Monday, April 22, 2024

Marlena’s cocktail program marks return of one of Long Beach’s finest bartenders


As we push toward celebrating Long Beach Food Scene: Last Call—a 10-day, 15-event celebration of our city’s rich bar culture and the people who make it happen—we will offer a series of features that highlight everything from our most stellar cocktail programs at restaurants to to the very events occurring (like this feature on Marlena in Naples)… All in order to lift a glass to a social and economic driver that rarely receives the love its deserves: our bar industry. For more information on Long Beach Last Call, tap here.

Marlena, Long Beach’s newest restaurant from newly minted restaurateur Robert Smith and Chef Michael Ryan, sits in the heart of the Naples neighborhood but just enough off of its 2nd Street main drag that is provides a sense of privacy along with introducing a style of Californian cuisine that is not just refreshing for the neighborhood but the entire city.

Taking over the former Russo’s space (which operated there for some 30 years), Marlena is an entire re-imagining of both the space and the food being offered in Naples: A seamless indoor-outdoor vibe that is shockingly rare for a neighborhood that is literally surrounded by houses on canals and boats, Ryan wants to not reinvent the wheel but offer the quality of food that has become synonymous with places like Republique and Alta.

Marlena aims to be one of the cleanest, straight-forward cocktail programs in Long Beach

It might feel awkward to bring The Ordinarie into the conversation but it could be said at various points in time that it was home to Long Beach’s best bar program—and Dave Castillo was largely the reason the cocktail program so largely succeeded while he was there.

Before departing mid-year in 2023, he was creating drinks that spanned savory and sweet to fruity and funk-forward, while also piloting the best aspect of The Ordinarie’s cocktail program: A continual rotation of legacy cocktails, each noted with the bartender that created them and the year they were created.

Then, he had a brief stint at Michael’s under the oversight of its own masterful cocktail crafter, Jocelyn Jolley, whom Castillo credits for introducing Naples to “some really cool shit.” And with Marlena, he now has under his belt a deeply established, deeply respected cocktail program at The Ordinarie and a bit of knowledge about Naples with Michael’s—but was essentially working with an entirely blank slate: New patronage, new space, newly minted bar program.

“I think that’s why I am so excited to introduce the [Long Beach Last Call] menu here,” Castillo said. “I really want to return back to education because, in all honesty, much of the people who live here never really explore outside the neighborhood. With Michael’s, Jocelyn introduced them to some really cool shit and that gives us a leg up with our own menu—to show them even more exciting things, even if they’re from the past.”

Surely, Michael’s negroni menu is stellar but by no means reinvents the wheel or trails off into the vast and complicated cocktail history that Castillo wants to dip into. But as he said, it did introduce the neighborhood to a style of drinking they were not used to.

Pulling a bottle of No. 3 gin—a gin, mind you, that was co-created with Dr. David Clutton, the only person in the world with a PhD in gin, kid you not—Castillo decided to not make some crazy new concoction but offer three versions of a gin cocktail that feel new but are, in fact, classics.

His Last Call menu is easily one of the best, going from boozy to refreshing to creamy.

“Most accepted account about a Frank’s Special cocktail is that it was invented by Frank Meyer,” Castillo said. “In France during Nazi occupation, he was an active member of the French resistance, he would help supply fake IDs to get people out of the country more safely. So besides being a boss of a human, he also inspired this drink about his history—basically a small twist on a classic martini: two parts gin, one part vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters.”

Castillo’s slight play is that he adds a wildly fruity apricot liqueur to the vermouth, creating a dangerously sippable, happily boozy martini that makes one want to reconsider how they down martinis.

And it is but one of three amazing classic cocktails he is offering for Long Beach Last Call, running Mar. 1 through Mar. 10.

Marlena’s exclusive Long Beach Last Call menu

Frank’s Special is but one of three amazing classic cocktails Castillo is offering for Long Beach Last Call, running Mar. 1 through Mar. 10.

Frank’s Special: No. 3 Gin | Dry Vermouth | Apricot Liqueur | Orange Bitters | Lemon Zest

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Pegu Club: No. 3 Gin | Curacao | Lemon Juice | Sugar | Aromatic & Orange Bitters | Orange Zest

Alexander: No. 3 Gin | Creme de Cacao | Cream | Nutmeg

Wait–you mention “Long Beach Last Call.” What is it?

After the success of my restaurant week last year during August, Long Beach Food Scene Week, bar owners and tenders rightfully asked: “What about a week for us?”

So I decided to oblige and present Long Beach Food Scene: Last Call, a ten-day long celebration of Long Beach’s amazing bar culture, it’s even more amazing workers, and the industry that often goes without recognition as one of our city’s largest economic and social drivers. 

Thanks to my collaborators—Scott Lennard of RNDC and Chris Lewis of Nosotros Tequila y Mezcal—we’ve created some 15 events across the ten-day span on Last Call. To say the least, we’ve worked our asses off and we hope you’ll come out and celebrate with us (that is, if we make it to Day 10 alive).

And Marlena is a part of that—so go order a drink.

Marlena is located at 5854 E. Naples Plaza.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


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