Beach Boulevard is somewhat of an enigma in Orange County. From wax replicas of classic movie stars, screaming kids at Camp Snoopy, to Excaliber-style dinner theater where dudes joust, it has every fetish covered…except for great drinks. That is, until I discovered Puzzle Bar.
If you had a puzzle of Orange County, Puzzle Bar would be a hanging chad off the top left corner piece. Although La Mirada is technically L.A. County, the bar is a few miles from where the 91 and 5 meet, and I wouldn’t tell you to go there if it wasn’t a must.
Every detail, aside from distilled liquor, is made in-house from scratch. Imagine salted caramel dry vermouth, house-made Campari, Amari, bitters, and ginger beer paired with farmers market organic fruits, herbs, and eggs… safe to say the indigenous cocktails you will get are a complete palate vacation from the norm.
Like in a busy hamster cage at night, bar manager Kevin Lee and bartender Jeff Sok hand-sculpt perfect spherical ice balls over boozy conversation. With eight or so cocktails that use them on the menu, they work through hundreds of them a week. Occasional shards shoot across the bar, and the sound of ice being chizzled sometimes matches the beat of the mellow 90’s playlist.
To get the full experience, I went with a Barney Stinson’s Old Fashioned, named after Neil Patrick Harris’ character on the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother’, who only drinks Scotch. Most of the drinks at Puzzle are named after TV or movie references.
The drink starts with a complete verbal play-by-play of what is happening, a must for any first visit. “We start with a muscovado simple which is dark brown and filled with molasses notes,” says Jeff, as if he had three Red Bulls, then torches the liquid as it enters the mixing glass. He adds a dash or two of salted caramel chocolate bitters and a precisely-measured smoky Islay, Bowmore 15. The glass is swirled warm, chilled, then poured over the baseball-sized ice sculpture. Orange and lemon peel are torched, placed delicately, then served.
Barney smells like a thatched-roof Scottish house after the cleaning lady came, in the best way possible. Pungent citrus peel aromas meld perfectly with the peat-smoked phenols of Bowmore 15. The native briny caramel flavors of the scotch marry well with the bitter and sugar choice. Well done, lads. It’s one thing to do all house ingredients, but if they don’t work, what’s the point? Here, they don’t add just flavors and aromatics, they add personality and soul to a cookie-cutter landscape.
Being in Koreatown, the food menu is another adventure, where a kimchi quesadilla can pair beautifully with the Don Draper mule, or any other of the 50-plus cocktails on the menu.
Puzzle Bar 14740 Beach Blvd, La Mirada