10 of Our Favorite Vintage Bars in L.A.

The next time a friend asks you to recommend a hip, new place to drink, might we suggest that you instead rattle off a timeless, old place to drink. Because while the former runs a high risk of being overcrowded or overrated, the dive bars, tiki bars, old bars and older bars listed below will be (slightly) less crowded and infinitely more reliable. So raise a glass — be it a martini coupe, a frosty mug of PBR or a tiki tumbler — to these classic establishments that have withstood the test of time.

Chez Jay
Chez Jay
Colin Young-Wolff

Chez Jay

For nearly 60 years, Chez Jay has been Santa Monica's most star-studded nocturnal hangout, spanning the Rat Pack, the Brat Pack and beyond. Alan Shepard brought one of the bar's peanuts to outer space and back; dubbed the "Astro-nut," it now sits in a co-owner's safe deposit box. Lee Marvin once rode in through the front door on a motorcycle. Staying at his brother-in-law's beachfront pad, President John F. Kennedy used to send a car to pick up a gorgeous blonde patron out back. (Her name was Marilyn Monroe.) The Beach Boys escaped the sun there. David E. Kelley and Michelle Pfeiffer had their first date there. The Murray brothers, Bill and Brian, had their mail delivered there. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Quentin Tarantino massaged scripts in a back room, where Henry Kissinger and various political bigwigs often held court. But Chez Jay isn't just a haven for celebrities — and the luminaries would just as soon blend right in with the crusty regulars. —Mike Seely

1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 395-1741, chezjays.com.

Damon's
Damon's
Anne Fishbein

Damon’s

The front entrance of Damon's in Glendale may be the most subtle tiki façade in town. But once you get inside, there are no punches pulled. It is fully tiki-ed out, with thatched walls and tropical plants and fake huts and bamboo-coated pillars, a look that suggests not so much an actual island bar as a sensationalized midcentury vision of one. The cocktail menu has a large handful of well-made tiki drinks and bar classics — and the tiki drinks are legitimately fabulous, particularly the mai tai and the chi chi. They are fruity without tasting like corn syrup and creamy without reaching sludgy milkshake viscosity. These drinks are also stronger than they taste, and if you come on the right night — Monday for mai tais and Tuesday for chi chis — they are shockingly cheap. No matter how many you have, you'll never drink enough to convince yourself that Damon's is a tropical paradise, but you may drink yourself back to a time when it kinda-sorta looked like one. —Ben Mesirow

317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 507-1510, damonsglendale.com.

The Dresden
The Dresden
Jared Cowan

The Dresden

Perhaps no other film depicts the reality of young people chasing the Hollywood dream quite like 1996's Swingers — and the location that's most closely associated with Swingers is the Dresden. The Los Feliz restaurant and lounge was established in 1954, and it was Vince Vaughn's relationship with the late owner, Carl Ferraro, that allowed the filmmakers the ability to shoot there. "It was a place I started coming to before I was 21. Is that bad to say?" Vaughn says on the DVD commentary. Not only did the film make the Dresden a must-see destination for out-of-towners but an international audience also has discovered the bar's 35-year resident lounge act, Marty & Elayne. —Jared Cowan

1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 665-4294.

The Frolic Room
The Frolic Room
Jared Cowan

The Frolic Room

When a friend comes to town, why not take them to where Bukowski drank? Hollywood's Frolic Room is one of the only places Bukowski obsessives agree that he actually haunted, and a portrait of him hangs above the cash register. But you don't have to be a Bukowski fan to appreciate a good dive bar and, thanks to gentrification, Hollywood boasts precious few these days. The Frolic Room has been around since Prohibition ended and continues to offer a paradoxically classy dive-bar ambience. Bartenders aren't overly tattooed, out-of-work actors but suited gentlemen who will remember your favorite spirits every time you step in. The walls feature caricatures of Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein, two people who almost certainly never drank here but whose images provide a kitschy, old-school charm. —Nicholas Pell

6245 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 462-5890.

