15 of the Best Places to Drink in Los Angeles
Nancy Kwon plies her trade at the Copper Still
Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
Los Angeles is a drinker's paradise, especially now that Lyft and Uber have made it easier than ever to get home safely after one margarita too many. Formerly bar-deprived wastelands from Culver City to Highland Park now runneth over with booze options, from hole-in-the-wall dives to fancy-pants establishments where the dreaded phrase "craft cocktail" is uttered without irony.
It would be an impossible task to list every great bar in our sprawling metropolis — but for our 2015 Best of L.A. issue, we asked L.A. Weekly writers and staff to narrow the list down by picking their favorite watering holes that fill a particular niche, whether it's our city's time-honored tradition of hair-of-the-dog day-drinking, the growing trend in kitschy themed establishments, or just that old neighborhood standby where you can stop in for a beer after work. Here are 15 of their selections; you can find more in the Music & Nightlife section of our complete Best of L.A. listings.
Best Neighborhood Bar: The Alibi Room
Aside from a few standouts like Father's Office and Britannia Pub, finding a hearty beer or a stiff cocktail on the Westside used to be an adventure. Now the other extreme is true: It's getting harder to find a good drink without pomp and circumstance. Dave Reiss' Alibi Room strikes a nice balance. Its old-timey drinks are complemented by seasonal updates such as the Breaking Bad, which features tequila, mezcal, pear, lemon and serrano chile–infused agave. Its solid draughts are joined by 30-plus bottles of the latest craft buzz-makers. Its minimal, modern interior is offset by the coziness of hardwood furnishings. And you could do worse for bar eats: The pop-up kitchen is run by Roy Choi, so it's like having a Kogi BBQ truck behind the bar. But the best thing about Alibi is the crowd. It has just the right din, as pretty young people — not too pretentious, not too Hollywood, not too drunk — mingle in the warm glow of a neighborhood bar with global DNA. — Dennis Romero. 12236 W. Washington Blvd., Culver West. 310-398-5516, www.alibiroomla.com.
Best New Neighborhood Bar: The Offbeat
It's just like the clichés say — when a neighborhood gentrifies, things get all artisanal and crafty while those darn h-words strut around like they own the place. Highland Park has become the nation's model 'hood for upwardly mobile, creative-class gentry, so it's no shock that cute, quaint and artsy has ruled every recent business model there. Not at the Offbeat. It's new but not newfangled; clever but not too crafty. The Offbeat didn't contrive itself into a concept, and thanks to quality local DJs, every night comes with turned-up volumes rather than noses. Sure, it has some local craft beer, but working folks on a working folks' budget can still get cheaper suds without feeling as if they just clubbed a rescue puppy. A few people did mourn its divey predecessor, Dusty's, and while it's not the festering pit of authenticity it once was, the rising neighborhood property values didn't kill the laid-back local essence of the place. — Paul T. Bradley. 6316 York Blvd., Highland Park. 323-739-9696, offbeatbar.com.
Nancy Kwon plies her trade at the Copper Still
Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
Best Bartender: Nancy Kwon at the Copper Still
A Nancy Kwon cocktail is more like a psychedelic experience than a drink. You patiently watch her briskly whip up her latest concoction — a Frankenstein with 114-proof bourbon, or a Bold and Bitterful with French brandy — then you sip and your neurons light up like an incandescent light bulb. Kwon has been making serious cocktails, with meticulously sourced ingredients (cherries from Europe, the finest French cognac), for about two years at the Copper Still, a hole-in-the-wall bar at the north end of Koreatown. In a room that barely has seating for 18 people, with silent movies playing on a big-screen LCD, Kwon takes you on a journey, introducing chili-infused heat and exotic syrups to top-shelf-strength spirits. In her black uniform, Kwon is as low-key as the venue, which is attached to the Salvadoran restaurant Jaraguá. She lets her amazing creations do the talking, but she'll occasionally help you savor them. Kwon's motto is, "If you don't like it, we'll drink it." That's dedication to a craft. — Dennis Romero. 4493 Beverly Blvd., Koreatown. 323-661-1985, www.jaraguarestaurant.com.
