From downtown to the Valley to the Westside, new watering holes are opening every month in L.A. — just in time for summer drinking season.
Don't get us wrong; we love old dives. But if there’s one thing these new hot spots have done well, it’s raise the bar for nightlife by creating innovative atmospheres and by crafting novel cocktail menus that actually live up to their buzz.
From secret entrances to smoking cocktails to bars within bars, these 10 new drinking establishments are most deserving of your summer imbibing.
The name alone makes this Santa Monica bar intriguing, conjuring psychedelic cartooniness and the promise of potency. But it's the location of Pink Elephant (the old Barcopa on Main Street) that nearly guarantees a stampede. The owners of Areal, a restaurant down the block, took over the place about a month ago and reopened not long after. Interior changes have been minor so far and the DJ nights are still as stomping as ever. 2819 Main St., Santa Monica.
The Houston Brothers' mastery of nostalgic themes has come to be expected. But even for the guys behind No Vacancy and Good Times at Davey Wayne's, Breakroom 86 in Koreatown takes decor to another level. The '80s-inspired bar at the Line Hotel has vintage video games, a wall covered in cassette tapes, retro collages in the bathrooms and even secret karaoke rooms. DJs spin the best (and worst) from the decade of decadence. The cocktail menu, presented inside old VHS tapes, draws inspiration from ice cream truck flavors (the Rockit Pop) and drugstores (Cherry Chapstick). Now all you have to do is find the entrance. 630 S. Ardmore Ave., Koreatown; (213) 268-3056, thelinehotel.com/nightlife/break-room-86.
Downtown has desperately needed a proper gay club (or hell, at least a bar), and Precinct, which touts itself as a "rock & roll gay bar," is shaking things up. The venue encountered some permitting issues, and after opening in late May it canceled a few high-profile events due to more city hurdles. But in the last couple weeks, things seem to have settled. The 10,000-square-foot, second-floor nightclub offers a huge bar and drink selection, ample dance floor and patio, plus food from KTCHN LA. 357 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 628-3112, precinctdtla.com.
It can be hard to stand out amid the flashing lights and untz untz–ing on Santa Monica Boulevard, but Bar 10, which opened in May, is doing just that by meshing WeHo club staples (hunky bartenders and servers) with unusual takes on food and drink. The cocktail menu was about to be updated when we visited a couple weeks ago, but the premise here is the same no matter what's on the menu: 10 cocktails created by the bar's mixologists, each priced at $10. Our favorite was a mojito-ish sipper called the Basic Bitch. The drink's gone now, but we're told the name remains, attached to a new cocktail, because ... it's still WeHo. 8933 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 212-6399.
This intimate new bar inside the Hollywood Best Western isn't exactly a destination for conspicuous consumption. In fact, if you didn't push on the unmarked tinted door by the hotel's lobby bathrooms, you might not know MiniBar was there. Still, like the 101 Coffee Shop next door, it has a very local vibe. The retro ambiance and simple menu of "mixed drinks" (aka house cocktails) are downright seductive. With classics (Fuzzy Navels!) and newbies (drinks inspired by The Godfather and Three's Company), the 32-seat room is a solid choice for postwork imbibing or a final, postclub nightcap. You can't order food in the bar, but you can stumble through the lobby when you're done. 6141 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; 323-798-4939.
"Lounge-y but lively" is how manager Matt Greene described Bar 53 when we visited recently. Rare vintage photography from the archives of Playboy give this Sunset Strip lounge a retro vibe, and the small room gets packed thanks to rockin’ DJs. Opened in June by the Lore Group (which also owns Pearls downstairs, Rock & Reilly’s next door and Barrel Bar), Bar 53 is a homage to all things Hollywood, from drinks such as the Norma Desmond, with rum, Grand Poppy liqueur and kumquats, and the Strip, made with mezcal, lemon juice and pineapple. There's even a drink created by actress Kate Beckinsale, who attended the opening and gave head bartender Topher Taylor her secret recipe for the tequila-based Squad Up. Now that's Hollywood. 8909 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; loregrp.com.
A hidden, speakeasy-style boîte behind the famed Pig & Whistle, this new lounge from Chris Breed (along with Alan Hajjar and Robert Kennedy) recalls an old cathedral — but there's nothing pious about the place. This is a room in which to indulge, from the multifaceted cocktail creations of Frederic Vial (whose Italian background plays prominently on the drink menu) to the sweet and savory bites to pair them with. There's also a "confession booth" (photo booth) for repenting your sins. Or at least playing up your good side. 1666 McCadden Place, Hollywood; confessionla.com.
The Barrel Room
Because it's a bar within a bar, the whiskey-centric Barrel Room might seem like a mere expansion of the Sunset Strip pub Rock & Reilly's, in which it resides. Dig deeper, though, and you'll discover it has its own identity — and is one of the more interesting new bars on Sunset. Also owned by the Lore Group, this just-opened hangout is all about whiskey in its many forms, with rye and bourbon drinks and tasting menus featuring expressions from around the world. Wood-swathed Western decor and a full-size shuffleboard table give this spot a rip-roarin' feel. The "whiskey kit" is what we've always dreamed bottle service could be. It comes filled with snacks and accompaniments for hard-core hootch lovers and liquor snobs. 8913 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; loregrp.com.
North Hollywood landmark Little Toni's is an old-world Italian favorite, and the new bar inside of Toni's has the same chill, vintage-yet-fresh feel. That's thanks to bar star Aiden Demarest, who recently closed his Glendale watering hole Neat to focus on BarToni's full-time. You'll find him behind the bar most nights concocting complex yet unpretentious libations (we had a divine board-special daiquiri served in a pineapple). Menu highlights include a Milano Mule (an Italian take on the Moscow Mule) and a grasshopper "shake." Everything on Demarest's menu works well after dinner — or even instead of it. 4745 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 763-0131.
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The Walker Inn
Extreme attention to detail makes the Walker Inn, inside the Normandie Club, a very special place to visit. Normandie is newish itself, opening earlier this year in the renovated Normandie Hotel in Koreatown and boasting a drink menu filled with reinterpretations of classics. But the Walker Inn, under the same ownership (including Devon Tarby, Alex Day and David Kaplan of Proprietors LLC and Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman of 213Nightlife), takes the ideas introduced at Normandie — such as interactive mixology and thematic menus — to a new place. The bar is hidden behind an unmarked door, and reservations are required to enter. Once you're inside the warm, vintage-stye den, you can order from the book of cocktails or get a series of drinks omakase-style (dealer's choice). Currently, the menu features drinks inspired by the Pacific Coast, but that will be changing soon. Expect accoutrements such as dry-ice smoke, pretty garnishes, sidecars and one-of-a-kind vintage glassware. Even when this place is no longer new, we have a feeling it won't get old. 3612 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 817-5321, thewalkerinnla.com.