Liam Odien jokes that he ended up in his current career because he got lost on the way to grad school. “I took a year off after undergrad and was planning on pursuing a Ph.D. and going into archival work,” he says. “Then I discovered bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog and realized there was a whole big wide world of cocktails, and I fell in love.”
Odien cut his teeth at the Los Angeles Italian restaurant Bucato, where he spent a lot of time with chefs learning primarily about food and wine, since the venue didn’t have a cocktail program. Then he landed at The Corner Door restaurant and bar, where he eventually took over the cocktail program after training under bar director Beau du Bois. “Five years later, Covid-19 shot a torpedo at the bar industry and closed The Corner Door,” he says. “Thankfully I’ve known Kelly Guilday, general manager at Playa Provisions, for a long time and she took me in.”
As bar manager at the beachside restaurant from Top Chef Brooke Williamson in Playa Del Rey, California, Odien is responsible for the beverage programs at the venue’s Dockside restaurant concept (cocktails are $13-$16) as well as its Grain Whiskey Bar ($15-$30). “The program at Dockside is beachy and accessible, with lots of light spirits and citrus,” he says, pointing to such drinks as his El Super Chingon ($18), featuring El Mero Mero Espadín mezcal, lemon juice, house-made passion fruit syrup and Earl Grey tea syrup, egg white, and Angostura bitters. “At Grain, we have a much more erudite program,” he adds. “Our whiskey list is somewhere around 300 bottles, so naturally, the cocktail list leans heavily on whiskey.” This includes Odien’s War Bonds ($15), comprising Sazerac rye whiskey, Giffard Abricot du Roussillon apricot liqueur, and Angostura Orange bitters. He’s also working on developing a list of “white whale” cocktails for Grain made with top-shelf ingredients that will each run north of $50.
While Odien notes that designing menus for Playa Provisions is “a dream,” his favorite part of the job is the teaching aspect. “I’m really fortunate to have a big, eager staff who are all at different points in their careers, and I’m very big on the idea that everyone behind the bar has something to teach everyone else behind the bar,” he says. “I gave one of my best bartenders his first barback job and watching him progress has been something I’m incredibly proud of.”