Best '70s-Themed Bar: Good Times at Davey Wayne's
Maybe you're a '70s kid with fond memories of 8-tracks and roller rinks. Or maybe you're 21 and just like to wear bell-bottoms. Either way, L.A. has the perfect hangout for you: Good Times at Davey Wayne's in Hollywood. Step through the refrigerator door that's the gateway to this bar and immediately you're whisked back to the disco era. Except this place isn't a disco party at all — and that's a good thing. Instead, it's set up to look like a house your parents probably partied in, complete with bad carpeting, weird-colored furniture and tchotchkes galore. The back patio carries the theme outside, with a look so retro you half expect someone to serve you ambrosia salad with your alcoholic snow cone. (Yes, they have alcoholic snow cones.) But the best thing about Good Times at Davey Wayne's is the music: stuff like ELO, Alice Cooper and, on a good night, maybe even the Wonder Woman theme. — Ali Trachta. 1611 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. 323-962-3804, goodtimesatdaveywaynes.com.
Break Room 86
Best '80s-Themed Bar: Break Room 86
From Pac-Man fever to new-wave guy-liner, Madonna's baubles to Dynasty's shoulder pads, the '80s were all about excess and flamboyance. So it's fitting that famed L.A. bar duo Mark and Jonnie Houston showed (less than) zero restraint with their hot spot celebrating the era. Break Room 86, like some of the brothers' other bars, has a hidden entrance (via the back of the Line Hotel in K-town), but that's far from the most novel thing about this retro wonderland. Walls of old TVs and cassette tapes, microphone chandeliers and boomboxes make for eye candy to the max. The Good Time Boys, the beloved cover band from the Houstons' other decade-driven destination, Good Times at Davey Wayne's, play on occasion, and nightly DJs mash up '80s hits and cheesy misses. Need more? Check out the private karaoke rooms or the mini-vintage arcade, and it's on like Donkey Kong. — Lina Lecaro. 630 S. Ardmore Ave., Koreatown. 213-368-3056, www.breakroom86.com.
Best Rooftop Bar: Ace Hotel
At most rooftop bars in L.A., the dramatic views are partially obstructed by d-bags in Ed Hardy shirts. The Ace's Upstairs Bar is no exception, but somehow their presence is more tolerable thanks to sophisticated decor, strong cocktails and some of the coolest DJs in town. Daytime selectors include such local tastemakers as Dublab and Innovative Leisure, while after dark, the sounds range from the soul, world music and garage rock of the Times, a Friday monthly featuring DJs from L.A. Record and Funky Sole, to Spaced, a mix of psychedelic sounds and visuals every second Sunday. A partially covered dining and lounge area with comfy wicker furniture and tree-trunk tabletops rambles out to an intimate pool deck, presided over by the Ace's dramatic, neo-Gothic tower and even more dramatic views of the downtown skyline. It's the perfect spot to sip a White Rabbit (cognac, Scotch, vermouth, yellow chartreuse, bitters and mint) and appreciate our city's boundless ability to stay awesome, no matter how many d-bags flock to it. — Andy Hermann. 29 S. Broadway, downtown. 213-623-3233, www.acehotel.com/losangeles.
Drinks at the Langham Tap Room
Best Hotel Bar: The Tap Room at the Langham
Do you relish the opulence and getaway feel of an upscale hotel bar, but not the conspicuous consumption of the usual Hollywood spots? A jaunt through the hills of Pasadena will lead you to your favorite new luxe lounge: the Tap Room at the Langham Hotel. Don't let the uninspired name fool you — this is a sophisticated yet inviting indoor lounge and patio bar overlooking the hotel grounds. Drinks and snacks aren't cheap here, but they're no more than the chic-boutique hotel scene, and the service and quality is above and beyond. Snack platters are left on every table, cocktail orders (try the Huntington 100 Martini or the Berry Breeze) come up fast, and food is tasty comfort fare served with small plates for sharing. Most nights, the sumptuous ambiance is amped by live jazz. With a gorgeous fireplace and huge windows framing the bar's outdoor section (which is heavenly at sunset), Tap Room is a chill oasis with more than a touch of class. — Lina Lecaro. 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena. 626-585-6457, langhamtaproom.com.
