Small Kingdoms: Julian Cox – Crafting a Cocktail Empire

Julian Cox | Facebook

Julian Cox | Facebook

When one thinks of restaurant empires, celebrity chefs and restaurateurs come to mind far easier than mixologists. Yes there are bartenders who have developed loyal fan bases, with patrons following them to the many establishments they work their way through, but one would hardly call this an empire. So when considering the many diverse cocktail programs of Los Angeles’ master mixologist and beverage director Julian Cox, it is clear he is in a league all of his own.

Early Beginnings

Cox got his start in LA mixing up cocktails at both David Myers' renowned Comme Ca and Sona under New York head bartender Sam Ross, before joining forces with Chef John Sedlar of the recently shuttered Rivera to create his first mixology program. It was here that Cox crafted some of his more innovative cocktail creations, garnering a reputation for utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients that were often culinary inspired.

Rivera was also where Cox gained critical acclaim, earning three nominations for James Beard’s “Outstanding Bar Program,” an award he has been nominated for since the category was first introduced in 2012. In addition, Cox was also awarded the Rising Star award as well as received a nomination in 2012 for Tales of the Cocktail’s Best Restaurant Bar.

With his newfound fame, Cox went on to establish mixology programs throughout Los Angeles, beginning with mezcal haven Las Perlas well as the beverage program at LA’s pop-up Test Kitchen which featured a number of culinary and mixology collaborations. He also began experimenting with a number of innovative mixology styles and techniques including bottling craft cocktails, working with liquid nitrogen, and serving cocktails on tap. 

Sparking LA's Handcrafted Cocktail Scene

Today, just mentioning to an Angeleno that a mixology program was designed by Julian Cox brings with it a quality judgment of the restaurant itself, as if the restaurant is trendy enough to work with Cox’s cocktails, clearly the food couldn’t be that bad either.

Cox hand-selects the restaurant concepts he works with and today, the mixologist is currently associated with some of the trendiest restaurants in Los Angeles including Bestia, Sotto, Republique, Picca, Pettycash, Barrel & Ashes, and Redbird, to name a few. He has also designed cocktail programs for several other influential, but now shuttered restaurants, such as Acabar, Rivera, Short Order, Circa and Cox’s own short-lived Brilliantshine.  

At each restaurant, Cox specially designs the cocktail program to fit within the restaurant’s unique concept as well as to pair with the cuisine. At newly opened Redbird, Cox pulled from a number of classic cocktail recipes, giving them each a modern twist. With Southern BBQ inspired Barrel & Ashes, Cox’s program incorporates what he refers to as “down-home cocktails” that emulate the casual, lighthearted spirit of the cuisine, such as the rye based Free Bird and the Tiki inspired Banana Hammock.  

Always searching for inspiration, Cox has also traveled extensively to build his cocktail repertoire. When designing Republique’s European inspired beverage program, Cox travelled to France for inspiration. With Petty Cash, he went to Mexico.  

In addition to his wide presence at restaurants throughout the city, Cox is also credited for influencing the overall cocktail scene in LA, acting as a trendsetter for many of the city’s bartenders and mixologists. Not just influencing the current mixology scene with his own cocktail creations, Cox also leads a specialty six-week bartender training series that he holds several times a year, referred to colloquially as a bartenders’ boot-camp.

From pre-Prohibition style cocktails to Tiki drinks to molecular mixology, Cox has proven he really can do it all. Now the most sought after beverage director in Los Angeles, under Cox’s oversight, craft cocktails have been elevated to an art form and are now considered just as crucial an element to a restaurant concept as what is served on the plate.