Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
In a world where dive bars are under constant threat of going under (or worse, going Bar Rescue), Gold Room stands tall. It feels safe to say it will never lose the true spirit of itself and what a legit dive represents — a place to lube the workaday grind with cheap liquor and irreverent camaraderie. Even after a minor refurbish in 2009, it managed to spit-shine itself while remaining a space safe from fake bookshelves, craft cocktails and lip-pursing snots chasing manufactured hip. Most importantly, Gold Room kept its impossibly priced, 31-year-running, loss-leader: a shot of tequila and a beer for $4. No other transitional neighborhood's watering hole has hit all the right notes with both locals and scenesters, and you can see them all peacefully rubbing elbows any night of the week. It's a place that promises never to change in the philosophical sense, which is why it remains not only the best bar in Echo Park but one of the best in all of Southern California. —Paul T. Bradley
1558 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, 90026. (213) 482-5259, facebook.com/pages/The-Gold-Room/204677952897397.
Zinque is the Diane Von Fürstenberg wrap dress of restaurants. During the day, its airy interior resembles an Apple store, considering how many Mac laptops are in use. But at night it's a different story: Wine glasses, oysters and occasionally live music make you feel as if you're in a European bistro. (The din of customer conversation doesn't hurt the illusion, considering it often includes snippets of French and Italian.) Zinque offers bites for every hour of the day: pastries, breakfast sandwiches, paninis, healthy salads, happy-hour snacks, flatbreads and "plates." With indoor and outdoor seating, outlets and Wi-Fi, there's not really an occasion or meeting that Zinque can't accommodate. It's tempting to arrive early for coffee and stay for wine, but if you'd rather change locations, Zinque now boasts two — one near Abbot Kinney, and one near the Pacific Design Center in WeHo. —Eve Weston
600 Venice Blvd., Venice, 90291. (310) 437-0970, lezinque.com. Also 8684 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., 90069. (424) 284-3930.
Unlike what you might imagine an adult arcade to be like, EightyTwo is not the sweaty domain of grown-up nerds. Rather, it's a video game paradise that's as sleek as it is chic. Housed in a metallic, 2,000-square-foot warehouse, this Arts District cocktail bar boasts 15 pinball machines — which date from 1977's Ed Krynski–designed Jungle Queen to last year's uber-badass Metallica pinball. It also has 25 video games, from Atari's 1978 classic Space Invaders to 1993's NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat II. Nightly DJ sets transform the game room into a late-night dance party, and a tree-lined courtyard with communal high-top tables offers sweet refuge from even the most grueling round of Pac-Man. There's nothing quite as electrifying as getting your game on at EightyTwo, even if much of its clientele isn't old enough to remember the year (an amazing one for video games) for which it's named. —Jennifer Swann
707 E. Fourth Place, Little Tokyo, 90013. (213) 626-8200, eightytwo.la.
Though some see disco as a blight on American pop music that will hopefully not be resuscitated, others consider it our country's pinnacle of dance music. L.A. types who fall into the latter camp are likely to be seen at Giorgio's, a Saturday night party at the Hollywood Standard. Though only a year old, it has been attended by such stars as Mick Jagger, Diddy, Billy Idol and Leonardo DiCaprio. Named after famed Italian producer Giorgio Moroder — who basically invented disco — it was founded by longtime party promoter Bryan Rabin and Adam Bravin, who serves from time to time as President Obama's DJ. Oh, and as for the event itself? You enter through a kitchen. The room is dark and filled with smoke. And, most importantly, the dance floor stays packed until closing time. —Hillel Aron
Hollywood Standard Hotel, 8300 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., 90069. (323) 650-9090, facebook.com/giorgiosdisco.
Lots of people can tell you that the Three Clubs has been featured in Mad Men, but it bears repeating, if only to give you a mental picture of what you can expect inside this Hollywood spot, especially on quieter days. You'll come in, sit down in a dark, quiet corner and order up a cocktail (we recommend the rye Manhattan) expertly made by a man who has never self-identified as a "mixologist" (although he possesses the skills of one). The appeal of the Three Clubs is in its refreshingly unpretentious take on the classic American cocktail bar, one that's equal parts 1964 and 2014. While we'd recommend trying out the spot during off-hours, there's certainly plenty going on in the evenings, most notably Monday Night Tease, one of the oldest and most venerated burlesque nights in all of L.A. County. All told, the Three Clubs is a great spot for a date, or just to drown your sorrows in the sweet, neon glow of Hollywood's past. —Nicholas Pell
1123 N. Vine St., Hlywd., 90038. (323) 462-6441, threeclubs.com.
Were the Flintridge Proper to have an official song, it might go something like this: "220 bottles of gin on the wall, 220 bottles of gin. Take one down, pass it around. 219 bottles of gin on the wall." At this watering hole located in the northern suburb of La Cañada Flintridge, these numbers are no exaggeration. Calling itself "the world's largest gin bar," this drinkery and restaurant features a vast collection of gin sourced from all around the world, and even some in-house varieties produced with locally grown ingredients, such as wild sage and rosemary. "We have a gin for every taste," says Brady Caverly, who co-owns the Proper with his wife, Mary Elizabeth. Customers who would like to sample multiple kinds of gin can choose from the Proper's "flights," which include three 0.75-ounce tastings. (The popular Bartenders' Favorite, for $15, includes choices picked by the staff.) Under chef Kevin Napier, the Proper also has an extensive food menu, highlighted by its popular chicken pot pies and burgers. —Chris Walker
464 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge, 91011. (818) 790-4888, theproper.com.
