For our 2017 Best of L.A. issue, we decided to focus on the neighborhoods that make the Greater Los Angeles area such an endlessly fascinating metropolis. That in turn led us not only to our city's newest and hottest cocktail bars and craft beer emporiums, but to old, off-the-beaten-path favorites that don't always get their due. Whether you want an omakase-style cocktail tasting menu or a cheap well drink, a fancy themed bar or a cozy dive, these are our picks for the 10 best places to drink in Los Angeles in 2017.
Best New Cocktail Bar: Good Housekeeping
Even in a neighborhood as jam-packed with bars as Highland Park, this tiny building in the alley behind the recently opened Cafe Birdie is a welcome addition: a craft cocktail joint that manages to feel both upscale and unpretentious, with a stylish but spartan brick-walled interior and a drinks menu that rivals anyplace in town. Named after the peeling sign left over from the space's former days as a discount furniture store, Good Housekeeping is the work of bar director Alex Barbatsis and an A-team of mixologists who keep the specialty cocktail menu regularly updated with deliciously original concoctions and riffs on old classics. When they opened last fall, the star of the show was a charcoal-filtered Manhattan; this past summer, it was a toss-up between Barbatsis' Los Angeles Sour, a whiskey sour variation with peach liqueur and habanero bitters, and Lauren Pool's Down Under, an aromatic mix of rum, orgeat and the German digestif Underberg. With no TVs and no happy-hour specials, it's a quiet, candlelit refuge from its noisier, hipster-swamped neighbors. — Andy Hermann
5635 N Figueroa St., Highland Park; 323-739-6928, goodhousekeepinghlp.com.
Best New Craft Beer Bar: Beer Belly
The best part about the Beer Belly in downtown Long Beach isn't the sudden south-county availability of the decadent Death by Duck fries, or even the location's addition of an equally indulgent brunch menu, something the original Beer Belly in Koreatown could never churn out of its tiny kitchen. It's something much more simple: the beer. Beyond the artery-clogging art of chef Wes Lieberher (a lure, to be sure), the original 12-tap gastropub earned its iconic status thanks to the beer-curating prowess of owner Jimmy Han, who has a knack for procuring special kegs of the latest beers from small, independent breweries across the county (think: Highland Park Brewery, Phantom Carriage, Ladyface and more). In Long Beach, a growing craft beer destination in its own right, Han has twice as many taps to play with — along with a liquor license that allows for both traditional and beer-infused cocktails. The result is a consistent lineup that reads unlike anything south of the 10 freeway, filled with a mix of hard-to-find stalwarts, such as Smog City's Little Bo Pils, Mumford's IPAs and rare sours from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing. — Sarah Bennett
255 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; 562-436-2337, beerbellyla.com.
Best New Gay Bar: The Chapel
The Chapel is like the twinky little brother of the Abbey. Both were conceived by high-profile nightlife daddy David Cooley, and while little baby Chapel may lack the size and clout of his elder sibling, there is an undeniable familial resemblance. Replacing the ultra-modern decor of HERE Lounge, the longtime gay watering hole, the Chapel has the same pseudo-Gothic elements that adorn the Abbey: cast-iron gates, religious statuary, stained glass windows. The two establishments share the same aesthetics, with the biggest difference in the menu — or lack thereof. "It's your neighborhood bar but without the food," Cooley concisely explained during a soft-opening event for the Chapel back in October 2016. In a neighborhood of carb cutters, this omission is considered a plus. Another advantage this gayby has is that it lacks the irritating drama and tourist glut generated by its big bro's reality series What Happens at the Abbey. The Chapel delivers a streamlined, old-school, Abbey-esque experience without all the narcissism. It's like dumping the popular jock to go out with his sweet kid brother. — Michael Ciriaco
696 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood; 310-289-8410, theabbeyweho.com/thechapel.
Best Gay Bar That Isn't Overrun by Straights: The Eagle
The LGBTQ community has made a lot of progress in recent years, and its members at least are more accepted than they were before. One side effect of this has been the increase in straight people who go to gay bars. This sometimes take the form of a bachelorette party, or of straight girls wanting to avoid getting hit on (of course, straight men realize this and show up to hit on them anyway). As a result, many "gay" bars in Los Angeles can feel almost the same as straight ones. Hetero and homosexual people partying together isn't a bad thing, but the LGBT community still needs a place of its own to call home. One of the few gay bars that hasn't been overrun by straights is the Eagle L.A., an LGBT leather bar in Silver Lake. Events like Rough Sex, Mr. Bear L.A. Contest, Meat Rack and Tightwad Tuesdays, combined with decor that includes neon genitals on the wall and porn on the screens, may keep away the average straight person who's expecting a scene like the Abbey. Nevertheless, if you aren't LGBT but have an open mind and a leather jacket, the bar is still a welcoming place, with extremely friendly clientele and staff. If you're gay and just want a break from all the hetero people you're around every day, the Eagle L.A. is probably your best bet. — Michael Cooper
4219 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-669-9472, eaglela.com.
Best Karaoke Bar: Cafe Brass Monkey
In a town like Los Angeles, where every other waiter or Lyft driver is an aspiring singer, karaoke bars can be intimidating. Hell, some karaoke bars even have real artists showing up undercover, like when Jewel dropped in at the Gaslite in Santa Monica a few years back. So what about people who just want to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in public but don’t sound quite like Freddie Mercury? Luckily, there’s one karaoke bar that offers the best of both worlds: Cafe Brass Monkey. Located behind a Bank of America and next to a sports club, the Brass Monkey attracts singers with amazing voices that will blow you away, but its low-pressure atmosphere makes it a safe space for those not able to hit the high notes. The place isn’t huge, so get there early on weekend nights if you want to sign up to sing. Even if you have to wait a while, the people-watching — and listening — are just as thrilling as taking the stage. — Michael Cooper
3440 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown; 213-381-7047, cafebrassmonkey.com.
