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Bars

10 Best Dive Bars in Los Angeles

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Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM
click to enlarge YE RUSTIC INN

The debate about what constitutes a dive will never be settled, not even in a bar brawl. We realized this the minute we endeavored to write a definitive book about the subject in 2010, Los Angeles' Best Dive Bars- Drinking and Diving In the City of Angeles (Ig Publishing). After it came out, we really knew it, too. Divey is, it seems in the eye -- and liver -- of the beholder. There are things we can all agree upon, however: a realness, a sense of history, cheap drinks. Unfortunately, these qualities are becoming rarer and rarer, and bars of this ilk continue to close down, including some of our favorites. Since our book came out, the following have shuttered: The Spotlight, Coach & Horses, The Joker, Le Barcito, Dinner House M and The Cat Club.

In a city known for velvet-roped hot spots, signature cocktails, bottle service and opulent decor, here are our 10 Best Dive Bars still fighting the good fight, serving up raw, unfettered atmosphere and inexpensive but excessively strong drinks. May they pour and roar for many years to come.

click to enlarge LINA LECARO
  • Lina Lecaro

10. Chimneysweep:

Don't expect a dirty dive experience at this old Valley haunt. The bar, around since 1962, is surprisingly tidy and homey. Tucked inside a nondescript minimall and just off the path from trendy Ventura Boulevard, this little bar is very much an escape from the retail raging that goes down nearby. Cartoony drawings of grimy-faced little English fellows (apparently kiddies worked as chimney sweeps in the old days?) adorn the place and the sign outside, but the central focal point is the '60s ski lodge-style fireplace surrounded by a cobblestoned table across from the bar. It gets very warm in this area, so prepare to strip off some layers. The stiff, nice-priced drinks will warm you up too, though the bartenders can be on the cool side; they're mostly no nonsense old-timers who may or may not be chatty if you take a bar stool. The 'Sweep may not be big, but it does have some good crevices (there is an adjacent game room with pool, video games and darts) perfect for flirty, drink-fueled date nights. Still, the weekends here get cramped and like most bars, somewhat pick-up-centric. You may find yourself sweeping away suitors around midnight. 4354 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks; (818) 783-3348.

click to enlarge VANESSA BURGUNDY
  • Vanessa Burgundy

9. The Burgundy Room:

The ever-changing complexion of Cahuenga Boulevard aka "corridor" continues to evolve, mostly in the trendy, swanky direction. Sadly, one of our favorite dives, gay landmark The Spotlight, shuttered recently. Which leaves Burgundy as the only remaining beacon on the street for down-and-dirty, booze-fueled debauchery. Uber-dark inside (requisite Christmas lights and colored bar candles set the ambiance) and frequented by a punky, mostly black-garbed crowd, it's charmingly cave-like. Blasting rawk music, bodacious barmaids, bawdy behavior, DJs and dancing -- and head-banging -- collide here nightly. The Burg attracts a heavy smoking crowd, who tend to congregate right at the door, also where beloved doorman and bar mascot Torrance Jackson keeps post, ensuring that even when things get raucous and rowdy inside, the vibe remains good-natured and horded by happy hooligans only. 1621 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 465-7530.

click to enlarge LINA LECARO
  • Lina Lecaro

8. The Roost:

One of the most relaxed bars in the area and pretty much the whole city, this red-hued, woody barn-like bar is always a hospitable hang. You can come in your most casual (even sweats and flip-flops are OK!) but we wouldn't, unless you're being ironic. Yes, The Roost is sort of an off-kilter hipster fave thanks to its locale and its farmy charm. The cash-only dive offers its own private parking lot, free popcorn (there's an old-fashioned machine from which you serve yourself with tiny brown-paper bags) and ample seating. The TV set is almost always on and if the game of the moment isn't showing, it's a bad sitcom. There's tons of seating, most of which is surrounded by dozens and dozens of empty liquor bottles, just like your old bachelor pad. 3100 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 664-7272.

click to enlarge LINA LECARO
  • Lina Lecaro

7. Embers Lounge:

Don't get out to Whittier much? Well, Embers is worth the drive to get your drink on. From the raspy-voiced bartenders to the well-worn booths to the crickety pool tables to the X-rated souvenir dispensers in the bathroom, it's the ultimate dive, the kind of place filled with characters out of some Quentin Tarantino flick. But the main reason to check out this wondrous, fire-inspired tavern is the art. California artist Frank Bowers has work swathed throughout the place, fittingly, depicting topless Hollywood starlets as devil girls in hell. Bowers died in '64, soon after he created the eerie murals and framed works, supposedly to pay off his tabs. Alcoholic art at its finest, and we can't think of a better backdrop for downing $5 stiff ones. 11332 Washington Blvd., Whittier; (562) 699-4138.

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