The Ritual of the Shift Drink: LA’s Honeycut

The hallowed ritual of the shift drink may take a different form at every bar, but it inevitably serves the same purpose: letting the staff exhale at the end of service. At Honeycut in LA, it comes in mini shots of tequila and Cosmos.

honeycut downtown la dancing

It’s 1:55 a.m., but the multi-colored LED dance floor at LA’s Honeycut is still packed with sweaty gyrating bodies. At last call, Dave Fernie, bar manager and occasional moonlighter on the turntables, ends his set of old-school hip-hop and R&B with his weekend ritual: a spin of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.”

Midway through the song’s slow churning groove, the house lights come up and the music cuts out, leaving staff and regulars to belt out the chorus in unison.

Although we’ve come to the end of the road,

Still I can’t let you go

It’s unnatural, you belong to me,

I belong to you.

Honeycut, the subterranean cocktail den and disco hall opened by Death & Co.‘s Alex Day and David Kaplan in 2013, is many things to many people. It’s a serious cocktail bar serving up intricate sherry cocktails served in a portable backpacks with long sippy straws or a drink made with cognac and cremé de mure but engineered to taste exactly like Grape Krush. And there’s the dance floor, which has led some to dub it “the nightclub for people who don’t go to nightclubs”: a rowdy mixture of aperitif-slamming excess and post-ironic Electric Slides.

At the core of this raucous high-low blend is a complete lack of pretense. “We’re aren’t trying to push ourselves on you,” says Fernie. If you’re here to turn up or get laid, then by all means. If you want to get geeky, we’ll happily explain everything in a drink, but sometimes people just want something delicious to chug.”

This spirit culminates in Honeycut’s shift drink, when the staff—who’ve spent the last ten hours or so centrifuging, carbonating and pre-batching to ensure no cocktail requires touching more than three bottles on the rack—pour a “baby shot” of tequila and toast to, in the words of bartender Mary Bartlett, “a reminder that you’re standing two feet from your best friends, and this is your life.“

After the dance floor has cleared out and the DJs have packed up, the handful of staff that have been operating on surges of social adrenaline collapse into a more relaxed, intimate mood. “We share customer love notes and weird stories. We shoot dice and do a little low-key gambling,” says Bartlett. “We tell each other ‘I love you,’ because we don’t get to say it enough, and then we have a giant group hug in the alley and go eat some tacos.”

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Bar manager Dave Fernie and bartender Mary Bartlett elaborate on the legacy of the shift drink at Honeycut and their unlikely affection for the Cosmo. 

Dave Fernie | General Manager, Bartender

Shift drink: Amontillado sherry, Peroni

On the value of quiet time: “The end of our night is probably less crazy than people imagine. We’ve been working together for over two years, and you only see certain people on the weekend shifts, so we catch up, share baby photos, bond, etc. The craziest it gets is when we follow the DJs that are playing and go to their after-hour shows.”

On taking shots: “Obviously we love the ceremony of taking shots as a group, but we also love waking up the in morning… That’s why we stick to aperitifs and other lighter things. It’s a better life choice”

Mary Bartlett | Assistant General Manager, Bartender

Shift Drink: Cosmo, eau de vie, Maxwell Leer’s Fleur de Valle grenache rosé

On the appeal of Cosmos: “Fernie and I will make each other Cosmos sometimes, just because it’s just quick and silly and easy to chug. I make mine with cranberry juice, and he’ll make one with some of the pomegranate grenadine we make in-house.”

On the concept of “family meal”: “Family meal is basically a few baby-sized shots everyone behind the bar shoots a couple times a night. It’s usually tequila, but a sometimes Fernie will pour a clear spirit like Clear Creek Kirsch or eau de vie and let us thinks its tequila, just to throw everyone out of whack. We drink a lot of eau de vie.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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