Los Angeles is a city full of bars, but not all drinking dens are created equal, not by a long shot. This list of the 20 best bars, from classic haunts to trendy cocktail collectives and superior speakeasies, should help thirsty travelers separate the swell from the swill when looking for a place to spend your happiest hours.
Part of the adventure is finding this hidden liquor lair in downtown. The entrance is unmarked, underground, and in the back corner of the parking lot far off the street. But persistence pays off in spades as this intimate 1950s-inspired bar is the birds’ and the bees’ knees. Vintage movies screen on the far wall, board games line shelves, and the mid-century modern furnishings are comfortable and cool. Skilled bartenders pour solid basics like Old Fashioneds and daiquiris, but the visit will be infinitely more fun if you go outside your comfort zone and try concoctions made with things like date-infused mezcal, mochi balls, cardamom orange tincture, apple cider vinegar, or chocolate chip cookies.
Discerning drinkers should flock to this grown-up gathering spot in downtown’s Historic Core from the former co-owner of Perch, a popular rooftop bar a few blocks away. She has created a far quieter and more sophisticated space, one that could easily fit in many of Europe’s cosmopolitan capitals. The dusty pink and peach paint, botanical-patterned wallpaper, naughty Sapphic mural, peacock feathers, and soft lighting give Franca a feminine slant. Even the narrow set-up and domed ceiling make it feel ladylike in all the right ways. Their playlist is also on point.
This small drinking den—seriously, it only fits 32—on the ground floor of the Hollywood Hills Best Western is the neighborhood hangout for serious drinkers. You know, the kind of person in search of one or two exceptional libations that use unique ingredients and high-quality spirits, not the guy looking to get wasted in a minimal amount of time or the one who thinks being seen drinking is more important than the drink. Live music often fills the air, but most of the time, the volume and genre still allow customers to have conversations with dates or chatty barkeeps. They earn extra kudos for tasty bar snacks like a play on fish and chips that involves caviar, the free parking, and the ‘70s brass-wood-and-leather vibe.
Catering to a more mellow and mature crowd than most of York Boulevard’s watering holes, Sonny’s Hideaway is a masculine wood-and-leather lounge with a hint of supper club retro and a dash of educated gen-X sensibility. (Names like Street Fighter and Snack Pack smack of an early ‘90s childhood.) Bring your pup to party on the comfortable patio and come hungry for lasagna cups, hickory-smoked brisket, and flatbreads. Tiki Tuesdays ratchet up the cheese quotient in a fun, harmless Hawaiian shirt way, and Homo Happy Hour, recently introduced on Thursdays, hopes to increase inclusivity. Also nice to find a bar where you don't have to shout your way through conversations.
The convivial campus in Atwater Village houses the original Golden Road brewery, a private event space, and the open-daily indoor-outdoor always bustling sprawling pub. Almost a dozen GRB favorites are on tap, including Wolf Pup Session IPA and Mango Cart as well as guest brews from other like-minded hopheads, red and white wine options, and gluten-free cider. All of the above pair well with California takes on pub grub such as carnitas “poutine” fries, fried avocado tacos, smoked tri-tip sandwiches, or a fair number of meatless selections. Games like jumbo Connect Four or cornhole keep kids occupied while mom and dad savor oversized soft pretzels and conversation with strangers-turned-friends at communal tables. Saying goodbye is made easier with take-home growlers.
The 1910s-themed Spring Street stunner with its detailed design, period antiques, stained glass, old-timey wood booths, and spiral iron staircase is so immaculate and beautiful that it could crack the top 20 before a single mint leaf was muddled, ginger nugget fermented, or house-made bitter stirred in. Pair a Yuzu Sour with oysters on the half shell or bone marrow with a Smoke & Coffee on the indoor-outdoor balcony or hang near the stage when performances are scheduled. While bar director Kevin Lee has already curated one of the most complex, epicurean, masterclass programs in town, he's always looking to level up. That’s when Le Néant, a speakeasy-ish bar within a bar, was born. For $75 (more if adding a food pairing), Lee takes an intimate group of connoisseurs through an omakase-inspired spirits tasting using seasonal ingredients he finds at local farms and showcasing the amari, liqueurs, syrups, and vermouths he makes from scratch.
Despite a tendency to attract bros, the swanky surf shack that sits off to the side of the main driveway of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica still makes the list thanks to its Baja-meets-boho décor, indoor and outdoor service counters, games including ping-pong and billiards, multiple gardens, twinkle lights, fire pits, and elevated ocean views from the cliffside. You’ll live with a quenched thirst and a desire to redecorate your abode with Moroccan tiles and wood surfboards.