Best Dive Bar Makeover: Gold Diggers
Gold Diggers was transformed from creepy strip club to cool scenester hub earlier this year, but its owners have been relatively low-key about the takeover until recently, letting the space find its groove organically. Melanie Tusquellas (of the now-shuttered El Chavo) and Dave Neupert (Short Stop, La Cita, Footsies) have turned the once dingy and sad dive bar into a gilded grotto that spotlights the space's original allure; they stripped the walls inside to reveal gorgeous flocked wallpaper from decades ago. There's more to come at the legendary space, which once was home to Plan 9 From Outer Space filmmaker Ed Wood's studio, as its stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard evolves, possibly including recording studios and a hotel. The stripper pole may be gone but Gold Diggers still offers a unique mix of sexy, sketchy neighborhood ambiance enhanced by stiff drinks and hot DJs spinning everything from metal (every other Saturday) to international funk and disco (Fridays). — Lina Lecaro
5632 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; 818-562-3062.
Best Hidden Cocktail Lounge: The Walker Inn
Even on weeknights, the Normandie Club usually is bustling with Koreatown's growing hipster class. But walk past the fedoras and sleeve tattoos to a locked door back by the bathrooms (helpfully labeled "Secret Door"), push the buzzer, and you'll be escorted into a quieter, wood-paneled lounge where it's all about the booze, not the scene. Opened in 2015, the Walker Inn became almost immediately famous for its unique, omakase-style cocktail tasting menu, and it's definitely worth trying if you're feeling adventurous. For $70 (or $40 for a shorter late-night version), you'll be treated to five courses of whimsical potables all based around a theme, which could be seasonal ("Winter Citrus"), conceptual ("A Day & Night at Sea") or a combination of seasonal, conceptual and silly ("Wet Hot American Summer," which featured one drink served in a Capri Sun pouch). But you can also skip the Willy Wonka–like concoctions of the tasting menu and just hang out in the lounge, which offers sophisticated spins on dozens of classic cocktails, from mai tais to martinis, all made with top-shelf liquor and an attention to detail that justifies their $16 to $18 price tags. — Andy Hermann
3612 W. 6th St., Koreatown; 213-263-2709, thewalkerinnla.com.
Best Magic-Themed Bar That Features Actual Magic: Black Rabbit Rose
When the Houston Brothers closed down their restaurant/bar Butchers & Barbers last year to reinvent the space, it was safe to assume they would launch another themed bar — that's what twins Mark and Jonnie are good at, after all. Good Times at Davey Wayne's, Breakroom 86 and No Vacancy each have their shtick, and Black Rabbit Rose does, too: the whimsical world of old-school magic. Just inside its doors, a dimly lit, wood-paneled bar greets you with velvet booths and leather stools. Murals of magicians like Chung Ling Soo adorn the exposed brick walls as you munch on Chinese and Thai small plates (from next-door takeout window Crying Tiger) and sip craft cocktails. There's even a Zoltar fortune-telling machine in the lobby. But this is not just another "themed" bar. The other half of the building is the Black Rabbit Rose Theater, a small, speakeasy-esque showroom that runs a top-notch variety program showcasing burlesque, comedy and sleight-of-hand magic that will blow even the biggest skeptic's mind. Think of it as an intimate Magic Castle, one you don't need a membership to attend. — Katrina Nattress
1719 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood; 323-461-1464, blackrabbitrose.com.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Best Place to Pre-Game Before the Forum: Three Weavers
Inglewood has no shortage of great restaurants (Coni'Seafood, Dulan's, etc.), but when it comes to places for tipping back a few cold ones before a night out at the fabulous Forum, the options dwindle. That is, until Three Weavers Brewing opened three years ago in an industrial park spitting distance from Randy's Donuts, turning the 'Wood into a bona fide craft beer destination. With award-winning brewer Alexandra Nowell at the helm, Three Weavers makes a wide range of European- and American-style beers that are dry, clean and brewed with Nowell's signature, expert precision. Use your next trip to the Forum as a chance to sift through the five core beers (from Deep Roots ESB to Stateside Session IPA) or dive into Nowell's creative side with the brewery's dozen other taps, which recently included the hometown-love experimental Inglewood IPA. And when the NFL stadium is all built, expect Three Weavers to be the best place to grab some growlers for that tailgate party, too. — Sarah Bennett
1031 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood; 310-400-5830, threeweavers.la.
Best Neighborhood Bar That's Not in Your Neighborhood: Harold's Place
This longtime bar in San Pedro that once drew a crowd of bikers and meth-heads is visually unremarkable. Like so many neighborhood hangouts, Harold's Place has a pool table and is adorned with the usual generic poster advertisements for beer, along with an almost sarcastic painting of the sun setting over a tropical beach, which hangs in stubborn contrast to the dive bar's dark and murky ambiance. Fittingly for a dive in Charles Bukowski's old hometown, the drinks are relatively cheap, and the joint opens daily for hardcore barflies at 6 a.m. But what makes Harold's Place truly special are the bands that play there. The bar doesn't host live music most nights, but when there is a show, the tiny afterthought of a stage is often crowded with such South Bay punk, jazz, surf and underground legends as The Alley Cats, Mike Watt, The Last and Saccharine Trust. This little dump packs in a ton of talent. — Falling James
1908 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro; 310-832-5503.