When it came to bar crawling this year, it just wasn’t enough to drink ourselves into a stupor anymore. To escape the woes of the world, we wanted — and needed — imagination, whimsy and fun. Cocktailing shifted focus onto classic but infused flavors over freaky “mixology” ingredients, and novelty and niches triumphed over alcoholic niceties. Bar environments seemed to become more eclectic than ever in L.A., if that was possible.
From pop culture–inspired pop-ups (that kept popping), to dive-bar makeovers that were raging reinventions, to conceptual spaces that varied from campy to vampy, it was an intoxicating year in the bar world in more ways than one. Here, our picks for the 10 best new L.A. bars of 2017.
1. Sunset & Vinyl
This hidden-away hole in the wall above 800 Degrees Pizza on Hollywood and Vine feels like the boho crash pad of your coolest friend, with vintage furniture, sexy mood lighting and a killer record collection to peruse and use. Your friend might not let you plow through and play his albums, but at Sunset & Vinyl they encourage it. Pick a record, give it to the 'tender at the bar, and soon, your selection is on the turntable, providing ambience for the party. At a capacity of about 40, Sunset & Vinyl's scene feels like an intimate get-together among your best pals. Drinks here are designed to be sipped alongside the classic soundtrack, with greatest hits including the Backroom — vodka, Becherovka, lime juice and ginger beer — and the Sit and Spin, a mix of bourbon, strawberry pureé and cucumber. Still, classic drinks tend to go best with classic rock. Swigging a beer, looking through records and soaking in selections from the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash (and even later stuff from the ’80s and ’90s) might be the simplest pleasure of all. Clever logo, concept, cocktail menu and busy location aside, Sunset & Vinyl is the chill, back-to-basics dive that Hollywood needed, a groovy grotto that's less about what you imbibe and more about the vibe. 1521 Vine St., Hollywood; (424) 646-3375, sunsetandvinyl.com.
2. Lono Hollywood
Tiki is still trendy, but in a city like L.A. (which already has some of the best and most historic tiki dives in the country), attempts at typical kitsch don’t cut it. Lono took a different approach. The style-driven sensibilities of Melrose Umbrella Co. (same owners) are on full display here, meshing Old Hollywood glamour with tropical vacay vivaciousness. The inventive drink menu offers some nice Hawaiian punches featuring a multitude of intoxicating ingredients (as all good tiki drinks should). The mai tai, made with four rums and house-made orgeat, is a tart and tangy trip in a glass, while the mezcal cocktail called Ring of Fire lives up to its name with a sensual smokiness that lingers on the tongue and throat. The Suffering Bastard, touted as a hangover cure, offers a little hair-of-the-dog drinkin’ with a bourbon, gin and ginger mix, while the ominous Curse of Lono is apparently the spirit to fear and revere (only the owners know what’s in it and they promise it will haunt you). The Asian/Polynesian food menu is, thankfully, not mysterious, and it’s tasty too. You won't get lei’d here, so wear your floral finest and be ready for a retro, island-style frolic. 6611 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 848- 4475, lonohollywood.com.
3. Beetle House
Saying its name three times won't get you into Beetle House (you’ll have to make a reservation and order the prix fixe dinner menu to enter the restaurant part), but its dark splendor can be experienced at the bar without eating, an easy walk-in and really, the best way to dive into this cinematic circus in the former Cinespace building. It’s as if you died and went to Tim Burton heaven at this venue inspired by the genius, gothic-minded filmmaker. From Burtonesque decor to fan art to people dressed as characters from your favorite Burton films, Beetle House — which also has a New York location — is an immersive fantasy experience. The drink menu, inspired by films such as Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland, features fiendish flavors like pumpkin spice (year-round!) and apple cider, visually enhanced with black and white ice cubes and/or garish garnishes. If you fell down the rabbit hole and into a bar, this would be it, a place where every day is Halloween and, for film fans, it's more a dream than a nightmare. 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (929) 291-0337, beetlehousenyc.com.
4. Black Rabbit Rose
Hollywood’s most magical new bar is a theater and bar in one, conjuring the romance of a forgotten era. In the former Butchers & Barbers space, Houston Hospitality’s latest features a cabaret-style assortment of performers heavy on illusionists and magicians, and sprinkled with burlesque dancers and torch singers. Thematic nightlife is nothing new for the guys who brought us Harvard & Stone, No Vacancy, Dirty Laundry, Pour Vous, La Descarga, Good Times at Davey Wayne's and Breakroom 86, but Black Rabbit Rose is a little bit different — more intimate and maybe more authentic-feeling than anything they’ve done before, with sexy speakeasy style details and swaths of red everywhere you look. They even have the creepy Zoltar fortune teller machine from the movie Big. Must-try drinks include the Dark Arts, an all-black concoction with a real rose petal topper; Smoke N’ Mirrors, a gin, sweet vermouth and Campari mix; and the Bullet Catch, fusing mezcal, lime, honeydew and habanero. 1719 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood; (323) 461-1464, blackrabbitrose.com.