The Sunset Boulevard pub checks all the boxes a London loyalist looks for—Union Jacks; relaxed ambiance; no dress code; football paraphernalia; waiters with accents; good beer; kickass G&Ts; tall, dark booths; beamed ceilings; oil paintings; British Invasion tunes; pasties; and a damn fine plate of fish and chips. It’s also got so much more like grill nights on the makeshift patio Mondays and Tuesdays (weather permitting), frozen and blended cocktails in ceramic gnome mugs, drinks that raise money for animal shelters, and both healthy and worldly cuisine options like Manchurian cauliflower, endive salad, and garlic shrimp aguachile. They only use free-range, non-GMO, certified humane meat, and poultry.
Proud to be a dive bar, this Long Beach tavern has been slinging frosty schooners brand name beer like Budweiser and Coors, pickled eggs, sandwiches with salami and liverwurst, roasted peanuts, and good times since 1924. Now owned by the titular founder’s grandson, happy to report not much has changed at this institution seen in "The Bodyguard," "Gone In 60 Seconds," and "Roswell" except the TV size has increased, the once-popular poker games have been shut down, and you can now buy pickling brine to make eggs at home. The draft root beer that kept their doors open through Prohibition will keep designated drivers satisfied.
For a bird’s eye view of Los Angeles from the Hollywood Sign to the Pacific Ocean, head to the tallest open-air bar in the western hemisphere. Perched atop the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown’s 73rd-floor rooftop, it’s a perfect place to watch a sunset or sit by a fire pit while partaking in colorful cocktails, their extensive whiskey collection, or decadent desserts including tableside s’mores and churros with salted caramel dip. Arrive early to score a seat by the edge. Non-hotel guests will incur a cover ($10 daily or $20 after 8 p.m. on weekends). Minors under 18 are allowed with a parent before 6 p.m.
The gilded coziness and 49-person capacity belie the importance of this new-ish gin joint. First and foremost, it’s putting out excellent cocktails that utilize housemade shrubs and syrups, seasonal and local produce, and top-shelf craft spirits as well as beer and wine. The best pours in the partially Kickstarter-funded spot incorporate gin and pun-tastic monikers like the Gin Eyre or The Rum Also Rises. Second, the owners are an essential part of the rising tide of women in LA’s bar scene. Three female Filipina friends who met at UCLA many moons ago and long dreamed of opening a bar where women would feel comfortable and safe even if they were imbibing alone and where their world travels and their heritage could inspire them. Then there’s a location—historic Filipinotown—which has never been a nightlife hotbed but has no reason not to be.
The Boys’ Town staple celebrates 30 years of stiff drinks, dancing, laser lights, drag queens, disco balls, themed nights, and tattooed eye candy in 2019. The two-story club caters to the LGBTQ crowd but gives a warm, in fact, sweaty, welcome to all allies. It’s the only West Hollywood nightclub that stays open past 2 a.m., and their after-hours programming on the patio welcomes anyone 18 and older for cheap late-night comforts like hot dogs, pizza, and Gatorade. Even if you started the party at one of its competitors like Rage, The Abbey, or Trunks, this is a great place to wrap up your marathon of martinis and smooth moves.
If you can’t have fun at a tiki bar, you are doing it wrong. If you can’t have fun at the Tiki-Ti, you're simply bad at life. This little cash-only Los Feliz gem is the second-oldest operational Polynesian-style parlor in LA and was started in 1961 by Ray Buhen, a titan of tropical tipples who trained at the original tiki hut, Don the Beachcomber. It’s always packed with people and with stuff to ogle, including knickknacks from now-defunct predecessors and competitors, souvenirs collected and donated by regulars, historical photos, and required kitsch like pufferfish lamps, masks, and carved coconuts. Buhen’s son and grandsons keep his legacy alive through liquor. More than 90 exotic offerings fill the menu, and some are so strong, you’ll immediately start losing (island) time.
Nobody pulls together a themed bar like the twin brothers behind nightlife powerhouse Houston Hospitality, and this happening hang that looks like the quintessential shag-carpeted ‘70s childhood home might just be their masterpiece. (Probably because it is a very personal tribute to their late father.) Guests arrive in a garage, enter through a fridge door, and chill on couches in a living room with macramé chairs, beer can walls, and pinball machines while slurping out of novelty mugs. Adult snow-cones and rooftop roller-skating shows can be found in the “backyard.” If you enjoyed this immersive imbibing experience, hit up more Houston hot spots like Black Rabbit Rose (magic shows and table side trickery), Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium (circus decor and crazy cocktails), Harvard & Stone (a steampunk setting in Thai Town, Break Room 86 (karaoke and '80s impersonators in Koreatown), and La Descarga (an old Havana rum specialty bar).
