Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
By Matthew Fleischer
Putting together a proper pub crawl is a sacred trust — a responsibility I don't take lightly. As one of the co-founders of New Orleans' annual Cinco de Gayo pub crawl — a 10-stop monster tour of New Orleans' rowdiest, filthiest gay bars — I've come to realize that there are certain rules one needs to abide to ensure that everyone on your crawl has a good time. For instance, NEVER, EVER end your crawl at a tranny club or a butch-girl bar. Waaaay too confusing after a dozen drinks.
In some cities, that's pretty much the only rule you need. Getting a pub crawl together in Los Angeles, however, offers a unique set of challenges that require a Germanic level of organization, efficiency and precision to overcome.
As we all know, this is not a walking city, and finding a confluence of good bars within reasonable distance of one another isn't easy. Complicating matters further, the bar-filled neighborhoods we do have tend to get packed. Try rolling into any bar in Silver Lake after 10 p.m. with a dozen drunken idiots and see how long you wait in line. Same in Echo Park or Santa Monica. Downtown has come a long way in terms of nightlife, but the emerging bar scene there is fairly homogenous — especially with the demise of old-school dives like Crabby Jack's. Golden Gopher, Broadway Bar and 7 Grand are all fun, but, let's be honest — same owners, same feel, same crowds — is there really any point in crawling from one to the other?
Yet an epic pub crawl within the Los Angeles city limits is attainable. What follows is a time-tested route through Los Feliz and parts of East Hollywood — no lines, virtually no covers, close to public transportation, and ethnically and culturally diverse. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, bring plenty of cash, and stock up on your prophylactic of choice, because by the time you're done with this crawl, beer goggles will seem like a distant dream.
The greatest enemy of the pub crawl is the line. There's nothing worse than feeling your hard-earned buzz fade while idling behind a velvet rope. Even though Los Feliz doesn't have any velvet ropes, most of the bars are small and crowded, and waiting in a parking lot out front is just as bad. So you need to start your crawl early to beat the hordes — like 4 p.m. early. And by 4 p.m. I don't mean 8 p.m. Trust me, start on time or you won't make it past the fifth stop.
Where to start? Tiki Ti.
Intimate, festive, close to the Vermont and Sunset Metro Red Line stop, and sporting a selection of at least 80 drinks, all of which are basically just rum and pineapple juice, Tiki Ti has that friendly, talk-to-the-random-guy-next-to-you vibe that eases the time while you wait for the stragglers in your crew to show up. A note of caution, though: The Web site says it opens at 4. In reality, Tiki Ti tends to open whenever the owner-operators feel like it — generally sometime between 4 and 6, depending on the season. You should probably call ahead to double-check.
El Chavo is the next stop, but if Tiki Ti is closed when you start your crawl, feel free to flip the order around and head here first. Formerly a dark, gothic cave of a Mexican restaurant into which no natural light was allowed, El Chavo recently remodeled in favor of a lighter, airier approach. I personally preferred the cave, but the margaritas are still tasty and the eats are, too. You'll be drinking heavily for the next eight to 10 hours, so it's probably a good idea to get some food into your system. I recommend the lengua con mole. It may seem slightly counterintuitive to begin a marathon drinking binge, where the threat of alcohol-induced power vomiting is a legitimate concern, by eating tongue. Doesn't exactly settle the stomach. But fuck it — tongue is tasty.
After El Chavo, those of you familiar with the area will want to take a right and hit up the bars on Hillhurst. You must resist. Good Luck Bar isn't open yet, and that definitely needs to be a part of any route. Instead, head up Hollywood to Vermont and go straight to The Dresden. Marty and Elayne won't be on yet, which is exactly the point — you can show up with as many people as you want. No lines, no Swingers tourists, no irony — just a campy old-man bar. In that spirit, I recommend ordering a Tom Collins immediately upon arrival. Fizzy, lemony and loaded with gin, the Tom Collins is a woefully underappreciated old-man drink — like summertime in a nursing home, but in a good way. (Another nugget of info gleaned from the aforementioned Cinco de Gayo pub crawl: Aside from being delicious, the Tom Collins doubles as the ultimate litmus test for figuring out whether you're in a gay bar. If it comes out yellow, things are as hetero as Bill Clinton in a room fully of chubby girls. If the bartender serves it up pink, loaded with grenadine, the guy next to you who told you your — or your boyfriend's — ass looked great in jeans wasn't just being friendly.)
After swapping stories about hemorrhoid cream and the Eisenhower-Stevenson election with the early-bird crowd, it's time to head back east to Hillhurst — to Ye Rustic Inn and the Drawing Room.
