20 Great Neighborhood Bars in L.A.

The Hermosillo
The Hermosillo
Sarah Bennett

Drinking your way across this magnificent, sprawling city of ours can be hazardous to your health, but that didn't stop us from trying (thanks, Uber).

From the beaches to Boyle Heights, what we found time and again is that the best neighborhood bars aren't the super-hip hotspots where you have to fight overdressed crowds to get an overpriced "craft cocktail" from a "mixologist." They're the unpretentious places with cheap happy hour specials, generous pours, good jukeboxes, and decor that says, "Relax. You don't have to impress anyone here."

We picked 20 such spots for this year's Best Of L.A. issue. While they barely scratch the surface of L.A.'s many distinctive corners and hundreds of fantastic bars, we felt that each one reps its neighborhood with pride and style. Even — especially! — the dives.

Three ClubsEXPAND
Three Clubs
Lina Lecaro

Best Hollywood Bar
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

M Bar
M Bar
Javier Cabral

Best Boyle Heights Bar
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

Blind Barber
Blind Barber
Mary Carreon

Best Culver City Bar
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

Gold RoomEXPAND
Gold Room
Guelda Voelen

Best Echo Park Bar
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

Willie Jane
Willie Jane
Sarah Fenske

Best Bar on Abbot Kinney
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

The Monty
The Monty
Jennifer Swann

Best Westlake Bar
Unless you got lost looking for the on-ramp to the 110 freeway downtown, you'd never stumble upon the Monty if you didn't already know about it. That's part of what makes this unassuming dive on the eastern fringes of Westlake so appealing. From the outside, the spot looks as unsavory as the former topless club it once was. But once you get past the burly security guards and the (hopefully) ironic "please check your guns at the door" sign, the place reveals itself as a gorgeously restored Western saloon, whose immaculate, mirror-paneled, dark wooden bar stretches from one end of the train car–shaped tavern to the other. The jukebox, $3 cans of Olympia and a mounted buffalo head are relics of a simpler time, but every night's a party at the Monty. DJs including former The Germs drummer Don Bolles and L.A. rockers Fidlar spin punk-rock jams on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. With weeknights like these, just imagine how crazy the weekends must be. —Jennifer Swann
1222 W. Seventh St., Westlake, 90017. (213) 228-6000, montybar.com

 

Corner Door
Corner Door
Garrett Snyder

Best Mar Vista Bar
Westside neighborhood Mar Vista is up and coming, but it has mostly resisted the thorough gentrification seen in Santa Monica, Venice and the hipster Eastside. Still, a number of new markets, bars, restaurants (even a record store) now dot the area, and many are excellent. Our favorite drinkery is the Corner Door, found at, yes, the corner of Wasatch and Washington Boulevard. The decor is understated but the food and drinks are elegant and, at least during happy hour, quite affordable. The martinis will knock you on your ass, and their choice of an American pale ale in a can — Dale's — can't be beat. For noshing there are well-prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, seafood and various fried bits. And let's not forget the desserts, which can include cookies, ice creams and eclairs, items that are highly underrated as bar food. —Ben Westhoff
12477 W. Washington Blvd., Mar Vista, 90066. (310) 313-5810, thecornerdoorla.com

Best Bar in the Valley
There's no sign heralding the Local Peasant, but ever since this "eat pub" opened last year in Woodland Hills, it has been jammed, and on weekend nights the roar can be heard well before you pull up to the valet. The interior is covered in raw materials and wormwood planking, and cooled with exposed industrial pipes. At the center is a 38-seat, U-shaped bar serving 23 beers on tap and 15 varieties of keg wine. There's a see-through cold-storage vault filled with kegs, and all kinds of seating arrangements, including a cozy back bar with mismatched wood tables good for groups of two or 20, and a big, appealing street-side patio on Ventura Boulevard. For weekend brunch, the Bloody Mary bar is set up, where you mix your own flavors from 25 hot sauces, various tomato juice mixes and garnishes including sauteed carrots and jumbo shrimp. Feel free to add whatever you can stuff into your handled glass jar. —N. Jenssen
22901 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, 91364. (818) 876-0105, thelocalpeasant.com

