If L.A. had a reigning cocktail king, it just may be Matt Landes, founder and CEO of Cocktail Academy. Born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles, Landes draws his inspiration from the city’s diverse neighborhoods and cultures, the bounty of locally harvested produce and the convivial attitude of LA’s bar and food industry. Having previously developed programs and captained teams at The Montage Beverly Hills and 41 Ocean, in addition to opening pop-up drinking den Apartment A, Landes is guided by executing exceedingly personalized and artistic cocktail experiences.
Launching Cocktail Academy in 2015, Landes has applied those core tenants and elevated them beyond the confines of a singular space. Cocktail Academy personalizes the bar into its own form of entertainment, individually tailoring every component at private events, large-scale festivals, and media-facing engagements across the nation, no matter size or scope. The premier cocktail consulting firm and catering operation has worked with the likes of Victoria’s Secret, SpaceX, Playboy, Netflix, Disney, Nike and Microsoft and, most recently, created some of the most over-the-top cocktails for the 2019 Oscars season.
Cocktail Academy leverages extensive background in every sector of the food and beverage service industry to facilitate premier guest experiences, offering valuable insight into modern-day consumers’ cravings. Immersed in cocktail culture, Cocktail Academy has become a trusted ambassador for global brands, fostering authentic engagement through education and creative activation.
“Cocktails are a great tool,” says Landes. “We can use them to introduce people to spirits or restaurants, but we can also use them to connect with brands and the world around us.”
Thirsty sat down with this busy beverage expert where he opened up about his go to drink, dream Cocktail Academy collaboration and why his wife is his favorite drinking buddy.
Let’s go Drinking With Matt Landes of Cocktail Academy.
How did you get started in the biz?
I went to school for Hotel Restaurant Management and have worked in hospitality all of my life. After managing hotel F&B, I found myself in the world of restaurant and bars. From there, I launched a concept called Apartment A – a really unique project that despite after a few legal limbos, lead to the ultimate creation of Cocktail Academy.
What is your current go-to drink order?
I’d say my current go-to drink would be a black Manhattan variation with rye, dry vermouth, Amaro Montenegro and sliced cucumber. Yum.
What is your hangover remedy?
Gatorade and CBD tincture, but going to the gym and sweating it out is the best.
Favorite for late night eats after drinking around town?
Canter’s Deli at the ugliest table I can find and a tuna melt on egg bread with avocado in front of me.
What’s your vacation “no f*cks given” drink?
100% it’s a Piña Colada Meyer Float.
What was your first boozy experience?
Not sure my exact first “boozy drink” experience, but I do remember the first time I tried mezcal I swore it tasted like a burnt tire…things have definitely changed since then!
What is your last sip/death row drink?
My friend and partner, Brandyn Tepper making me his mezcal drink called “Lust For Life” or a Jungle Bird.
What has been the most unique you ever created?
Hard to say. The most exciting thing about Cocktail Academy is that we’re constantly challenging ourselves to be more unique and create drinks that have never been experienced. We’re paid to make every cocktail the most unique drink a client/guest has had.
Favorite L.A. hospitality suggestions for:
- Taking out-of-towners for an “only in L.A.” experience: Lost Spirits Distillery Tour
- Romantic “let’s get it on” date night: Restaurant at The Nomad in DTLA
- A classic dive bar night: The Mexican Village Restaurant on Beverly, with countless pitchers of margaritas
- Super crafty cocktails: Redbird or Broken Spanish (above)
If you could have drinks with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be, and what would be both be drinking?
Jonathan Goldsmith, Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” but in full character, of course.
Who is your best drinking buddy?
My wife, because when I met her she only drank wine. Now she is a mezcal all day and gin, dirty martinis with 1oz of dry vermouth. I am so proud!
Special shout-out to any bars across the U.S. that you think about blowing minds with their beverage programs?
The Walker Inn used to do the trick, but just went to Existing Conditions by Dave Arnold in NYC and what they’re doing feels like a totally different thing – very exciting.
If you had a theme song behind the bar, what would it be?
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” by The Commodores, because random songs make just everyone smile at a bar. And also because, good bars and great drinks should “bring you up, when you’re down”. Then again, when Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” comes on I totally lose my shit.
If you could resurrect one shuttered bar, what would it be and why?
Definitely, the original Milk and Honey. Simply put, Cocktail Academy wouldn’t exist without this iconic institution.
Any advice for aspiring young guns wanting to break into the industry?
If you love the program at a bar ask to be a busser or barback. The most complete bartenders start as bar backs and know every facet of the industry.
Social call: where can thirsty readers keep up with your adventures on social media?
@Cocktail_acdmy and sign up for our newsletters for bar tips at cocktailacademyla.com
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