Though cities like Chicago and New York tend to get more credit for their centuries-old drinking cultures, Los Angeles has been going strong for decades. While LA is better known for the party atmosphere of the Sunset Strip and its robust club scene, speakeasies and classic cocktails recalling that history have recently come to the fore. Case in point: A brand-new bar directly on the Sunset Strip — aptly named Bar Next Door — is all about paying homage to the classic cocktails of Los Angeles, and in particular, the Moscow Mule.
Opened this spring by Lawrence Longo — who also helped revitalize Angeleno institution Irv’s Burgers with owner Sonia Hong — Bar Next Door of course has a version of the Moscow Mule. As one of the few historic drinks that can be traced with very good authority to Los Angeles (and not, indeed, the Russian capital), it’s a staple on the menu of most any cocktail bar within city limits. Bar Next Door offers their Mule sans copper mug and encourages guests to try the refreshing lime and ginger combination with any spirit, a sleek update on the classic.
How to Enjoy Aperitivo Hour Like an ItalianIt’s a more interesting social experience than happy hour, with better drinks and food
But if the tale of the drink’s origin is to be believed, the mug was an integral part of this cocktail’s path to existence. Brynn Smith, aka @BartendingPretty, is the creative director at Bar Next Door, and she’s quick to note that the almost constant presence of booze means record keeping within cocktail history can be pretty spotty. (And other accounts, for the record, trace the drink’s origins to New York but are best not believed.) “When it comes to cocktail history, we have to remember that so many things are happening in the moment — people are drinking, and some of these cocktail histories are lost, or wrong,” Smith tells InsideHook. “But the mythology is that the Moscow Mule started with the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant, and there’s always been the mystery of this lady that had the copper mug and showed up in the moment.”
That would be none other than Sophie Berezinski. Most of the story of this cocktail myth has been preserved by Moscow Copper, the company that still makes the signature copper mugs that keep the drink icy cold. In their version, the story of the Moscow Mule lays out a few clear characters: Berezinski, an immigrant from Russia; John Martin, the new owner of a then-struggling vodka company called Smirnoff; and Jack Morgan, the owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant. Morgan had too much ginger beer, Martin had vodka to offload — and Berezinski? She had a hoard of copper mugs that she and her father had hauled over from Russia, and as 1941 opened, she was peddling them door to door.
“Sophie came into town, and her dad had owned a Moscow copper mug company that was moving into the States,” Smith says. “With the weather we have in Los Angeles, a cold cup that would keep your beverage cold would be enticing to people. I’m sure when they saw what this copper mug did, it was a no-brainer.”
Making the journey with over 2,000 of the mugs her father produced, she needed to find a way to incorporate them into a profitable business. Eventually Berezinski showed up on the doorstep of the Cock ‘n’ Bull right when Morgan was bemoaning his ginger beer stores and Martin was looking for a way to up his vodka sales.
“Maybe she was the one who had the mug there and said to put these three ingredients together,” Smith says. “It looks good, and it was something different that would catch people’s eye. With any cocktail story at the beginning, you never know —but I think it was one of those things that just kind of happened. ‘Oh, we have this stuff, let’s see how it works with this.’ And the bartender put in a little citrus — at first it was lemon, before it was lime as we know it today.”
Though the Cock ‘n’ Bull is sadly no longer open, Bar Next Door is located just a few blocks down from where it once stood on the Sunset Strip. So if you’re in the mood to celebrate a little piece of LA cocktail history and mythology, head down any day between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m., grab a Mule, and toast to the ingenuity of a copper mug, ginger beer, vodka — or whatever spirit your heart desires — and a little citrus.
Learn more about Bar Next Door here.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.