There's no bell announcing the arrival of joy, as with an ice cream pushcart, but Ian Reilly spreads smiles, nonetheless, with his cocktail cart in the lobby of the Joule Hotel.

Thursdays through Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m., Reilly, an accomplished bartender who also sells his own line of bitters, spins out intriguing takes on classics to whoever is game, of legal age and has $12. He'll also whip up an improvisational "bartender's choice" based on the customer's answers to a few questions: "Citrusy, spirit-forward or sweet?" Liquor preferences or aversions?

The Joule

His base of operation is a brass-and-walnut cart; his inspiration the great hotel barmen of the past. One recent evening, he was mixing a Knickerbocker, from the legendary Jerry Thomas at San Francisco's Occidental Hotel, 1862; and a Leap Year, channeling Harry Craddock at the Savoy in London, 1930.

Reilly notes that cocktail culture first flourished, pre- and post-Prohibition, then was preserved, during the dread years of Cosmos, vodka and pre-made mixes, at hotels.

The cart is a festive -- and canny -- addition at the Joule, providing wallet-loosening lubrication for shoppers at the lobby boutiques and a distraction for guests queued up to check in. Reilly himself is attired in marketing ploy, always wearing clothes from the Traffic LA store there.

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