If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a Garrett Leight event, you may have crossed paths or at least ordered a drink from Ryan Wainwright. Since the early GLCO days, Ryan has been making some of the best margaritas from A. Kinney Court’s neighborhood courtyard parties to anniversary celebrations at the La Brea flagship store. These days Ryan is still making cocktails, but raising the bar by spearheading acclaimed drink programs and even winning a competition here and there.
Originally aspiring to be a teacher, Ryan moonlighted as a DJ in the Bay Area. During a Big Sur Dead Meadow concert, he found himself stepping in at the bar when the bartender didn’t show. After realizing he made more money that night than three days worth of teaching, he decided to give the bar world a try.
Ryan eventually settled in Los Angeles and worked his way into the Venice restaurants Gjelina and The Tasting Kitchen. He found bar culture in Southern California to be quite different; in the Bay, bartenders didn’t take themselves too seriously while the LA bar scene “prepared me for the actor’s guild,” he jokes. Ryan quickly realized most LA bartenders tended to care more about their image than the drink they were making. Looking past the vanity he managed to find a community, a mirror of what life was like up north, which helped shape the way Ryan makes drinks today.
The Playa Fortuna, one of Ryan’s latest creations, is a refreshing shaken concoction of lime juice, coconut cordial, falernum and tartaric acid balanced to highlight the rum, Bacardi Superior. This spirit driven method seems to be working: the Playa Fortuna has gained recognition in Legacy, a world-renowned cocktail competition that asks bartenders to not just make a drink, but tell its history. Ryan’s honest approach and philosophy works not just for Legacy, but also in the way he runs his bar. It’s what he tries to bring out in himself, his drinks, his staff and customers.
At his most recent undertaking, The Ponte, a new Italian restaurant on Beverly, Ryan invites his customers to experience his drinks in the same way he makes them, with an honest and open mind. With his new drink menu, Ryan hopes to avoid common comparisons and challenge popular opinion, giving the customer a new experience. Nevertheless, if Ryan’s customers aren’t up for expanding their horizons, they’ll have no trouble finding a delicious drink on the menu.