If you've ever played Cards Against Humanity, you know that the filthy, politically incorrect (yet hilarious) fill-in-the-blanks game is much better with alcohol. Which means there's nobody better to play against than an entire bar full of booze-fueled opponents. Stop by Wolf & Crane in Little Tokyo every Wednesday night from 9 to 11 to take part in L.A.'s best alternative to the pub quiz. Host Dan — also known as Hipster Satan — spins old-school tunes, delivers hilarious commentary and hands out prizes such as flavored condoms, 1990s one-hit-wonder cassettes and free drinks. It helps that the Little Tokyo watering hole has an amazing selection of Japanese whiskeys and other craft spirits, a long list of mostly California beers and some really tasty, highball-style cocktails. If you get hungry, you can snag a bag of Japanese potato chips for two bucks or order delivery from the Pitfire Pizza just up the street. —Jason Horn
336 E. Second St., Little Tokyo, 90012. (213) 935-8249, wolfandcranebar.com.
The Boyle Heights nightlife scene has come a long way in the last decade, partly thanks to the Metro Gold Line, which runs right through one of the historic neighborhood's main corridors, First Street. There have always been local Mexican dive bars in the area but, until recently, not much that appealed to the young generation of Mexican-American. That's changing, however, and M Bar is a big reason why. Though it's not as hip as some spots in the area, its lack of pretentiousness helps drive its appeal. On any given night, M Bar features locally sourced entertainment, from live cumbia to comedy, all with no cover charge. When it comes to drinks, stick with the signature Michelada, a spicy Mexican beer cocktail that is proudly made to order. —Javier Cabral
1846½ E. First St., Boyle Heights, 90063. mbarbh.com.
There's no sign on the street to tell you where the Blind Barber is, just an illuminated, striped barber pole. Yes, you can get actual haircuts and shaves at the barbershop. But the real attraction isn't the front salon. You enter the "secret" rear saloon through an unmarked door at the back of the barbershop. Like its sister bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Culver City Blind Barber is dark and old-timey, with leather booths, a neat-o vintage cigarette machine and plenty of manly, retro swank. Plus, there are the requisite cleverly named cocktails, such as the Smoke & Dagger (Jack Daniels, jalapeño-infused Combier, lemon juice, cucumber, ginger) and Sweeney Ted (Jameson, honey, egg white and bitters). A selection of excellent grilled cheese sandwiches makes the trip worthwhile even for teetotalers. —Gendy Alimurung
10797 Washington Blvd., Culver City 90232. (310) 841-6679, blindbarber.com.
Koreatown signage can be confusing along Western Avenue, but you'll spot Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip immediately from the giant banner featuring Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. If you can't make it to the stadium, rally here. But don't just do it for the obvious reasons, such as the cheap-enough pitchers of Hite on every table, next to a small, green bottle of soju, which is there in case you decide that you're not drunk enough. Don't even do it just for the Ryu Burger, a messy patty topped with kimchi, jalapeños and melted pepper jack. Come to Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip for the way the room erupts with applause every time Ryu strikes out a batter. And stay for the people-watching — old men, jocks and couples on dates clinking glasses — as well as the food, particularly the carne asada fries on the menu. Like Randy Newman, we love L.A. —Amy Nicholson
222 N. Western Ave., Koreatown, 90004. (323) 465-6803, facebook.com/MokMaruJongSulJip.
There's no shortage of bartenders who can whip up an elaborate cocktail at L.A.'s trendiest mixology bars. Of course, most of these suspender-wearing drink slingers take their craft so seriously that it could take all night before you ever get to taste their all-too-precious concoctions. That's simply not the case at Oldfield's Liquor Room, where veteran bartender Robin Jackson ensures there's never a line to order a drink — and it's not because her gorgeously garnished cocktails won't have you lusting for more. It's because she can expertly whip up retro classics — such as the $7 happy-hour special Amoxicillin (rum, lemon, honey and house-made ginger liqueur) — in seconds flat, and with a big smile on her face. A two-time winner of L.A. Times' Spirit of the Times punch competition, Jackson not only invents custom cocktails for her customers but does so with the charm and sophistication of a 1950s starlet and the skillful brevity of the most no-nonsense professional. It's the kind of old-fashioned customer service you simply won't find at those Hollywood cocktail lounges, despite what their lines at the bar might suggest. —Jennifer Swann
10899 Venice Blvd., Palms. (310) 842-8066, oldfieldsliquorroom.com.
So you managed to squeeze in at Gjelina, Tasting Kitchen, Salt Air, Axe or one of the other high-priced hot spots on Abbot Kinney for dinner. Bully for you! But $150 later, your meal is done, and you'd better believe they want that table back. So what's a thirsty couple to do? Head to Willie Jane, of course! One of the best restaurants on this hipper-than-thou block also has a surprisingly swell, and generously sized, bar to keep the party going. Darkly lit, romantic and lively all at once, it boasts a superb list of craft cocktails, genuinely nice barkeeps and surprisingly swift service. We're positively obsessed with the Smoke, which combines rye, Fernet Branca, lemon and smoked honey for $12. (They even burn some hickory and trap the smoke in the glass, which adds an extra note to the drink.) There's also a communal table — which makes much more sense in a bar than in the usual awkward dinner context — and a lounge area, so even on crowded nights, you can usually score a seat. That's more than we can say about most places in the neighborhood. —Sarah Fenske
1031 Abbot Kinney, Venice, 90291. (310)392-2425, williejane.com.