Ye Rustic Inn is first. This place is loud, fun and stocked with hip, attractive coeds. If you're looking for drunken, promiscuous sex (and, if you're anything like me, four or five drinks in, it's probably in the back of your mind), this is your spot. Crawl discipline now becomes essential. Nothing should interfere with the flow of the crawl, not even your genitals. One quick drink and move on. Better yet, one shot and move on. Even better still, pick out the person you want to have drunken, promiscuous sex with, buy her a carbomb and bring her across the street with you to the Drawing Room.
With the cheapest drinks on the crawl, The Drawing Room is the time to take your inebriation to the next level. Dark and dingy, the place virtually demands you take a shot of Jameson and follow it up with a beer. After all, this is the crawl's halfway point — you earned it. Though the dartboard in the back corner of the room could be cause for concern (after this many drinks, it's generally wise to steer clear of flying projectiles), the board is electronic and the darts have blunted, plastic tips. Even the lightweights should make it out safely.
If all goes according to plan, you should next roll southward a couple of blocks and into Good Luck Bar shortly after it opens at 8. With its over-the-top Chinese opium den/whorehouse theme and bartenders clad in black, Good Luck sometimes seems like it's trying just a little too hard. But it's got one of the best jukeboxes in all of Los Angeles — any bar that has both Louis Prima and Bad Brains on the same machine is OK by me. Getting there early carries the added advantage of ensuring you'll actually be able to hear the music you pick. After 10 o'clock, you could spend the rest of the night at the bar without getting through the backlog. Drinks can be a little pricey, so I'd stick with beer for buzz-maintenance purposes — a Tsingtao perhaps.
The next stop, heading west on Hollywood, is Cheetah's. From the outside, Cheetah's looks like the kind of place guys go to get $20 handjobs out back by the dumpster. It's not ... at least I don't think it is ...
Inside, it's a "panties and pasties" burlesque room with a golden hue and a pantheon of cute, friendly bartendresses and tattooed dancers. Lady crawlers should have no fear — the place is female friendly, and it's large enough that your group should be able to get a private table. If that doesn't sound especially reassuring, a shot of tequila should cure any lingering apprehensions. And don't forget to tip your dancers.
When you're done with pasties and heels, take a 15-minute walk west on Hollywood. This is the longest walk on the crawl, so if your buzz is waning, make sure to get it back where it needs to be before you leave Cheetah's. After walking for 10 minutes, you'll see the Salvadoran dance club Guatelinda on your left. "I'm tired of walking," you're bound to think, "let's go here."
Patience. Unless you're packing at least a C-cup housed in a low-cut tank top, you're looking at a hefty cover — possibly as much as 20 bucks. No sense spending that kind of money to stay for less than an hour. It's still way too early to settle down for the evening. A little farther up you'll also pass Jumbo's Clown Room — another burlesque club. Don't bother. By this point of the night it'll be too crowded to get in. Besides, do you really need to see more boobs?
Instead, head farther west to The Stone — an amazing, dark little hole-in-the-wall that serves as the ultimate pub-crawl wild card. Some nights it's a hipster dance club, other nights it's got a surly dive-bar element, but more often than not it's a Thai gay bar. Hipster dance night generally has a cover — usually no more than $5 and almost always worth it. If it's Thai gay night, expect to see some very short, half-naked men dancing in Speedos.
By this point in the night you're most likely wasted and possibly thinking about cutting the crawl short. Those are the thoughts of a crazy person. It's time for some food to get blood sugar up. You're in the heart of Thai Town, so there are plenty of options, but I recommend Hi Thai Noodle & Thai Angel Café — right next to the Stone. The food is just so-so, except for the noodles, which are actually quite good, but — and maybe this is me — alcohol-induced reduction in motor function makes them too hard to eat. If you can manage, they have free karaoke in the back and serve stiff vodka drinks in discreet plastic mugs.
Hopefully the Thai food will sober you up a little, because you don't want to fuck around at the next stop — White Horse on Western Avenue. The proprietress, a gregarious but tough-as-nails Hungarian woman named "Mama," will throw your ass out on the street if you get out of line. So behave. If you don't piss her off, Mama usually puts out free food at the bar. If you're lucky, she has hot dogs, but I went in there one night and she was serving slices of black forest ham on sugar cookies.
The last Metro Red Line train leaves Hollywood and Western around 12:30, so if you're planning on taking public transportation, don't miss it. But if eight and a half hours of drinking just isn't enough, now is the time to bailar, amigos. Guatelinda is beckoning.
Having only scouted out the club one time at the tail end of my own pub crawl, I honestly can't tell you what Guatelinda is like, other than harboring an abundance of pelvis shaking. I vaguely remember a spacious bathroom. Hey, if you make it this far into the crawl, you won't remember much, either.
If you close out Guatelinda and still have more crawling in you (my hat's off to you, sir/madam), or you just don't feel like sitting around for a taxi, Harvard House Motel has water beds, color TVs and "adult movies." They're serious about the adult movies, too — they've got two signs bragging about it. I can't vouch for their selection.
Pink Elephant Liquors, where Charles Bukowski used to get his booze back in the day, delivers until 2 a.m. if you need some in-room refreshment.
Good luck, have fun and be sure to sleep on your side.
The Clubhouse in Griffith Park is more than a pit stop for your golf-lovin' gramps to get his club and grub on. These days, the landmark building at the Wilson Harding Municipal Golf Course attracts a groovy young crowd, many of whom have more interest in chilling out than teeing off. Since Kyle Koester and Mike Begakis took over the space about seven years ago, they've revamped the coffee-shop menu with wings, homemade soups and savory sandwiches, and embellished the bar offerings (ice-cold schooners hit the spot after sweating it up at the nearby driving range). A new deck overlooking the park offers a breezy al fresco experience, but it's the weekly shindig called Twilight at the Club from Silver Lake's Ghetto Gloss Gallery that has helped to turn this establishment into a bona fide hole-in-one hang. Twilight offers DJs spinning funky, midtempo sounds every Wednesday, plus a rocking barbecue and beer bonanza at its outdoor bar. And if the gorgeous views and dark, foresty areas for heavy, uh putting, weren't enough, there's the place's history to marvel over (it's been around since the '20s, though it was rebuilt in the '30s after an earlier Griffith Park fire). Babe Ruth was a regular, as is Tiger Woods, and with the indoor area's original décor still intact, it's used in countless period films and TV shows, most recently the cable series Mad Men. Still, it's the outdoor happenings that make this the coolest caddyshack in town, and current promotions include a Monday night beer and bratwurst special ($2 each), "66 and a Beer" (a bucket of balls for the range and a brewski for $6), and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the ultimate hangover happening, serving up $4 16-oz. Bloody Marys and all-day Mexican breakfast specials, like huevos rancheros. Fore!—Lina Lecaro
Cameo Bar, inside the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, is a swanky California seaside hotel's take on a traditional English lounge, which is to say, laid-back enough that the pretty waitress will look the other way if you're wearing flip-flops, yet classy enough to put even the most pretentious dandy at ease. With a whiff of retro Haunted Mansion about it, the place is awash in dark-yet-reflective surfaces. There are crown moldings, wingback armchairs, dove-gray walls, orchids on tables, green settees and white leather bar stools embroidered with crests of lions. Moody groove music bleeds from the lounge into the lobby and main restaurant. A couple of staunch white ceramic greyhounds flank the elevator near one of the bar's entrances, reminding rowdy drunken types to keep their composure.
On any given night, you will find the place bustling with attractive 30-somethings — aspiring actors, designers, folks from the local Westside tech scene — soaking up lavender martinis and mandarin gimlets, dishing in a languid, world-weary manner about all the other droll bars they've been to. Perhaps you'll meet a Swiss tourist or two, camped out in one of the tented cabanas by the pool. During summer, the Viceroy does a sort of poolside grill party called "Taste of Tuesday," with tiny $5 tasting plates of miso salmon, elk tenderloin and the like, essentially bite-size portions from the menu of the hotel's in-house restaurant, Whist (named after the tricky 18th-century British card game).
You could while away an entire evening here, just watching the people come and go, trying to guess which are locals or foreigners — the first central pleasure of hotel bars in general. The second central pleasure will come into play toward the end: If you're too pickled to stand, or if a handsome stranger has caught your fancy, you won't have to drive to find a discreet place to retire. For propriety's sake, don't canoodle in the bar. Get a room. You're already there.—Gendy Alimurung
Hidden among the spanking-new swank spots on Cahuenga Boulevard remains an unvarnished beacon of booze and tattoos, and one of the longest-running badass dives in Hollywood: the Burgundy Room. Dark, loud, often cramped but always welcoming and laid-back, this enduring hole in the wall is everything a bar should be: The drinks are stiff as bricks and reasonably priced, the bartenders are either rough or superhot (sometimes both) and the crowd is rowdy but never in a scary way.
A little back history: The bar has been there since 1919 under many names, most famously as Ma and Pa Henderson's in the '40s (the prop of bandleader Skitch Henderson and his wife, Miss America Faye Emerson). In the '60s and '70s it was called Tommy's, and in the '80s the druggy den Dave's Cave. It was bought and rechristened the Burgundy in 1989, ushering in the new era of Hollywood bars at the time (Lava Lounge, 3 Clubs, The Room). Now it's owned by a former regular who has brought in DJs. (The rawk-heavy mixes of Apollo Staar on "Rock 'n' Roll High School" Thursdays and Casper on "Sundaze," in particular, provide the perfect soundtrack to getting sauced, and sometimes hooking up.)
No need for beer goggles here; everyone looks doable in this dim light, though guys seriously on the make usually have more luck out front under the smoke clouds. Even if you're not a puffer, or a pimp, the Burgundy experience must include at least a li'l hang time at the entrance, which is a lot easier since they opened an adjacent art gallery, the Thought. Strike up a chat with much-beloved Burgundy doorman Torrance Jackson (who hugs so many babes and shakes so many hands each night that we've dubbed him the Mayor of Cahuenga) or just marvel at the disparate, circuslike happenings that surround this unchanged punk pit: paparazzi fighting for a spot at the velvet ropes of Goa next door, choppy-haired crews jaywalking to and fro the Beauty Bar and Hotel Café and Kitchen 24 and the rest, and the ubiquitous cruiser traffic. Then go inside and get shit-faced. Cahuenga really is a zoo these days, but Burgundy is and always has been the hidden cave where real party animals get wild.—Lina Lecaro
Stones Throw's master teacher of heavy grooves, Dam-Funk, spins nothing but deep cuts of boogie funk during Funkmosphere, vinyl Monday nights at Carbon, near Culver City. Dam-Funk takes you beyond the jump-off from disco, funk and roller-skating jams into an outer zone known only as Space Funk. Don't be embarrassed if you don't recognize any songs, Dam-Funk's mission is to expand your horizons, twist your latitudes, and sound-bomb you with love. Spinning in a space about the size of your living room, he might make you forget you're not on a multicultural spaceship headed directly to the Boogie Funk planet.—Molly Lambert
When it comes to hedonism, rough can be tough, as in good. Case in point: A Club Called Rhonda, the queen bitch of flashy dance parties housed inside the tacky East Hollywood salsa club Guatelinda. To regulars, Rhonda's not just a club, it's a living entity to be referred to in the third person. She can definitely be a bad influence. Cheap booze (and free mandatory Jell-O shots at the door!), a sultry, non-air-conditioned space that makes you wanna strip (bad '70s porn interior includes mirrored walls, lady statues, Christmas lights and red, black and white everything), and hautea hordes humping about in some of the most creative DIY duds you'll see anywhere — from weird workout wear to ghetto-glam costumes. It all makes for a wanton wonderland feel. Promoter Aaron Castle and the Goddollars crew call their bimonthly bash a "polysexual" party, but the poly principle applies to more than babes of all persuasions hooking up. This rager's rotating roster of DJs (guests have included Jeremy Scott, Acid Girls, Guns & Bombs and Cosmo Vitelli) churn out multifaceted electro/disco mixes that are as raw and raunchy as the room itself. And that's just how Rhonda likes it.—Lina Lecaro
After traveling the world as a professional snowboarder, Brandon Hochman was frustrated. There weren't enough places he could go with Mish Mash, his beloved Malti-poo. So when Hochman returned to L.A., he created Sky Bark, a bar/lounge downtown specifically designed for dog owners who want to enjoy the city's nightlife without leaving their furry friends at home. The club has an extremely irregular schedule — events are usually themed and word gets out through Sky Bark's Web site — but the dog parties are a spectacle. Guests enjoy 360-degree views of the city from Sky Bark's rooftop bar, dancing the night away on two dance floors with other dog lovers. There's usually live music, with DJs, catered snacks and a 3,000-square-foot doggy play area. Canine attendees are treated to Sky Bark's specialty drink, the "Muttini," a combination of chicken broth and vitamin water served in a martini glass. Fresh grass is installed for each event, allowing dogs to do their business without having to leave the lounge. Earlier this year, Sky Bark worked with MTV2's Rob and Big to host an event for Meaty the bulldog's 14th "barkday," which featured an ice sculpture of Meaty himself. Other events have included doggy fashion shows, sample sales and a "Woofer" Ball, with proceeds from silent auctions donated to local animal-rescue centers. Fido has had a long day. So buy him a stiff Muttini and ask him for a dance.—Gina Pollack
