Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
In a town where there's Porn Star Karaoke, VIP karaoke rooms and even American Idol, it's nice to know you can bring your drunken singing back to basics — a place with whisky, two microphones and a sure round of applause. Karaoke Bleu in West L.A.'s Little Osaka neighborhood has been around nearly 20 years. It can throw off the newcomers with karaoke-nazi rules, parking limitations and, well, attitude. If they don't know you, there's going to be some hazing. And we're just talking about the fierce female servers, not to mention owner Ralph or gentleman-bartender Aki-san. There's a small stage and an array of video monitors, but the action is at the small bar in back, where locals such as Tokidoki clothing founder Simone Legno hold court. This is the kind of bar you just know. There's no website. If you put in some time, you'll find a place that's rare in L.A.: affordable (with "bottle-keep" service and $1 contemporary songs), warm and, well, real. 2064 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 477-4794.
Skinny's Lounge is everything you'd want in a NoHo nightspot — equal parts cool, slick, comfortable and dark, like, say, a Hollywood bar/lounge, except, being over the hill, just a bit more laid-back. There's comfortably plush seating; dark, earthy, off-reddish tones in the décor; and an interesting L-shaped configuration with an ample curved bar and an outstanding, classic-lounge-y recessed and curtained stage area where live acts include Metalachi (heavy metal/mariachi fusion), Polesque (artistic pole-dancing revue) and Lookin' for Trouble (classic blues). The dance floor gets pumpin', especially on weekend DJ nights, when dance-oriented disc spinners take over, and midweek nights have witnessed live rock & roll karaoke, with a crack cover band accompanying daring would-be lead vocalists. Drinks are praised and reasonably priced, special group reservations (parties/events) are welcome, and food trucks often park outside. Oh, and they feature "reverse happy hours" with $2 off drinks from midnight until close! 4923 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd. (818) 763-6581, skinnyslounge.com.
Old-school piano bar The Other Side is hidden behind the cozy Flying Leap Cafe in the heart of Silver Lake, but the vibe inside is worlds away from most of the newish attractions in the neighborhood. Aside from dirt-cheap drinks and charmingly cheesy decor (think red-white-and-blue streamers for Independence Day), the Other Side's primary selling point is its talent. Each night of the week is hosted by a different singer/pianist with a distinct character. (My favorites are Tuesday's Lori Donato, an Elaine Stritch type who will order you to turn off your cellphone, and the Broadway-tastic John Randall, who's frequently joined by Judy Garland impersonator Peter Mack.) The place caters mostly to an older, gay male clientele, but occasionally you see a straight couple or two canoodling at the bar or lushly making requests at the piano. It's an ideal spot for a straight gal to take a would-be paramour on an early date: It's the perfect testing ground to gauge a dude's sense of adventure. And if it turns out he can't handle it, you know you can keep going back to the Other Side without running into him. 2538 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. (323) 661-4233, flyingleapcafe.com/tos/tos/tos.html.
I am fundamentally allergic to sports bars. I am also a diehard, obsessive Dodgers fan (this past season, the ongoing McCourt bankruptcy drama only made following the day-to-day game play more exciting — it was like a dysfunctional family epic in 162 three-hour parts). It can be hard enough to find a place to watch a Dodger game amid an owner boycott in Lakers-dominated Los Angeles; it's harder still when you're trying to avoid the blaring, brightly lit domains of white-capped frat boys. That's why I love Snake Pit Ale House on Melrose. With a couple of plasma TVs in addition to a wall-sized projection screen usually given over to the night's biggest game, you're almost guaranteed to be able to see your game of choice, in an environment that's both divey and homey, with 20 beers on tap and a decent jukebox. It's the closest thing to a San Francisco Mission Street bar that I've found in L.A., the place you go when you're into craft beers and Black Flag, but also — secretly or not so secretly — some brand of sports geek. 7529 Melrose Ave., Fairfax District. (323) 653-2011, snakepitalehouse.com.
Rosewood Tavern, a newish gastropub specializing in steak, beer and whiskey, is a much-needed addition to the Fairfax District strip. Finally, there's a place for locals to drink grown-up drinks that isn't the oft-douchey dance bar the Dime; finally, there's a place to get a real meal before or after a show at Cinefamily that isn't Canter's. But Rosewood Tavern also is something unusual in L.A.: It's a bar you can go to in the afternoon to read. With its classy and soothing dark-wood interior, happy hour specials and beautiful, sun-filled front corner window seat, it's the ideal place for wasting an afternoon away, in a literary way. 448 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District. (323) 944 0980, rosewoodtavern.com.
So you've got friends or relatives coming in from out of town, and you want to swiftly disabuse them of the notion that Los Angeles is all swimming pools, movie stars and whatever other bullshit they've seen on Entourage. You need to take them to the Tattle Tale Room. Close enough to the airport that it can be a visitor's first stop right after you pick them up at LAX, this outer Culver City dive bar's raucous, chiefly working-class and frankly moderately sketchy crowd is a testament that our city contains multitudes. After a couple of rounds of heavily soused karaoke, your guests likely won't remember their own names, let alone the names of the hot spots they saw on The Hills. 5401 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 390-2489, tattletaleroom.com.
