Nerano and BG, LA: James Estes
In the heart of Beverly Hills, you’ll find a little slice of the Italian coast. Nerano serves as a personal ode to owners Andy Brandon-Gordon and Carlo Brandon-Gordon’s favorite seaside town. Offering a contemporary dining space and two separate bars, Nerano invites guests to experience Italian culture through coastal cuisine and an exceptional cocktail program created by chief mixologist, James Estes.
James, who oversees Nerano’s main level bar as well as BG Bar upstairs, had an unusual start to bartending. After over a decade working as a musician in Los Angeles, James decided to return home to London. As he settled into his new life, he ended up working at his uncle’s Mexican restaurant, washing dishes, waiting tables, and filling in behind the bar. But scooping batch-made margaritas soon turned into something more.
“Crafting a cocktail is a similar approach to creating music. You take different elements and balance them to create layers of nuance and expression.”
James realized he had a real passion for spirits - learning their origins and understanding how they could be combined to create something new - and loved the energy of creativity in mixology. Soon, he landed a position at a fine dining restaurant in Soho, where bartending at their members-only club let him expand his cocktail expertise. From there, a period of jet-setting and drink making: James managed bars and nightclubs in Dubai and Malaysia for years, before ultimately coming full circle to land back in LA.
Since December 2021, James has acted as chief mixologist for Nerano and BG Bar. The bars occupy the same space and share ties to Italian culture and cuisine, but give guests two very different night out experiences.
James likes to think of the two spaces as siblings - inherently different, but with an undeniable thread of connection. Downstairs guests seek out Nerano’s outdoor patio for open-air dining and expertly paired classic cocktails. The energy is light and airy, the experience communal - Italian coastal dining in the heart of the big city. Time your visit right and you might even catch a black and white movie being projected on the wall.
A trip upstairs will lead you to a more intimate space, where deep reds and browns reign and experimental drinks take the spotlight. Dark walls and atmospheric lighting set the mood, transporting you not just to another place, but another time. Here, someone might make you an offer you can’t refuse… but it’s going to be an offer for an incredible cocktail.
James’ cocktail menu offers carefully balanced drinks to complement the flavors of Nerano’s Italian-American dining faire. The vibe is simple, clean, and classic; patrons often opt for a straightforward but well-crafted martini or Manhattan.
James himself likes to draw attention to other “stirred down and brown” cocktails, keeping the classic feel but letting guests branch out with something a little less well known, like a Rob Roy or Remember the Maine.
Moving upstairs to BG, the selection turns more experimental. As the food menu changes, James encourages his bartenders to get creative, playing with techniques like fat washing and clarification. Your drink might even come served in a cocktail bubble - just “pop” the edible cellulose and release a cloud of applewood smoke for a one-of-a-kind sensory cocktail experience.
“I try to create drinks here that enhance the spirit base and tell a story,” James says
James’ NEFT cocktail, Cortigiana Nesta, was inspired by Veronica Franco, a powerful, high-class courtesan and poet from the Italian Renaissance era. With NEFT providing a smooth base palette, the drink leans into its Italian roots, adding Aperol and prosecco. The flavors are rounded out with a bit of lemon juice and passionfruit syrup, giving Cortigiana Nesta a light, fruity taste and a beautiful, daring orange color.
James’ NEFT Cocktail: Cortigiana Nesta
- 1.5 oz. NEFT Vodka
- 0.75 oz. Lemon Juice
- 0.75 oz. Passionfruit Syrup
- 0.5 oz. Aperol
- Dehydrated lemon wheel
Shake the vodka, lemon juice, passionfruit syrup, and aperol. Fine strain into a martini glass or coupette. Finish with prosecco and garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel.