Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
In a town where there's Porn Star Karaoke, VIP karaoke rooms and even American Idol, it's nice to know you can bring your drunken singing back to basics — a place with whisky, two microphones and a sure round of applause. Karaoke Bleu in West L.A.'s Little Osaka neighborhood has been around nearly 20 years. It can throw off the newcomers with karaoke-nazi rules, parking limitations and, well, attitude. If they don't know you, there's going to be some hazing. And we're just talking about the fierce female servers, not to mention owner Ralph or gentleman-bartender Aki-san. There's a small stage and an array of video monitors, but the action is at the small bar in back, where locals such as Tokidoki clothing founder Simone Legno hold court. This is the kind of bar you just know. There's no website. If you put in some time, you'll find a place that's rare in L.A.: affordable (with "bottle-keep" service and $1 contemporary songs), warm and, well, real. 2064 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 477-4794.
Skinny's Lounge is everything you'd want in a NoHo nightspot — equal parts cool, slick, comfortable and dark, like, say, a Hollywood bar/lounge, except, being over the hill, just a bit more laid-back. There's comfortably plush seating; dark, earthy, off-reddish tones in the décor; and an interesting L-shaped configuration with an ample curved bar and an outstanding, classic-lounge-y recessed and curtained stage area where live acts include Metalachi (heavy metal/mariachi fusion), Polesque (artistic pole-dancing revue) and Lookin' for Trouble (classic blues). The dance floor gets pumpin', especially on weekend DJ nights, when dance-oriented disc spinners take over, and midweek nights have witnessed live rock & roll karaoke, with a crack cover band accompanying daring would-be lead vocalists. Drinks are praised and reasonably priced, special group reservations (parties/events) are welcome, and food trucks often park outside. Oh, and they feature "reverse happy hours" with $2 off drinks from midnight until close! 4923 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd. (818) 763-6581, skinnyslounge.com.
Old-school piano bar The Other Side is hidden behind the cozy Flying Leap Cafe in the heart of Silver Lake, but the vibe inside is worlds away from most of the newish attractions in the neighborhood. Aside from dirt-cheap drinks and charmingly cheesy decor (think red-white-and-blue streamers for Independence Day), the Other Side's primary selling point is its talent. Each night of the week is hosted by a different singer/pianist with a distinct character. (My favorites are Tuesday's Lori Donato, an Elaine Stritch type who will order you to turn off your cellphone, and the Broadway-tastic John Randall, who's frequently joined by Judy Garland impersonator Peter Mack.) The place caters mostly to an older, gay male clientele, but occasionally you see a straight couple or two canoodling at the bar or lushly making requests at the piano. It's an ideal spot for a straight gal to take a would-be paramour on an early date: It's the perfect testing ground to gauge a dude's sense of adventure. And if it turns out he can't handle it, you know you can keep going back to the Other Side without running into him. 2538 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. (323) 661-4233, flyingleapcafe.com/tos/tos/tos.html.
I am fundamentally allergic to sports bars. I am also a diehard, obsessive Dodgers fan (this past season, the ongoing McCourt bankruptcy drama only made following the day-to-day game play more exciting — it was like a dysfunctional family epic in 162 three-hour parts). It can be hard enough to find a place to watch a Dodger game amid an owner boycott in Lakers-dominated Los Angeles; it's harder still when you're trying to avoid the blaring, brightly lit domains of white-capped frat boys. That's why I love Snake Pit Ale House on Melrose. With a couple of plasma TVs in addition to a wall-sized projection screen usually given over to the night's biggest game, you're almost guaranteed to be able to see your game of choice, in an environment that's both divey and homey, with 20 beers on tap and a decent jukebox. It's the closest thing to a San Francisco Mission Street bar that I've found in L.A., the place you go when you're into craft beers and Black Flag, but also — secretly or not so secretly — some brand of sports geek. 7529 Melrose Ave., Fairfax District. (323) 653-2011, snakepitalehouse.com.
Rosewood Tavern, a newish gastropub specializing in steak, beer and whiskey, is a much-needed addition to the Fairfax District strip. Finally, there's a place for locals to drink grown-up drinks that isn't the oft-douchey dance bar the Dime; finally, there's a place to get a real meal before or after a show at Cinefamily that isn't Canter's. But Rosewood Tavern also is something unusual in L.A.: It's a bar you can go to in the afternoon to read. With its classy and soothing dark-wood interior, happy hour specials and beautiful, sun-filled front corner window seat, it's the ideal place for wasting an afternoon away, in a literary way. 448 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District. (323) 944 0980, rosewoodtavern.com.
So you've got friends or relatives coming in from out of town, and you want to swiftly disabuse them of the notion that Los Angeles is all swimming pools, movie stars and whatever other bullshit they've seen on Entourage. You need to take them to the Tattle Tale Room. Close enough to the airport that it can be a visitor's first stop right after you pick them up at LAX, this outer Culver City dive bar's raucous, chiefly working-class and frankly moderately sketchy crowd is a testament that our city contains multitudes. After a couple of rounds of heavily soused karaoke, your guests likely won't remember their own names, let alone the names of the hot spots they saw on The Hills. 5401 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 390-2489, tattletaleroom.com.