5. Bar Clacson/The Slipper Clutch
213 Hospitality’s Bar Clacson is a no-frills drinking hole, a casual yet classy space with fairly priced drinks, bar snacks and an open, relaxed feel. It’s a basic bar that ain’t basic, with fine craft cocktails and 18 taps, attracting an anything-but-basic crowd. Its sister bar (located in the back of the building), Slipper Clutch, has an equally solid menu if a more thematic identity. It's a retro, New York–style joint with punk and rock & roll references from the ’80s such as cool neon and video games. Try the old-fashioned (from a soda gun) or any of the classics made neat at the Clutch and varied at Clacson: Jack & ginger and vodka cranberry or “r(h)um” & Coke, with coconut rum and soda they make themselves. Drinks can be ordered in one bar and taken to the other — bar-hopping made easy! 351 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 265-SIPS, barclacson.com.
6. The San Fernando
The Big Fish was one of our favorite dives in L.A., mainly because of its unassuming style, which attracted a longtime loyal crowd in Glendale. But it lacked atmosphere. Dive-bar makeovers aren’t always successful but this one’s transformation, from the rather austere Fish to the ’40s-flaired San Fernando, was. The bar takes inspiration from its surroundings, namely the railroad tracks across San Fernando Road, where it’s located. Conjuring an old-timey station feel, the bar features art deco fixtures, metal and woods accents and an impressively large barstool-lined area (with USB chargers so you can be fully juiced for those Instagram selfies of you getting juiced). And you’ll want pics of your "shaken and stirred" libations here, with drinks like the Impostor, a jalapeño- and fennel-infused rye sipper, or the Strawberry W.C. Fields, with Templeton Rye, strawberry puree and black cherry balsamic. Live jazz and a tasty bar menu should see this one chug along quite nicely for years to come. 5230 San Fernando Road. Glendale; (818) 244-6442, thesanfernando.com.
7. Girl at the White Horse
Another beloved dive bar that got a new lease on life this year, the White Horse, now called Girl at the White Horse, looks like the bar locals remember on Western Avenue on the outside. But inside it's unrecognizable from its dingy past, with pretty pink walls, quirky art and plush seating. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on your sensibility, but there is no denying this place, from owners of Tenants of the Trees,, has a punky yet chic energy that’s palpable. Designed with plenty of nooks to nestle, make out and hang out in, the Girl is hip and fashionable but not self-consciously so. OK, maybe the drinks are consciously on-trend (mezcal again, and froze!) but they are well-crafted and flavorful, belying their intentionally lowbrow (paper cups and straws) presentation. DJs play hip-hop and other 'tude-ish tunes, and on weekends it gets packed, mostly with 20-somethings unaware of its previous incarnation and famous faces getting comfy in the bar’s private crevices. 1532 N. Western Ave., East Hollywood; girlatthewhitehorse.com.
8. Scum & Villainy Cantina
The force has proven strong with this Star Wars pop-up in the former Loaded space. It was supposed to be temporary but has proven so popular, it’s staying put in 2018. Owner JC Reifenberg calls it a “geek bar," but Jedi-minded juicing is still the focus, and with the latest film in the franchise just released, it’s been more packed than ever. Wretched Blue Milk (rum, blue curaçao, Coco Lopez and pineapple) is the house specialty. There's an array of libations from both the Dark Side and the Light Side, plus food like Twin Sun Tacos and Cantina Quesadillas. All are Jedi-worthy. Patrons are encouraged to come in costume; groups who do so get special discounts on drinks. Expect plenty of weird-looking, strangely dressed creatures and beasts getting boozy here .... ya know, typical Hollywood Boulevard riffraff. 6377 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; scumandvillainycantina.com.
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9. Le Petite Taqueria
h.Wood Hospitality is known for attention to detail at its establishments (Bootsy Bellows, Blind Dragon, Delilah’s, the Nice Guy), and this new one is no exception. Opened just after its newest velvet-roped hot spot, Club Poppy, next door, this more intimate room in the former STK location is all casual luxe with a quirky Mexican menu and a special “Ainoko” tasting menu (meshing Japanese and Mexican cuisine, made to order at its own bar). The combo of soft light, ornate decor and funky hip-hop music makes this a low-key but still “scene-y” alternative to h.Wood’s other properties. We recommend sitting at the bar and ordering drinks (the models who hang here seem to like it) like skinny margaritas that actually taste great and silly but yummy sippers like the Petite Daiqueria (flor de cana, lime and a tamarind lollipop) or the Rum! The Popo’s Coming (dark rum, coffee and egg whites). 755 La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Grove; (310) 855-7223, petitetaqueria.com.
10. Bar Angeles
When it opened, a lot was made of the Silver Lake gastropub's removal of the famed "Elliott Smith wall." The red, black and white music store mural was partially replaced by a window, and the piece was moved inside the bar. Let's forget about the controversy for a second and judge the bar on its own merits, shall we? The drinks are delicious (faves: the Walkabout — gin, curaçao, absinthe — and the F Word — bourbon, amaro angeleno, montenegro, bitters) and the bites are too (try the Brussels sprouts and burrata and crave them for eternity). Angeles is a relaxed option for date nights and friend meetups in the neighborhood, and probably would have been embraced as such without the mural uproar. Friendly staff and high-quality cocktails and food have seen the naysaying fade, though. Besides, natives know the mural was there long before it was featured on Smith’s final album, inspiring fan graffiti after he died. Bemoaning the changing landscape is one thing, but the bar name (a Smith tune) was meant as homage, and once you're there, there's nothing about B.A. that feels like it cashes in, which is why it'll probably last way beyond 2017. 4330 Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake; (323) 741-8371, barangeles.com.