Raise a glass to 2015. The past year has been kind to cocktail, wine and beer drinkers alike (for the latter, see also 5 Best L.A. Breweries of 2015) — thanks to the debut of excellent bars that are pushing the boundaries of how we drink and socialize in our vast city. We’ve hand-selected 10 destinations where it's worth opening a tab. Some are exploring the bartender omakase format, some are creating elegant concoctions that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris or London, and some just want to be that divey joint around the corner where you’ll be welcomed with a shot and a beer. Los Angeles, of course, has room of all of them.
10. General Lee’s Cocktail House
It might technically be incorrect to label General’s Lee a new business, considering the space in Old Chinatown it occupies was known as General Lee's restaurant as far back as 1878. It wasn't until recently, however, that the former Mountain Bar space was revamped and revived as a tropical/Orient-inspired, two-story cocktail lounge complete with bamboo barstools and palm tree wallpaper. Bar director Chris Day's current menu is themed around the eight elements of Daoist cosmology, which might seem cerebral but really just means killer drinks like the Mountain, made with mezcal, sherry and pineapple-sesame gomme. —Garrett Snyder 475 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown; (213) 625-7500.
9. Now Boarding
Now Boarding opened its doors at the end of December last year, touching down in West Hollywood with a ‘60s-era, air-travel aesthetic. The glamorous frills of a bygone era permeate everything from the walls lined with booths (the seats themselves are inspired by an old-school flight cabin) to a large mural depicting flight routes across the globe. Aviation-themed cocktails like the Fog Cutter weave zesty citrus into a rum drink spiked with orgeat, while the D.B. Cooper uses muddled watermelon and jalapeño to combat the vegetal twang of a tequila blanco. The bar's sheer commitment to its theme makes for an enjoyable, if kitschy, evening out, but bar manager Wil Figueroa’s devotion to craft cocktails is what distinguishes this spot as L.A.'s true mile-high club. —Brad Japhe 7746 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 848-8447, nowboardingla.com.
8. Bar Bandini
Echo Park is home to many bars, but few have struck a better balance between accessible and fashionable than the recently opened Bar Bandini. Bare and intimate, the interior’s exposed wooden framing lends the feeling of a garage pop-up, albeit one where you’ll find natural wines offered by the glass or on tap (there’s a good chance you’ll find an orange wine or pet-nat on the rotating list) and a solid roster of local beers. We love Bandini in part because it offers such underrated service; it's a place to chill with a glass of Gamay and hold a conversation at normal volume. —G.S. 2150 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park.
With the addition of bars like the barrel-shaped Idle Hour and the literary-themed Catcher in the Rye, the boom of North Hollywood’s craft cocktail scene was one of the year’s major developments. The most pleasant surprise, though, was bartender Aidan Demarest’s partnership with old-school Italian restaurant Little Toni’s to launch a cozy, 10-stool setup in the restaurant’s neglected bar space. BarToni’s pays tribute to overlooked '70s cocktails like the Grasshopper and Harvey Wallbanger’s, but they know how to craft a killer Manhattan, too. —G.S. 4745 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 763-0131.
6. Southland Beer
Koreatown’s Southland Beer is a little difficult to find given there's no street signage, and even when you pull into the lot, the door is barely marked and hiding between a beauty salon and a popular Korean blood-sausage restaurant. Once inside, however, your search is rewarded with a drinking space so intimate and dimly lit, it could easily get away with being a cozy neighborhood wine bar. Instead, the focus here is craft beer, with taps that rotate through special releases from Southern California breweries like Three Weavers, Monkish, Bottle Logic and Barley Forge. The expertly curated selection of uncommon IPAs, saisons, ciders and sours at Southland is a refreshing change of pace, especially in a city where stocking major craft beer titles is now all but a requirement of most beer bars. —Sarah Bennett 740 S. Western Ave., #112, Koreatown; (213) 908-5104, southlandbeer.com.
You know those episodes of Mad Men where they travel to California and hang out in swank, smoke-filled hotel bars? That’s pretty much what it feels like to drink at MiniBar (sans the smoke). Attached to the Hollywood Best Western that also houses the 101 Coffee Shop, MiniBar is the refined yet understated drinking den every city needs. The vibe is mellow, soulful oldies are the soundtrack, and cocktails such as an improved gin martini or scotch with aged rum and amaretto are as stunning as they are straightforward. —G.S. 6141 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; (323) 798-4939, minibarhollywood.com.
Presumably named for the patron saint of brewers, Augustine is an incredible evolution in the world of wine bars, an oddity and a gamble. Here's the premise: Owners Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner (who are also responsible for Bar Covell, the wine bar in Los Feliz), along with Dave Gibbs, opened a neighborhood wine bar with affordable, quirky wines, a short but ambitious food menu and a specials board with around 16 rotating vintage wines from Gibbs' personal collection, available by the glass and bottle each night. Drinking here is a kind of pinch-yourself treat, one in which Gibbs might sidle up and pour you something from a bottle that's lost its label long ago. —Besha Rodell 13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 990-0938, augustinewinebar.com.
3. Old Man Bar
Nestled into a back room that doesn't open until 8 p.m., the Old Man Bar would be a notable cocktail destination even if it weren't attached to Hatchet Hall, Brian Dunsmoor’s sprawling Culver City restaurant. Bar manager Cappy Sorrentino’s drinks at the back bar skew strong and dark, and you’d be wise not to miss the beet/scotch combination that plays with the perception of smoke and fruit in ways that are thoroughly enjoyable. Cocktails here are intended to be lingered over, and the moody tavern vibe of Old Man Bar is an ideal location to sip away your troubles. —B.R. 12517 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 391-4222, hatchethallla.com.
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2. The Fiscal Agent
The original plan for the hidden upstairs space above Studio City’s Barrel & Ashes was to transform it into a honkytonk bar. That concept might have been awesome, but the way bar consultant guru Julian Cox’s first solo venture turned out — as a legacy cocktail spot — is probably more fitting. Enlisting help from some of the city's talented bartenders, including Dave Kupinsky of Eveleigh and Kristina Howald of Bestia, Cox crafted a menu that's both expansive and creative. Cocktails like the Banana Highball spiked with tiki bitters or the Crusta Rhymes made with Spanish brandy are as deliciously complex as you’d expect, but the most impressive part is how it all fits together. The shockingly simple reservation system, the sleek interior design and a well-curated food menu help make the Fiscal Agent the complete package. —G.S. 11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 623-8088, thefiscalagent.com.
1. Normandie Club/The Walker Inn
Extreme attention to detail makes the Walker Inn, inside the Normandie Club, a very special place to visit. Normandie Club is a fantastic destination itself, opening earlier this year in the renovated Normandie Hotel in Koreatown and boasting a drink menu filled with reinterpretations of classics (try the delicate vodka martini blend with sherry and gray salt). But the Walker Inn, under the ownership of cocktail group Proprietors LLC and downtown bar kingpin Cedd Moses, lifts the ideas introduced at Normandie into a higher realm. The bar is hidden behind an unmarked door, and reservations are required to enter. Once you're inside the warm, vintage-style den, you can order from the book of cocktails or get a series of drinks omakase-style (dealer's choice). 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. —Lina Lecaro 3612 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 817-5321, thenormandieclub.com.