Best Bar for Large Groups: Sagebrush Cantina
You're just as likely to see a battered Jeep caked with dust up to its side mirrors as a stand-up limo filled with hotties at the Sagebrush Cantina, a 660-person capacity, loud, friendly, tribute band–y, indoor-outdoor country saloon where, sometimes, patrons amble up on horseback to enjoy a margarita. (On Old Calabasas Road where the Cantina sprawls, there's a crosswalk button high on a pole so equestrians can choose "walk" without dismounting.) The Cantina's calendar runs from live bluegrass and country to classic-rock cover bands to Thursday line-dancing classes — sometimes drawing locals including the Kardashians and Howie Mandel from their hillside compounds. On Sundays, the east patio, festooned with wagon wheels and sun-bleached cattle skulls, is dominated by Harley riders, while families enjoy the peaceful south patio. It's hard to fill a space as huge as the multibar Cantina, but on UFC Fight Nights, come early or make other plans. — Jill Stewart. 23527 Calabasas Rd., Calabasas. 818-222-6062, www.sagebrushcantina.com.
Best Day-Drinking Bar: Big Bar at Alcove Cafe
When day-drinking in Los Angeles, we want the air to caress our face and enough sunshine that we can wear shades and feel fabulous, even if it's a hair-of-the-dog situation. At Big Bar, the watering hole adjacent to Alcove Cafe and Bakery, the al fresco setup couldn't be better for getting your booze on. Overlooking Hillhurst Avenue, the seating area is well shaded by umbrellas and trees, with colorful (but not too self-conscious) clientele lounging about. The food is tasty enough to get a bite as well, but the bar will more than satisfy languid liquid-lunchers. Served all day and night, the drink menu is full of crafty cocktails, such as the Redrum (Bacardi 8, Jamaican rum, cherry, bitters, lime), Romper Stomper (rye whiskey, Grand Poppy, lime, banana) and Mixed Blessings (tequila, Encanto pisco, white honey, lime). They also serve craft beers, wine, traditional cocktails and our favorite way to justify a Sunday brunch buzz: a make-your-own Mimosa, with a mini-Champagne bottle and sidecar of OJ. — Lina Lecaro. 1927 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. 323-644-0100, www.alcovecafe.com/bigbar.
Best Bar With a View: The Castaway
Burbank probably isn't the first place you think of when you're looking for a romantic date spot with million-dollar views. But that's exactly what makes the Castaway such a hidden gem. Perched above a golf course in the Verdugo Mountains, this vaguely tropically themed bar, restaurant and popular wedding site boasts 180-degree views that span all the way from the San Fernando Valley to the west, past the backside of Griffith Park and the downtown skyline, all the way to the hills of Eagle Rock and Mount Washington to the southeast. The cocktails and bar menu are pretty standard but serviceable, and happy hour prices are a steal ($6 margaritas, $3.50 fries) compared with what you'd pay for a comparable view downtown. Bring an extra layer for the outdoor patio; even though you're still in Burbank, the temperature after dark really can drop to mountainlike lows. — Andy Hermann. 1250 E. Harvard Rd., Burbank. 818-843-5013, www.castawayrestaurant.com.
Best New Gay Bar: Precinct
Downtown Los Angeles' renaissance has steadily attracted gay and lesbian denizens over the past decade, but the neighborhood continues to suffer a noticeable dearth of queer watering holes. This malady was partially remedied back in June with the opening of Precinct, DTLA's first official gay bar. The brainchild of married nightlife promoters Brian McIntire and Thor Stephens, the venue's name is a wink to the Department of Corrections office that formerly occupied the second-story space at this corner of Fourth and Broadway. After more than a year of renovations and bureaucratic red tape, the newly transformed space features a wrap-around patio ideal for noshing on mimosas and eggs, courtesy of Felix Barron and his pop-up brunch service. After the sun sets, the sprawling dance floor plays host to some of L.A.'s hottest gay dance parties, such as Critter Control's Pitch Black City. With Precinct leading the way, DTLA may evolve into the WeHo of the 21st century. — Mike Ciriaco. 357 S. Broadway, downtown. 213-628-3112, www.precinctdtla.com.