The Hermosillo
The Hermosillo
Sarah Bennett

Best Highland Park Bar
Above the Hermosillo brewpub sits an illuminated sign depicting a Tinkerbell-esque blonde in an emerald bodysuit, a remnant from the escort club previously housed in the space. Inside, the Hermosillo combines old-school comforts (retro vinyl booths, shuffleboard and an overhead projector displaying daily beer lists) with of-the-moment dining trends, including beers so local they were brewed in the back room. All told, it makes for the neighborhood's most inviting hangout. Last year the homey spot, which serves beer and wine but no liquor, introduced a food menu that includes pork belly tacos and fried chicken sandwiches. Perhaps the most fun thing to do at the spot, after you've had a few beers anyway, is to play the incredibly simple but addicting ring-toss game mounted to the back wall. They may have a fancy new menus, but some things will never change. —Jennifer Swann
5125 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 739-6459, thehermosillo.com

Best Pasadena Bar
The words "dive bar" get thrown around a lot, but to gaze upon the real deal, pull up a stool at Pasadena's 1881 Club. What you'll find are pool tables, darts, stiff drinks, lots of bottled beer (though only Bud on tap) and witty slogans on the wall — our favorite is "Hangovers Installed and Serviced." It's the perfect spot to tie one on with friends, and if you don't have friends, never fear! Colorful characters populate the place, and the crowd tends to be outgoing and unpretentious. (Considering it's a Niners bar, however, it helps if you're a San Francisco football fan.) A universal jukebox sets whatever mood you want without taking away from any of the delicious squalor. The bathrooms, meanwhile, offer a peek into the spot's architectural past — it doesn't appear that anything has been changed on them since the joint opened. Los Angeles proper wishes it had a bar this cool. —Nicholas Pell
1881 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, 91104. (626) 794-3068, facebook.com/pages/1881-Club/127784844383

Tonga Hut
Tonga Hut
Photo by Lina Lecaro

Best North Hollywood Bar
Walking into Tonga Hut is like traveling back to 1958. The San Fernando Valley tiki bar looks on first glance as if it hasn't changed much since opening 56 years ago, though in reality a new owner restored it to its former midcentury glory in 2005. Tiki Ti may be L.A.'s most famous tropical-drink dispensary, but Tonga Hut is about three times the size, which means you actually might be able to get a table on the weekends. Choose from classics including the Zombie or a mai tai, or an original house creation, such as the habanero lime syrup–spiked Latin Liver. True tiki devotees will want to join the Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard: Drink one of each of the 80 or so cocktails from the seminal tiki tome Grog Log in the space of a year, and you'll get a plaque on the wall, plus $1 off all future drinks. —Jason Horn
12808 Victory Blvd., N. Hlywd., 91606. (818)769-0708, tongahut.com

Hyperion TavernEXPAND
Hyperion Tavern
Photo by Paul T. Bradley

Best Silver Lake Bar
Tucked away along the leafy side of Hyperion Avenue and identified only by an old-school barber pole and a dark-as-your-drunk-soul exterior, Hyperion Tavern perfectly encapsulates its neighborhood. It manages to represent the tastes of both your freaky baroque pop aunt and your bibliophile uncle; lined with old tomes and punctuated with a giant chandelier, the spot is the perfect dive bar for drinkers who don't want a whole lot of bullshit. The fact that it lacks liquor is made up for by a killer selection of beer and wine, and great music as well. Sure, it tends to be a great spot for conversation, but Hyperion also regularly hosts local eclectic noise-makers, neo-drone stylists and freaky-deaky art happenings. For free. —Paul T. Bradley
1941 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, 90027. (323) 665-1941, facebook.com/pages/Hyperion-Tavern/179192012130291

