Book Review: Life Behind Bars, Stories and Encounters: Vignettes Over Cocktails

Books One & Two, By Kyle Branche

Los Angeles, California – Kyle Branche is surely an interesting (and very busy) character; entrepreneur, writer, author, extreme music enthusiast and above all else, a story-telling, name-dropping, elbow-rubbing professional and private bar tender with over 30 years of experiences and vignettes to tell! Yes, Kyle can realistically be labelled as “L.A.'s professional bartender to the stars.”

Review by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Kyle Branche

Originally from Sackets Harbor, a village off the edge of Lake Ontario in Upstate New York, Kyle would move west to Phoenix, before ultimately landing in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, where he launched his journey in the bartending and beverage industry. After three decades in the "liquid trenches" - which includes an over two-decade stint tending bar at Hollywood's famous Gardenia Room - Kyle has self-published four books, Life Behind Bars, “Stories and Encounters” Vignettes Over Cocktails (books one and two), as well as a "Bitters revival" handbook and a cocktail-related word-search puzzle book.

Life Behind Bars, Book One, published in 2012, is divided into short chapters or vignettes, describing Branche's individual encounters and experiences as both a professional and private bartender throughout the Los Angeles, Hollywood and surrounding areas. The stories are culminated from his work at a variety of establishments, clubs, bars and some 1,500 private, on-call gigs and parties spanning four decades.

The 26 chapters include stories of bartending at various parties and events up and down such famous streets and locations as San Fernando Valley's Ventura Boulevard, Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills, La Cienega Boulevard and Sunset Plaza Drive in Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank and the Hollywood Palladium. Just a few of the big names Kyle encounters throughout these chapters include Clint Eastwood, Shirley Jones, Raquel Welch, Jayne Seymour, Jessica Biel, Lorenzo Lamas, Hillary Clinton, Joe Namath, Jessica Simpson and Rutger Hauer.

Book Two was published in 2013 and features 24 additional chapters of Branche's unique stories, including a cool encounter while tending bar at the aforementioned Gardenia Room, which is a stones-throw from The Record Plant recording studio. It seems Kyle was called into work a couple hours early one day, as to serve drinks for a party of two - the owner of the famous studio and an up-and-coming rock star named Slash.

There is also a chapter dedicated to the many famous folks that Kyle has served at The Gardenia Room over his 25-year residence there, including the aforementioned Mr. Eastwood, as well as a few other folks you might have heard of, including Charles Bronson, Chevy Chase, Stevie Wonder, Mel Brooks, Patrick Swayze, James Garner, Jack Klugman, Adrienne Barbeau, Sally Field and Anne Bancroft... to name but a few more.

In another interesting chapter, falling under the category of “comic relief,” Branche describes bar tending a Santa Monica art gallery event and suddenly getting pranked on Girl's Behaving Badly, after being convinced to create a painting “on the spot” and then not getting commissioned when the “art piece” sells for ten grand!

Yes, the stories throughout the two books seem very “privy” and almost “underground” in nature, like you're opening up your own bartender's version of a paparazzi magazine... that no one is supposed to see! Overall, a very cool read and this reviewer especially enjoyed reading about the history and charm of some of the old houses and mansions nestled in the Hollywood Hills, previously owned by "old time Hollywood stars" such as W. C. Fields, Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth.

Along with the two Life Behind Bars books, Branche has also published a Bitters Revival handbook, listing some 60 brands and 360 entries of the concentrated drink flavorings, as well as a fun word-search puzzle book titled Cocktails On The Brain. Kyle has also recently launched a bartending education/course website titled The Bar Professional and is also a contributing writer to Standing Room Only. To learn more about all of Branche's books and other offerings, visit and his “cocktail scene” store at