Some people are lucky enough to be able to leave work at 5 and catch that glorious window of time known as happy hour. For the rest of us, however, the Falls Lounge's schedule is more accommodating, with a later happy hour that runs from 6 to 9 p.m. It's a cozy yet cool spot bearing comfy couches lining the wall, and it's big enough to accommodate your whole crew. As for the crowd, it tends to transition from business-casual to casual-club as early evening turns to night, which means you'll probably fit right in no matter how you're dressed. Topping it all off, beloved old-school hip-hop radio station KDAY is in the house every Thursday night, with DJ Prophet spinning smoothed-out joints and jams that will melt even the most reluctant dancer's resolve. Though it's located on the trendy stretch of Spring Street, somehow there's almost always decent parking. With no cover, there's no way you can go wrong. 626 S. Spring St., dwntwn. (213) 612-0072, thefallslounge.com.
For sure, Bar Marmont features plenty of wannabe and real-life starlets draped in haute-hippie couture most nights of the week. Sundays, however, tend to be sparsely populated and low-key. Could it be because the Sunday night special is buttermilk fried chicken with all the fixins? You know that's not in the diets of the typical waify crews, and besides, you can't be too fancy when you're eating with your fingers. Ask for extra napkins, however, because when DJ Rashida — Prince's tour DJ and one of the most overlooked spinstresses in the city — throws on her mix of funk, soul and house, you'll want to put your hands on someone on the dance floor. Whether you're seated in the cabana-like front entrance or the red-lit, Old Hollywood–reminiscent main room, a carefree air and nonchalant attitude prevail. It's your chance to live the glamorous life while avoiding typically snooty Sunset Strip stares. 8171 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 650-0575, chateaumarmont.com/barmarmont.php.
Downtown L.A. is slowly becoming the hippest address in the city, but a few grimy spots remain. Not far from the flashing lights of the Staples Center and the prefab L.A. Live, Hank's Bar offers a pleasantly divey respite. Keep in mind, however, that Hank's is not fancy, and there's no lingering. In fact, at 1:59 a.m. sharp the bartender will pull your drink out of your hand, dump it into a red SOLO cup and send you out into the night. But Hank's also has a jukebox with an excellent hip-hop selection — everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Snoop Dogg — and usually it's just sitting idle, waiting for you and your dollar bills. Sure, the gruff, burly men at the bar might act like they don't want to hear any rap music, but once the strains of Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" come on, they'll be buying your next one. 840 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (213) 623-7718.
Soccer fans have passed the point where they need to defend themselves to know-nothing blowhards like Bill Plaschke. Thanks to Phil Anschutz and the miracle of satellite TV, fans in L.A. are pretty well set up. The only nagging problem is the eight-hour time difference between the U.K. and the West Coast, which means English Premier League games kick off at the crack of dawn. What to do? Head over to Lucky Baldwin's. Have a beer and an English breakfast and yell and scream. This is so obvious by now that even Plaschke has figured it out. But that's OK. He's welcome, as long as he doesn't say anything. The common complaint is that Lucky Baldwin's doesn't show much respect for American soccer — either MLS or the U.S. National Team. For that, try Alpine Village in Torrance or Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica. 1770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 795-0652, luckybaldwins.com.
"Discos don't open till after dark/And it ain't till 12 till the party really starts," goes the Whodini song, and indeed it's fair to say that at Freak City the partying goes until very late. A combination retail and underground-events space in the heart of Hollywood, the spot is decorated by enough spray-can art, old vinyl and chain-link fencing to recall the glory days of Yo! MTV Raps. It hosts wild ragers that put House Party to shame, which is ironic because the fashions are right out of that film's era, both on the racks — you can purchase vintage threads and locally designed duds — and on the hipster-hop hordes who come in. (You might see fade haircuts, loud prints, gold bling and even foxy fly-girl accessories.) The events range from the disco/house/rap party Studio 84 to the popular Swap Meet, where buying and boogie-ing converge after dark. Enter through the back alley. 6363 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; (213) 446-5413, freakcity.la.
Monday isn't typically the town's most happening night, but it does have the town's most happening karaoke. Ground Control at Jewel's Catch One has a devoted cult following that feels like a family. Everyone's rooting for you, and if you screw up the words or can't carry a tune, often you'll get some good-natured help from the crowd. But what really makes it special is the unique and alterna-heavy playlist: Try finding selections from Groucho Marx, Frank Zappa, My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult or Sham 69 in Koreatown. And if you can't find that special tune you're just dying to croon, MP3J Sark, who put in years deejaying at Goth and industrial clubs, encourages members of the Ground Control family to order karaoke tracks online and bring them to the club. Likely that won't be necessary, though, as there's plenty here to keep you entertained. Aside from the basics — Madonna, Neil Diamond, Radiohead, Van Halen, etc. — you can re-enact Tarantino scenes to Stealers Wheel, romance your sweetie with Tenacious D's "Fuck Her Gently," or get your goof on with selections from Weird Al, Spamalot or South Park. Chocolate Salty Balls, anyone? 4067 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City. (323) 734 8849, catchonenightclub.com.