Beyond most modern DJ-driven dance clubs, live music venues and bars (the bulk of which are covered in our Best of L.A. Music and Food issues, respectively), Los Angeles offers a bounty of anything but basic spaces and places for various niche interests. Here are our faves this year — from sideshow chic–adorned hideaways and sci-fi geek grottos, to drag-driven and rachet-y rooms, to flashback locales full of dapper deco splendor.
Best Alternative to the Magic Castle
Is your magician connection to the Magic Castle M.I.A.? No worries. For a fraction of the price and none of the membership restrictions, you can see wizardry that wows with a steampunk twist at the latest magic trick from the Houston Brothers, Black Rabbit Rose Lounge & Theater. Featuring Instagram-ready bewitching beverages such as the Dark Arts and Smoke & Mirrors, the dimly lit Hollywood parlor offers a time-warp trip to the turn of the century with its brass fixtures, brick interior and posters promoting bygone sideshow sorcerers from the past. The intimate theater features secret stages and hidden entrances to give audiences an immersive experience during shows, while wandering illusionists create tableside sleight-of-hand miracles as you dig into Thai food. Aside from the magic tricks and concoctions, the occasional jazz night with Fred Durst or a late-night appearance by Lana Del Rey is reason enough to make this gin joint a regular stop. The music, the drinks and the ambiance make Black Rabbit Rose a great escape. 1719 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood; (323) 461-1464, blackrabbitrose.com. —Erin Maxwell
Best Bar to Leave Your Mom's Basement for
Every Wednesday at 8 p.m., self-proclaimed Jedi Masters trek to Hollywood for a chance to show off their pop culture prowess thanks to trivia night at Scum & Villainy Cantina's Geeks Who Drink Pub Trivia. The rules are simple: Teams answer 10 questions for each of eight rounds. Winners can earn a $60 bar tab, collectibles and bragging rights. Debuting in 2017, the trivia game offers more than peer praise and adult beverages, as the Cantina also gives like-minded individuals the chance to mix and mingle. "The great thing about Los Angeles is that it has the best, most talented and creative nerd community in the whole world — of course, I might be biased." says owner J.C. Reifenberg. "There's a real passion that comes from the people who play." 6377 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (424) 501-4229, facebook.com/scumandvillainycantina. —Erin Maxwell
Best Gay Bar to Spread Your Wings on the Westside
The Westside may not be the Mecca of L.A.'s gay scene but, thanks to one gay bar in particular, LGBTQ Westsiders and their allies have a local place to go: the Birdcage. Perched atop the Victorian on Main Street in Santa Monica, the Birdcage features a lounge area, a dance floor and a great outdoor patio. It's only been open for a couple of years, but the owners are still intent on keeping it fresh: They're doing a full redesign of its furniture, music and cocktail list. Currently, winter hours have the bar open only on Friday and Saturday nights, but once it gets warmer, in May, it will return to its usual hours on Thursday through Sunday nights as well as Sunday Funday during the afternoon. Out and proud owner Garrett Gerson is considering having RuPaul's Drag Race viewing parties (possibly as soon as the upcoming 11th season) so that Westside RuPaul fans can watch the show with other fans from the Westside. Can we get an amen up in here for that? 2640 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 396-2469, thebirdcagesm.com. —Michael Cooper
Best Gayborhood Bar
West Hollywood may be the biggest gay neighborhood in Los Angeles but a lot of the bars can get a little repetitive: same house beats, same $14 drinks, same music videos playing on the screens. There's one bar on the east end of the strip, however, that's a little more traditional and a little less pretentious: Fubar. Its name, which began in the U.S. army and stands for "Fucked up beyond all repair" (or recognition), is very fitting for the strong drinks made there. With porn on the screens, barely clad go-go dancers and dirty events like BFD (Big Fat Dick) and Unloaded Friday, this gay bar is definitely not the Abbey. Some call it a little "ratchet," but really it harkens more to the less mainstream gay bars of yesteryear before they started getting taken over by bachelorette parties. 7994 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 654-0396, fubarla.com. —Michael Cooper
Best Place for a Night Out of Adulting
Tired of crowding around a stage trying to glimpse a favorite band while scarfing down a Danger Dog? Why not give adulting a try? Give up the ghost of your former music-going experiences and upgrade to the Rose in Pasadena, where watching retro acts of yesteryear has been refined to suit its fans. Operated by Sterling Venue Ventures, the Rose offers an alternative to the usual small concert-going event with sit-down dining, state-of-the-art sound quality and plenty of eye-candy visuals thanks to projections and an accompanying light show. In addition to lush amenities, the venue provides four nights a week of diverse acts, which range from Stone Temple Pilots to Dwight Yoakam to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It tends to fill the calendar with one-hit wonders and Baby Boomer to Gen-X faves such as Missing Persons, Vince Neil (sans his Mötley bandmates) and Tower of Power. 245 E. Green St., Pasadena; (888) 645-5006, wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/rose-pasadena. —Erin Maxwell
Best Place to Get a Strike With Style
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There are many places to bowl around L.A. but not many that were around in the 1920s. Highland Park Bowl first opened as a bowling alley, music store, doctor's office and pharmacy in 1927, during Prohibition. People would get a doctor's note upstairs, then head downstairs to the pharmacy, which was the gateway to bowling and illegal booze. In the 1980s and '90s, it was the much-beloved music club Mr. T's. The current owners, the 1933 Group, restored the bowling alley and turned it into what it is today, a splendorous place to knock down pins and perfect cocktails. Recently, they've also been focusing on restoring the underground rock spirit of Mr. T's with a "music venue within a venue," which has its own stage and bar next to the bowling alley. As many as five nights a week, guests can enjoy live music from local up-and-comers as well as nationally touring bands. With a Neapolitan pizza program and the signature craft drink menu for which 1933 has become known, Highland Park Bowl elevates the bowling to a class that's posh but still punk. 5621 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; (323) 257-BOWL, 1933group.com/#/highland-park-bowl. —Michael Cooper
Best Dancing and Deco Splendor
Set in the historic Oviatt Building in downtown L.A., Maxwell DeMille's Cicada Club is a magical time machine to the past. Friday, Saturday and some Sunday nights, the art deco landmark comes to life with music, dancing and glamorous fashion from the 1920s through the '40s, both onstage and in the crowd. Cicada Club is the place where vintage lovers get dolled up (women with pin-curl waved hair, ruby-bow lips and swinging big skirts or flapper-esque frocks, men donning suits, hats or military uniforms depending on the evening's theme). Popular for milestone celebrations and parties (they provide a free bottle of bubbly for birthday parties of eight or more), the old-timey radio show–style entertainment features trios busting out bugle boy boogie and big band crooners such as Johnny Holiday, plus others such as Tino Productions' swing and salsa night, Ginger & the Hoosier Daddys' sexy, Bettie Boop–ish bop, Chester Whitmore's vivacious orchestral jams and the Jive Aces' cool swing. The Oviatt, built in 1927 and designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm Walker & Eisen, is a wonder to visit even without the flashback music and dance, with breathtaking interior design touches and gilded grandeur that harkens back to a simpler but no less spectacle-driven time in nightlife. 617 S. Olive St., downtown; (213) 488-9488, cicadaclub.com. —Lina Lecaro