The old, down-at-the-heels pier, where you could bring a 40-ounce and brown-paper-bag it with the fishermen, has changed since the homeless were scattered by the City of Santa Monica's new ordinances. Today, an elaborate fun factory, completed in 1996, twists its clean way above the boardwalk, and the tourists are out in full force. Standing at the far end of the pier, Mariasol (401 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; 310-917-5050) has a determinedly tropical-drink feel, the sort of place that guests of the Love Boat would have gone if there had been a Los Angeles port of call. We sit at one of the two outside patios, watching the sunny day bring in the crowds, all ready to put down their money for one of 20 different kinds of frozen margaritas, or the surprisingly good Mariasol Special (dark and white rum, and a secret blend of juices). Also on the pier is Rusty's Surf Ranch (256 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; 310-393-7437), home to the greatest Russian rockabilly band this side of anywhere, the Red Elvises. Other musical offerings range from Irish rock to karaoke, and a beach-party feel is served up with big pitchers of margaritas, and pulsing surf-rock pumped into every corner.
Though there's only one slender shelf of books, sandwiched in a narrow hallway that leads out to the back patio, The Library Alehouse (2911 Main St., Santa Monica; 310-314-4855) lives up to the latter part of its name quite well. Since this is the only place in California with Mad River beers (Jamaica Red and Steelhead Xtra Pale Ale) on tap, devotees of brew make frequent pilgrimages to the Library, along with a thirsty after-work crowd. A loyal neighborhood contingent finds itself at nearby Renee's Courtyard Cafe (522 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-451-9341), where an unimposing exterior opens up to reveal a courtyard strung with tiny lights. Inside, there are rooms straight out of an eccentric great aunt's old Victorian house. But the best part? "We pours 'em big," says Jed the bartender.
A bootlegger's den during Prohibition, and a 1950s artists' enclave that was often the last stop for Beat poets on the Mexico yage run, The Sidewalk Cafe (1401 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach; 310-399-5547) sticks to legal libations today. Drink 'em up, especially the new round of fruit-flavored martinis, while enjoying your front-row seat to the Venice Boardwalk parade - an incarnation of the Beat sense of the sacredness of the passing moment. If the crush of people drives you out, then pack yourself down the boardwalk with the ghost of Dean Moriarty a to the slightly more out-of-the-way Venice Bistro (323 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach; 310-392-3997). Less heavily touristed on the weekdays, the open-air, wood-sided front of the Bistro still affords a good view of the human carnival, made all the more interesting by a few drinks from the well-stocked bar.
A friend visiting from New York once said, "L.A. loves the image of its image." And the only place to truly live that love is on the ever self-conscious Sunset Strip. Of course the Skybar in the Mondrian (8440 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 213-650-8999) springs immediately to mind. With a door policy that's more griped about than parking at the Getty, the Skybar escapes being overrated by the sheer gorgeousness of its outdoor all-of-L.A. view. Just a few steps away is the far less crowded Fenix at the Argyle Hotel (8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 213-848-6677), a finely wrought, Art Deco counterpoint to the Mondrian's minimalist perfection. We sit in cabana chairs poolside, looking out at downtown while the last diners are served. Later, the bar will fill with hotel guests - foreign businessmen and wealthy tourists, grumbling at L.A.'s ban on smoking - but in the early evening the place is still calm. Further west is Red Rock (8782 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 310-854-0710), looking like nothing more than a bronzed and buffed production of Spelling Entertainment, casting courtesy of Aaron himself. Still, the outdoor area in front commands a perfect view of the Strip, prices aren't bad and there's Newcastle on tap.
A trip to The Formosa Cafe (7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; 213-850-9050) lets us indulge in a bit of unearned nostalgia. Built in 1939, the Formosa has become a ready icon of studio-days glamour and is still a player onscreen, most recently making cameos in Swingers and L.A. Confidential. Forties noir goes open-air with a new patio bar, set to debut Memorial Day weekend after a long year of construction, the perfect place to spend a summer night.
Heading east down Hollywood Boulevard, we send up an ave to Our Lady of Los Angeles, the ever-perfect, ever-pink Angelyne, and circle the block to reach the original home of the down-and-out rocker, Boardner's (1652 N. Cherokee Ave.; 213-462-9621). Grizzled local-music-scene denizens, who look like they've been pouring themselves in and out of these same red-Naugahyde booths for the past 20 years, mix it up with the kids looking for old glam-rock L.A. We stumble out to the back patio, a little surprised that this lightless lair has one, and settle in to drink bottles of Bud and eat the best French fries we've ever had - George, the fry-master, even brings us the last salty batch after he closes the kitchen. If some poor sport of a beer snob in your party can't put up with the fact that there's nothing on tap here, then head down to the Cat & Fiddle (6530 Sunset Blvd.; 213-468-3800), the true oasis of L.A. outdoor drinking. At the end of the day, in the still-warm night air, the hacienda-style front patio is always full, and the crowd around the bar stands three deep. With everything from Guinness to Fosters on tap, 14 different bottled beers and two dart boards, the Cat & Fiddle combines the boozy camaraderie of a British pub with the ease of a SoCal patio garden.
Drink your beer in big glass boots (one liter or two!) at the Red Lion Tavern (2366 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; 213-662-5337). Choose from Warsteiner, Spaten, Dinkel and the always beloved Beck's, among other German imports, while you party in the upstairs garden. A Silver Lake establishment since 1962, pubgoers sing along to Matthew the one-man-band, and eat their schnitzel under the stars.
A little piece of Gatsby's fabled East Egg comes to Pasadena with the Twin Palms (101 W. Green St., Pasadena; 626-577-2567), an outdoor bar, restaurant and music venue in the middle of gentrified Old Town. This is no sweaty, beer-swilling hole - huge canvas sails shade the patio, and a misting system keeps the swank patrons cool. Come during happy hour, when martinis and some menu items are a tasty $3.
The first time I ever had a fresh fruit smoothie was in 1986 at the old juice stand in Grand Central Market. The first time I ever sat down at a bar next to a small grandmother in a black-lace shawl was 12 years later, at Grand Central's China Cafe (317 South Broadway; 213-624-2378). We settled at the counter, surrounded by grinning old men drinking Tecate and eating chow mein. She bought me a Corona (only $1.50) and pushed the lime into the bottle. I bought her one, too. She finished hers first.