Label owner and record producer Peanut Butter Wolf can now add nightlife impresario to his résumé. Mellow moody hi-fi bars are popping up in hipster hoods all over LA, and his, which sits underneath his label Stones Throw Records in Highland Park, focuses on highballs, rare whiskey, three-ingredient cocktails, and natural wines. But, naturally, given the pedigree, the real highlight is the soundtrack. Whether curated by the folks behind the bar, spun by a visiting mixmaster or played through the vintage Rock-Ola jukebox, it was pulled from Wolf’s private 8,000-volume personal record collection, which is on display in custom wood shelves.
Much like the Las Vegas clubs this H. Wood Group member is akin to, the action starts late (like 11 p.m. late and it doesn’t pop off until much later), the music, mostly hip-hop, bumps at the highest of decibels, table reservations are extremely expensive ($2,000 on Mondays, which are the prestige night to attend), scantily clad wannabe models handle bottle service, drinks are simplistic to speed up service, the entrance is roped off, the doormen are powerful arbiters of who gets let in (and therefore cocky), there are bathroom attendants and hush-hush doors for famous people (who of course come to party mostly on Mondays). Also, like Sin City, there’s often a featured DJ spinning or marquee name hosting. The main room looks like a fancy man’s study with books, globes, and crystal chandeliers while the atrium is whimsical with a fireplace, basket lights, and a leaf-covered ceiling. It is for sure not for everyone. But if bad-boy bravado, basic booze, and throbbing bass is your jam, hop in line.
Debuted in 2009 by 213 Hospitality, Inc., this refurbished storage room in the back of a famous French Dip restaurant called Cole’s took home the title of “Best American Cocktail Bar” at the 2012 Tales Of The Cocktail awards. Each beverage from the refreshing low-ABV Vatican City to the sweet and sour Getaway Sticks is mixed meticulously. Are you feeling daring? Let the folks in vests (and usually with a mustache) pick your poison. A piano player and live jazz ensembles play the speakeasy on select evenings. The space is quite small and popular, so expect a line in you show up past dinner.
The Mayfair Hotel, a 1926 downtown boutique that recently received an elegant overhaul by designer Gulla Jónsidóttir, has not one but two sipping situations. Despite the bars being back to back, connected by shared bottle shelves and friendly staff, they offer different feels. Sitting beneath a sensually curved giant flower, M Bar faces the brightly lit, spacious, high-ceilinged lobby. It’s the one you go to for a glass of wine while waiting for your room to be ready, where you can pre-game before a play at the Ahmanson or a Lakers game. Meanwhile, The Library is a darker, sexier book-lined cave, with a piano and a fireplace and features live entertainment. Wander, Eddy Mars (rye, honey, ginger, and lemon) in hand, to the patio for fresh air and good selfie lighting, or take your Hemingway Daiquiri for a spin on the mezzanine and stairs to peep their collection of pop art and photographs. Or if the liquid courage moves you, record a podcast in the studio.
Call it country club chic. Preppies will feel at home thanks to white brick walls, dark wood, turkey clubs, plush upholstered booths, dripping greenery, and vintage tennis racquets and ball canisters repurposed as art. Sports fans, on the other hand, should come for the 25 flat-screen TVs, a chance to release some playoffs intensity, and finger-licking noms like wings and wagyu hot dogs. The sports bar has plenty of beer by the can or on tap, but it’s signature cocktails like the Straw-Ber-Rita, and Pink Gold Lemonade are the real homerun.
Yes, Pasadena is a long haul. Yes, there will be traffic. And yes, it will likely be hard to find parking. But partaking in this particular high-proof parlor is worth dealing with all three. Swear. Nestled at the back of The Raymond, a restaurant inside a craftsman caretaker’s cottage, the only surviving piece of a grand 1880s hotel bankrupted by the Depression, 1886 is an intimate and cozy non-scene. Its staff is technically skilled, working wonders with fresh juices, hand-cut block ice, and playful garnishes—and they have to be given that they offer 600 off-menu cocktails including crackerjack versions of classics like sidecars, martinis, and sours as well as creative signatures like the Honey-Nut Old Fashioned, the Smoking Jacket, and 13 distinct versions of Pimm’s Cups.