Best Gay Cowboy Bar: Flaming Saddles
When gay-friendly straight couple Chris Barnes and Jacqui Squatriglia opened Flaming Saddles in West Hollywood back in January, they offered an alternative to the usual spaces full of shirtless boys dancing to the same pop-diva remixes: a cowboy saloon in the heart of Boystown. Much like the original Hell's Kitchen bar of the same name, this West Coast iteration features down-home hospitality, a jukebox chock full of country and Western ditties, and good ol' boys line-dancing across the bar. It's a queer Coyote Ugly, catering to an oft-neglected niche within LGBT nightlife. "I don't know if Nashville knows, but it's a lot more gay then they are willing to admit," Barnes said in an interview before January's grand opening, which featured a performance by recently out country singer Billy Gilman. Now closet cowboys can shit-kick to Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood without moseying out of the comfort of their own gayborhood. — Mike Ciriaco. 8811 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 310-855-7501, flamingsaddles.com.
Best Bar to Watch the Dodgers: The Greyhound
Maybe you can watch the Dodgers at home. Lucky you. But for a large portion of Angelenos, our only access to Dodger baseball at home is via crackly AM radio. So we downtrodden fans, trampled once more under the clumsy hooves of TV-provider intransigence, head out into the warm summer evening in search of the best place to catch our hardball fix. Enter the Greyhound, neighborhood pub par excellence, owners of some very fine televisions and a subscription to Time Warner Cable. The Greyhound shows every game on its many screens — including a giant HD projector — and offers an outstanding array of game-time specials, which it calls "Blue Hour." For just $8, you get an Olympia — the quintessential ballpark lager — and a burger or veggie wings. (For a dollar more, trade up to a pound of chicken wings.) It also has buckets of Olympia and pitchers of craft beer, and if you step outside after a Friday home game, you can look down Figueroa to see the postgame fireworks peeking over the hill. — Ben Mesirow. 5570 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park. 216-571-6301, the-greyhound.com.
A $4.50 martini at the Barkley
Best Old-School Happy Hour: The Barkley
There are no velvet-rope nightclubs in South Pasadena, no gelled-up promoters, no bottle-service babes. Instead, there is the Barkley — restaurant, bar, concert venue, town hall and de facto retirement home. The Barkley serves just about all needs, from Dodger games to jazz combos to corny menu puns ("Pasta la vista, baby!"), but it functions best from 4 to 7 p.m., Sunday through Friday, as a happy hour hangout. The drink deals are incredible — $3 beers and stiff wells, $4.50 martinis, $5 wine — but even better are the free appetizers, which rotate nightly. They're standards like wings, mozzarella sticks and zucchini fries, but they are done exceedingly well, all prepared in-house. As you polish off your quesadilla and a second martini, happy hour melts like warm caramel into the smooth sax of the band warming up in the corner. Before you know it you'll find yourself oozing onto the dance floor, tangoing the night away with the queen of Countryside Acres. — Ben Mesirow. 1400 Huntington Dr., South Pasadena. 626-799-0758, thebarkleyrestaurant.com.
Best Drink Special for Beer Lovers: Tuesdays at Blue Palms Brewhouse
Everyone loves a drink deal, but what if the selections on special aren't your proverbial cup of tea? Luckily, at Blue Palms Brewhouse, beer drinkers can easily avoid such an impediment to imbibing. On Tuesdays, as long as there's no show at the neighboring Fonda Theatre (check first), all the beers on tap are just $4. Yep, all of them. That's 24 rotating craft and specialty beers you can try for an extremely reasonable price. It's a great time for beer lovers to branch out without shelling out, or even just drink their old standbys on the cheap. You've gotta love a bargain coupled with the freedom to choose. This is America, after all. — Ali Trachta. 6124 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 323-464-2337, www.bluepalmsbrewhouse.com.
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