If you make your way down Harlem Place, past the man in the fedora guarding the door, and step into the caverns of the Edison on a Wednesday evening, you will find yourself head-deep in Roaring-'20s Berlin. A quartet of flapper girls adorns the stage while contortionists spiral from the ceiling to the floor to the chairs to the bar. Characters like Candy, a redhead with décolletage bejeweled in strawberry cotton candy, sit casually on the banquettes. A man in stripes paints a portrait of his lady friend, a circus escapee draped over a black leather chair. The barman removes his hat momentarily to dish out absinthe cocktails and applejack shots, served in vintage-style take-home bottles to extend the entertainment long after the show ends. The perma-packed Edison enlisted the help of the Lucent Dossier cabaret company six months back to jump-start its weeknights, and after a brief hiatus, the players have returned by popular demand. Their weekly appearances have been dubbed "sensual vaudeville," a sexy reconstruction of a time when everybody was looking to escape from their suit and tie. As you crawl out of the foggy underground and back up to street level, you feel as though you've escaped away to another world entirely. And for $15, it sure beats dinner and a movie.—Sara Lerner
Big hair, bigger egos, vapid groupies, never-ending guitar solos, spandex — there's much to mock when it comes to '80s-era metal, especially the brand of hairspray and guyliner rock that was hatched right here on the Sunset Strip. Steel Panther (formerly Metal Shop, and Metal Skool before that) have been plying this trade for over a decade now, and, shockingly, the joke hasn't gotten old. Every Monday night the foul-mouthed foursome take the stage at the Key Club (the former site of famed hairsprayer haunt Gazzarri's) and serve up relentless renditions of scream-and-dream classics from the likes of Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue and Van Halen. Their covers are spot-on, inciting zealous sing-alongs from the crowd (a mix of aging rockers, neo-glamsters and celebs), but it's the between-song schtick that shows the true talent of these wigged wannabes — who never break character, by the way. Panther are more than a cover band, they're an audacious satire of the rock-star mentality (think Spinal Tap, only more X-rated). Whether it's bragging about their STDs or dissing each other or modern metal heroes (System of a Down, who often get on stage to jam, are referred to as Down's Syndrome), they do it balls to the wall. Those skewered the most — rock stars — are its biggest fans, and surprise guests still pop on stage to jam almost weekly, from aged where-are-they-now musicians to the likes of Gene Simmons, Tommy Lee, Pink and even Jessica Simpson (twice). Rocking like a hurricane with these heavy-metal hell-raisers has become a Sunset Strip staple, and like chowing pizza at the Rainbow or looking through the lube selection at the Hustler store, it's something everyone should do on the Strip at least once. Do all three in one night and you're practically a rock star yourself.—Lina Lecaro
If you have ever felt that the only thing missing from your Saturday afternoon was a stiff Bloody Mary and a woman in a gorilla mask, look no further than La Cita, the downtown dive bar turned hipster joint. La Cita is expanding its entertainment options beyond indie-rock-heavy DJ nights to afternoons dedicated to artistic musings. The shaded back patio offers a calming respite from the street noise, and the drink specials don't hurt the lazy-day atmosphere. Until, of course, the clock strikes on the hour, unleashing Ape Escape — an orchestrated dance of models in high-end lingerie and gorilla masks offering inspiration to bar patrons, who are encouraged to sketch the models. Dubbed the Bronx Zoo by its host, Silver Lake gallery Ghettogloss, the summer hit proved so popular it's been extended through the fall. BYO art supplies, but the alcohol-driven creativity is on them.—Sara Lerner
Lobby was nice and the Lounge was pretty swank, but club impresarios SBE (Nazarian, Bolthouse, et al.) definitely took the look and feel of the space next to the Troubadour to haute new heights when they turned it into Foxtail. It's retro without the kitsch, swank without being stodgy, and glam but not grossly so. Low ceilings, metallic detailing, groovy Art Nouveau–patterned glass and supple seating make this '70s London–inspired spot swingin' and sophisticated at the same time. Add to that the sumptuous menu, Biba-designed staff garb and the upstairs dance club that's great for burning through the copious (and creative) cocktail menu, and Foxtail leaves other upscale spots of this kind (including its former incarnations) in the dust.—Lina Lecaro
Low-lit and warm, the Crown Bar's royal re-treatment of WeHo straight stalwart Tempest deserves props for not going too fancy or campy with its new look. They definitely tore the place up, though (looking at the new layout, it's actually difficult to figure out where Tempest's tiny stage and elevated seating area even were). The room has an English, men's lodge feel, now with cushiony couches, tasteful chandeliers and a big bar smack in the center, a setup that makes for easy socializing with sauntering-by strangers and ogling galore on its starlet-friendly nights.—Lina Lecaro