Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mian, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.
Are you the type of person who actually prefers to eat at the bar? We are, too. Dining at a great restaurant bar is so much more fun than sitting at a table, and so much more flexible. The formality of the reservation and the expectation that you'll order a certain amount of food don't exist at the bar, and often the service experience is far more personal. For dining alone, it can't be beat.
There are a lot of great restaurant bars in L.A., but we've picked a selection that -- for quite varied reasons -- we find ourselves returning to again and again. Turn the page for five of our favorite places to belly up.
5. Bar Amá
Josef Centeno's downtown Tex-Mex restaurant often has the energy of a party, and there's no better place to experience that party than at the bar. The bartenders shake drinks and serve customers with humor and enthusiasm, and the format of bar dining allows you to order a little at a time, which is helpful here -- order all at once and you're almost guaranteed to end up with too much food. The mostly tequila-based cocktails are a reason to stop by even if you're not hungry. 118 W. Fourth Street, downtown; 213-673-148.
You could (and should) sit in Allumette's dining room for a full-on tasting of chef Miles Thompson's wide-ranging, modern menu. But the restaurant is also a fantastic place to stop in for a couple of dishes paired with bar manager Serena Herrick's outstanding cocktails. Herrick's personable, informed service is a pleasure, and the newish happy hour (from 6-7:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday) makes Allumette's bar even more of a draw. 1320 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park; 213-935-8787.
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The bar at Spago is a great option if you want to sample some of what the legendary Beverly Hills restaurant has to offer without the financial commitment of a reservation. And yet it still feels special, like an extravagant treat. Take advantage of the restaurant's amazing wine collection (there are very good pours by the glass) and see if you don't overhear some outrageous L.A. conversations going on around you -- a young European grifter trying to seduce an older, diamond-clad divorcee, for instance, or a few masters of the universe toasting their billion-dollar deal. It's a fantastic scene, and the bar is the best place to take it all in. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; 310-385-0880
See also: 7 Great Churros in Los Angeles
This is one of those bars that's almost more important than the restaurant that surrounds it, though the entire establishment is steeped in history. F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler all drank at this bar, and for drinkers and lovers of L.A.'s literary history there's no better place to sit and try to soak up the magic of those bygone days. The bartenders are serious, the drinks are classic and stiff, and the whole experience is very high on the bucket list of essential Los Angeles experiences. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; 323-467-7788.
When people talk about Providence, they usually talk about the hushed, refined dining room where gorgeous, multicourse tasting menus are served, and eye-popping, multifigure checks are delivered at the end of the meal. But recently we've become enamored of a different aspect of the place and that is its comfortable, quiet nook of a bar. The hosts almost look surprised when you point to the bar as your destination, but once there, you have access to one of the city's best wine lists, as well as much of chef Michael Cimarusti's celebrated menu à la carte. The cocktails are incredibly well-crafted, which shouldn't come as a surprise given the overall emphasis on perfection, but somehow the creativity on display seems like a fun secret, much like the bar itself. The secret's out: For a taste of Providence without the hefty financial commitment, its bar is an affordable slice of luxury. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hlywd; 323-460-4170.
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