5 Great Hidden Cocktail Bars in Los Angeles
cocktails at The Varnish
With so many bars to choose from across L.A., some owners have opted to make themselves so special that you almost can't find them -- or maybe they've been there for years, but you just didn't know it. Groping around in the dark or stumbling down a back alley may be some people's idea of an unforgettable night out, but if you want to sip a cocktail in these places -- or look like you're no newbie to this rabbit hole -- then you're going to have to work a little harder. There are no thick-necked bouncers with velvet ropes here.
Underneath the arches at LAX
These huge white arches look like a spaceship has landed and the invasion's begun, but -- though most people think it's the airport's control tower -- the "cockpit" is a retro-futuristic hangout. Disney-designed in 1997, it's a mix of The Jetsons and Austin Powers, and you can choose one of the galactic cocktails like a Black Hole (Absolut vodka with a splash of Chambord), or beer from the silver alien head beer tap -- and then go up to the Observation Deck for some plane-spotting. 209 World Way, Los Angeles; 310-215-5151.
A very secure bar/lounge in the basement of the Spring Arts Tower -- a former bank -- the lounge features a massive 1960s-era stainless steel bank vault door. The booths are the place where customers used to examine the contents of their safe deposit boxes. There are chambers and rooms all over, and you can try a "ghostini" at the Ghost Bar, a bar-within-a-bar -- and a nod to the fact that this old building has strange stories to tell. 453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles; 213-239-9099.
The Basement Tavern
Located under The Victorian, a vintage building originally moved here back in 1973 from near the Fairmont Miramar to become part of the living museum-esque "Heritage Square," this glittery chandelier bar opened in 2010. You have to go round the back and past the dumpsters to find the red door with an angel knocker and a big, blue eye on it. Try the "Delia Elixir" (bourbon, agave, raspberries and lemon), a creation in honor of a ghostly regular. 2640 Main St., Santa Monica; 310-396-2469.
2. The Varnish
Up until the 1960s, Cole's was the bar of choice for the 100,000 daily commuters passing though the Pacific Electric Building before catching a train or red trolley home, and it was also a favorite of gangsters and lawyers alike. French dip sandwich controversy aside, stroll past the ancient pictures of L.A. to the back and find a plain, blink-and-you'll-miss-it door with several small signs on it. Inside, The Varnish is an elegant, wood-paneled, speakeasy-type bar, and though they've been around for a while, be sure to ask for a "Bartender's Choice." 118 E. 6th St. Los Angeles; 213-622-9999.
Lock & Key
Across from Ralph's it's not exactly a glitzy location, and you might miss the pink neon sign outside. Inside it's even less clear. The entrance walls are covered with countless doorknobs, handles and locks -- but it's worth scrabbling for the right one. Heavy black wood, green leather, silver chain wallpaper, candles and a 1920s vibe are your reward. Try their #1 Balled-Up (Bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, mint leaves and ginger brew), and their crispy, spicy chicken wings. 239 S. Vermont Ave. Los Angeles; 213-389-5625.
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