)

Los Angeles  90015


$20 membership

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Raymond says:

    I love Cana Rum Bar!

    1. Can’t wait for Rum Society tomorrow!

    2. Alas, Raymond, Ms. Go Go fumbled the ball but YOU are the winner of the Cana Rum Bar membership. Let me know if you’re still interested and Ms. Go Go will set you up. (If you have a membership yourself, I can vouch that it makes a very-much-appreciated present.)

      Thanks for reading U Want 2 Go Go and hope to see you at Cana Rum Bar!

  2. Brenda says:

    Can you please tell me where I can buy the glass used in the photo shoot in the LA TIMES MAGAZINE article, April 3, 2011?

    1. Ms. Go Go only wishes she had access to that kind of high-level info, Brenda….

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