Rock & Reilly's Irish Pub
Rock & Reilly's Irish Pub
Photo courtesy of Rock & Reilly's Irish Pub

Best West Hollywood Bar
When it comes to nightlife, West Hollywood has a swanky side (see: Sky Bar), a slutty side (see: Santa Monica Boulevard), a riotous side (see: the Roxy), and gay bars are their own animal. But if we're simply talking about booze and the best spot in which to pound it, you're not going to do better than Rock & Reilly's Irish Pub. The prices are fair, the room is cozy but rarely obnoxiously crowded, and the greasy-grub nightly specials — such as Taco Tuesdays and Slider Night Wednesdays — are great. Rock & Reilly's had a lot to live up to, considering it filled the shoes of the dearly departed Cat Club. Though the new watering hole is not the rocker hub of yesteryear, it nonetheless offers a no-nonsense destination for drinking and hanging out before and after music shows on the Strip. —Lina Lecaro
8911 W. Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., 90069. (310) 360-1400, rnrpub.com

 

The Black Boar
The Black Boar
Photo by Lina Lecaro

Best Eagle Rock Bar
Part neighborhood drinkery, part dive bar, the Black Boar is a dying breed, the type of place where the bartender will give you a proper glass from which to drink your Corralejo Blanco tequila, rather than a generic shot glass. More importantly, they won't measure out your shot and will instead free-pour it, which could well result in a very generous pour indeed. The Eagle Rock spot also boasts a craft beer tap list that isn't huge but will certainly satisfy your snobby friends. In terms of ambiance, imagine a cozy, dark hunters chalet, complete with prized game taxidermy and lots of booths. As for the music? Well, you probably can expect Black Flag bumping on the jukebox. All in all, it's something of a highbrow-meets-lowbrow bar, where pretty much everyone is likely to have fun. —Javier Cabral
1630 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, 90041. (323) 258-8800, facebook.com/pages/Black-Boar-Bar/232677243413829

Best Long Beach Bar
Long Beach speakeasy the Exhibition Room opened last year. It's located inside a former storage unit for an upholstery company, and is connected to the neighboring Roxanne's Lounge only by a 1940s-era phone booth. It is not easy to gain entry, however. Keeping in mind that it's open only Thursday through Sunday nights starting at 8 pm, this is what you do: First, send a text to the number below, and you will receive a password. Then, go to Roxanne's and enter the phone booth, which is embedded in the wall by the back pool tables. Pick up the receiver and tell the voice on the other end the password. If you're on the list (and you're dressed appropriately), the other side of the box will swing open to reveal a musty-smelling, 40-seat bar, replete with vintage church pews for seats, boozy ephemera courtesy of the Long Beach Historical Society (thus, the "exhibition") and a house cocktail list featuring imaginative uses of everything from whiskey and gin to amaro and bitters. Complicated, yes, but well worth it. —Sarah Bennett
1101 E. Wardlow Road, Long Beach, 90807. (562) 826-2940, theexhibitionroom.com

Prince o' Whales
Prince o' Whales
Photo courtesy of Prince o' Whales

Upcoming Events

Best Bar in Playa del Rey
Pleasantly scruffy and charmingly low-key, the Prince o' Whales is the kind of bar they just don't make in Los Angeles these days. This is not a place to see and be seen or, heaven forbid, sip the latest mixology trends. This is a place to drink and, if you're feeling ambitious, play a game of ping pong or pinball. There's kind of a half-hearted nautical motif going on — whale carved on the door, ship's mast suspended over the dark wooden bar — but the real appeal is the way such a large bar manages to feel cozy rather than cavernous. Perhaps it's because the place is broken up into three rooms, two with full bars, plus a patio. (We counted no fewer than 19 TVs.) The food on offer — potato skins, burgers, a $13.50 steak — is strictly to soak up the booze, not show off anyone's skill in the kitchen. That means that if you order the "Calorie Counter," you won't get kale but rather a hamburger patty with cottage cheese on the side. It's hard to imagine anything has changed here since 1983. There are even ashtrays on the patio. That's something you really don't see every day. —Sarah Fenske
335 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, 90293. (310) 823-9826, princeowhales.com