Golden Gopher
Golden Gopher
Kelsee Becker

Golden Gopher

With a punk rock–filled jukebox, a photo booth and vintage arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man, this downtown dive bar may well be one of the best in Los Angeles. But what makes the Golden Gopher truly remarkable is its special liquor license, which was grandfathered in from 1905 and still allows the sale of beer, wine and liquor as takeout. Hence the bar's slogan: "Liquor here, liquor to go." At its counter, not only does the Golden Gopher sell six-packs of local and craft beers and a huge selection of Scotch and Irish whisky — you also can pick up condoms, mints and soaps in preparation for the wild night you might have after Golden Gopher closes at 2 a.m. Not feeling so lucky? As a $50 consolation prize, you can take home your own golden-gopher statuette. —Jennifer Swann

417 W. Eighth St., downtown; (213) 614-8001, goldengopherbar.com.

HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty
el daybeh/Flickr

HMS Bounty

At this venerable heap with a nautical theme, big guys with rolling bellies loll at the bar, flinging stories like spitwads. Brooding drifter types hunch over brown bottles. A few blue-haired ladies perch in a leather-coated booth, slicing up their rib-eyes neatly and sipping dirty martinis. Once a hangout for musicians and younger folk seeking refuge from Hollywood hot spots, the Bounty seems to have reverted back to type, which can't be a bad thing, unless dives aren't your thing. Nestled alongside the lobby of the Gaylord, it's essentially a hotel bar that has gone to pot, mutinied against itself, the tablecloths frayed around the edges, the framed photographs fading into the walls. —Andrew Simmons

3357 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown; (213) 385-7275.

Hop Louie
Hop Louie
Star Foreman

Hop Louie

Built in Chinatown in 1941, Hop Louie was never a destination for great Chinese food (the restaurant is currently closed), but it is a kitschy cultural artifact — and the real treasure inside the iconic, five-tiered pagoda is the dive bar downstairs (which very much remains open). The bar pours a deadly scorpion bowl that for years was the closest thing the neighborhood had to a cocktail culture, and all the cocktails here are cheaper than what you'd find at other spots — particularly in nearby downtown. Enjoy the jukebox filled with classic pop oldies, the makeshift dance floor and the much-appreciated, low-key vibe. —Garrett Snyder

950 Mei Ling Way, Chinatown, (213) 628-4244.

The Prince
The Prince
Courtesy the Prince

The Prince

The Prince first opened in the 1920s, when it was called the Windsor. It became the Prince in the 1960s, and the decor hasn't changed much since then. If you've never been but think you recognize the space, that's because it's been in a number of movies, as well as serving as a stand-in for several restaurants and bars on Mad Men. The menu is a hedonist's delight, organized by categories including "small but not so small," "fried cocktail" and "dry cocktail" — the better to pair with your liquid calories, which can be purchased by the bottle, at prices from $30 to $500. The Prince also has a mid-'80s drink menu of improperly made Long Island iced teas, mai tais, Blue Hawaiians and the like. If you're looking for a bit of whimsy with your buzz, this is the place for it. —Katherine Spiers

3198½ W. Seventh St., Koreatown. (213) 389-1586, theprincela.com.

Tiki TiEXPAND
Tiki Ti
Sam Howzit/Flickr

Tiki Ti

There's a lot of Hollywood history packed into this tiny garage (literally, a former garage, and then a violin shop) of a tiki bar. The founder, Ray Buhen, opened Tiki Ti in 1961 after working in a number of bars around town, including Don the Beachcomber, the world's first tiki bar. The drink menu is huge, featuring among its 94 cocktails just about every concoction that has been considered a tiki drink over the years, including many that can't be had anywhere else. Though it famously allowed indoor smoking, that changed recently when the Buhens hired their first non-family employee. (Check the online calendar to make sure it's open; the bar closes during the Buhens' vacation.) —K.S.

4427 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 669-9382, tiki-ti.com.

Tonga Hut
Tonga Hut
Courtesy Tonga Hut

Tonga Hut

Though it's been open since 1958, Tonga Hut has not always been a tiki bar specifically. I'm so glad the owners eventually decided to go back to its tiki roots, clearly the North Hollywood dive's true purpose. The extremely dark bar (your eyes will need a minute to adjust) serves the most classic tiki cocktails in town, all made with love and thoughtfulness, as well as a bartender's menu of new creations. There's a separate 78-drink menu called the Grog Log — if you can finish the whole thing in one year, you'll be inducted into the Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard. —K.S.

12808 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 769-0708, tongahut.com.

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