Best Koreatown Lounge
Koreatown doumis — karaoke-room party companions — and hostess-bar girls might be a dying breed. The last wave of South Korean immigrants in Los Angeles crested long ago, and young Korean-Americans appear to prefer the glamour of Hollywood dance clubs to the grit of K-town venues serving little more than Hite beer and Johnnie Walker Black. But that's not to say that some customs won't survive in a hybrid, Angeleno way. At Koreatown's Cindy Club, a new owner has cleaned up the place and revived the tradition of "booking," which involves a man asking a woman to join him at his table to share some alcohol. Booking is not mandatory, however, and there's plenty of karaoke and revelry to be had for Silver Lake hipsters and anyone else who wants to show up. Basic beer, soju, sake and wine are available, as well as bar food. Getting a taste of Korean nightlife culture has never been as laid-back in L.A. as it is at Cindy Club. —Dennis Romero
4273 Beverly Blvd., Koreatown, 90004. (323) 906-1640

Bull Pen
Bull Pen
Photo courtesy of Bull Pen

Best South Bay Bar
In the South Bay, where new bars sprout up constantly, sometimes you just want to go to a place that had it right 30 years ago. Though it's within walking distance of several brighter, hipper operations, Redondo Beach's Bull Pen is a windowless wonder that still manages to make magic. Its classic 1970s wooden decor decorates what is essentially a giant dive bar, with a dining room of banquettes and affordable filet mignon. Multiple generations of South Bay locals convene here daily, making for a melting pot of personalities whose main commonality is that they enjoy the stiff drinks poured by vested bartenders. That and the live, smooth-rock covers, sometimes performed by wizard-looking men with flutes. —Sarah Bennett
314 Avenue I, Redondo Beach, 90277. (310) 375-7797, thebullpenredondo.com

Larry's
Larry's
Photo by Sarah Fenske

Best Venice Bar
For a neighborhood that's both a bit rough around the edges and positively loaded with the young and the rich, Venice really ought to have a better drinking scene. We blame the glorious scenery: Who wants to spend the night getting hammered when they know the surf will be calling in the morning? Still, there are a few good bars here, and the best of the lot may well be Larry's. Named for SoCal artist Larry Bell, a pioneer of minimalism, Larry isn't douchey, dirty, jam-packed with tech assholes or swollen with tourists. It's roomier, and a bit more civilized, than most of the bars within spitting distance of Ocean Front Walk, and it offers a full liquor menu to go along with the 26 beers on tap. The kitchen isn't always open as late as we'd like, but the lighting is divine and the bartenders are generous with their pours. And while Larry's doesn't have ocean views, the retractable glass doors are almost always open — meaning you'll definitely get a few ocean breezes. —Sarah Fenske
24 Windward Ave., Venice, 90291. (310)399-2700, larrysvenice.com

Bar Chloe
Bar Chloe
Photo courtesy of Bar Chloe

Best Santa Monica Bar
Santa Monica has a split personality. On the one hand, it's beachy and laid-back: No shirt? No shoes? No problem. On the other hand, it's tony: Montana Avenue boasts upscale shops and high-end restaurants. The best bar in Santa Monica should be a perfect melding of these two worlds, and that's the perfect way to describe Bar Chloe. Entering the bar — located a stone's throw from the beach and Third Street Promenade — you step into a low-lit room with chandeliers and candles. Inside the cozy interior, patrons in upscale casual attire mingle in parties and pairs. Bar Chloe, with its seat-yourself policy, is warmer and more welcoming than Santa Monica's "exclusive" hotel bars. Meanwhile, its well-mixed cocktail list, with a new special monthly, is to die for but with prices that won't make you keel over. —Eve Weston
1449 Second St., Santa Monica, 90401. (310) 899-6999, barchloe.com

See what other incredible things our city has to offer in this year's Best of L.A. issue.

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