For years, L.A. was not really a drinker's town. Sure, we had our share of classic old watering holes like the Dresden Room and Ye Coach & Horses (RIP), but you couldn't hail a taxi, and most bartenders thought Samuel Adams counted as a microbrew. For boozehounds, it was a dark time.
Fortunately, we're in the midst of a bar renaissance. Seemingly every new joint in town has 20 or more kinds of whiskey and nearly as many craft beers on tap, and the recent wave of high-end cocktail lounges hasn't squeezed out the dives with good happy hours (yet). Plus, there's Uber and Lyft. At last, Angelenos can tie one on responsibly and find a good bartender who knows her small-batch bourbons.
To celebrate, we've compiled the following list of worthy alcohol-serving establishments from our 2016 Best of L.A. issue — and arranged them in roughly geographical order, from east to west, so you can theoretically bar-hop your way through the whole list (via rideshare, public transportation or a designated driver, of course).
So, put on your drinking pants. First round's on you, right?
Best Spot for Day Drinking: Block Party
It's been open since late last summer, but modern beer garden Block Party recently expanded its weekend hours to open at noon, making it the ultimate hangout for early birds looking for cool drinks on warm days. Boozy snow cones, margarita slushies and micheladas topped with paletas are among the hits here. They're also some of the most Instagrammable beverages in town, if you're a do-it-for-the-'gram type of drinker. We suggest skipping the photo session and opting for a friendly game of shuffleboard on the back patio instead. When hunger strikes, ask the bartender to see a menu binder — you can order whatever local eats your heart desires and bring them right back to go with some craft beers. On select evenings, food trucks and pop-up patio dinners make a walk to pick up your food unnecessary. —Chelsee Lowe
5052 York Blvd., Highland Park, 90042; 323-741-2747, blockpartyhlp.com.
Best Happy Hour: Nirvana Sports Bar
Sure, there are flashier spots with craft brews on tap and Starbucks-sterile, reclaimed-wood decor that'll give you a measly dollar off your overpriced pint. But there's only one place where, from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays, an old-school bartender will hand you an ice-cold glass of $3 Sapporo and a $5.50 plate of spicy calamari and say arigato with a big smile. At Nirvana Sports Bar in Little Tokyo, step back into the pricing, hospitality and atmosphere of the early '90s. The bar is always filled with a mix of out-of-town businesspeople, locals just off of a shift and a couple of sports fanatics watching the game, and I've never once been there when all those strangers didn't become fast friends. When it's close to happy hour last call, the bartender will let you buy extra drinks at the discounted price, placing a turned-over shot glass in front of you like a drink ticket you can redeem when you're ready. This is how bartenders of old used to do it before they were called “mixologists.” No frills, good drinks, great people-watching — Nirvana is the least pretentious happy hour you'll find anywhere in L.A. —April Wolfe
314 E. First St., Little Tokyo, 90012; 213-625-0066.
Best New Bar: Clifton's
Since reopening in late 2015 with a deeply etched facelift, the historic Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway downtown has developed an unlikely cult status as a favored venue for locals and intrepid drinkers alike. The cafeteria downstairs is still heavily frequented by tourists and geriatric day-trippers, but Clifton's four bars can be a totally different story. Centered around a massive multistory faux redwood tree, the environs can feel like an amusement park log cabin at times, but there's a warm charm and quirky, immersive quality to be found amid the taxidermied animals and ornate wooden furniture. The drinks menu is both ambitious and creative, but Clifton's manages to be approachable, despite its heavy layers of kitsch. Climb up its many staircases and you'll find three floors of bars, boudoirs and hidden nooks all decked out in fanciful style. Everywhere you turn has some strange novelty to ogle, and Clifton's wealth of environments and arrangements can turn an evening into an adventure. That you're drinking in one of the most historic spots in all of Los Angeles just adds to the magic. —Jemayel Khawaja
648 S. Broadway, downtown, 90014; 213-627-1673, cliftonscafeteria.com.
Best Place for Reading and Drinking: The Semi-Tropic
Few spots in Los Angeles transition competently from day to night, from freelancing time to fun time. Billions (yes, billions) of coffee shops both Eastside and Westside make fantastic reading nooks and scriptoriums, but what happens when 3 p.m. rolls around and you're thirsty for something palliative, yet you're not done reading? What happens when the smell of stale coffee and desperation starts to harsh your mellow? You're not ready to go home. You can't go to a loud bar with too many trappings of unwoke civilization, like TVs and a jarring electro-pop soundtrack, can you? Certainly not. Enter the Semi-Tropic, the Echo Park boho-chic cafe/bar perfectly designed to mix suds and literary sensibility. With a bank of sound-baffled couch alcoves, low tables and a just-low-enough-to-be-calming lighting scheme, Semi-Tropic makes you feel comfortable cracking the spine of a good book and losing yourself in its pages without completely hiding away from the world. —Paul T. Bradley
1412 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park, 90026; 213-568-3827.
Best Bartender: Mohawk Bend's Thom Sigsby
It's not hard to find a decent mixologist in Los Angeles, what with the buses emptying them out by the thousands at Hollywood & Highland every day like Okies from the Dustbowl. Some of them come here with sparkling personalities; some come with extensive knowledge of their craft; a select few have the hospitality finesse of 19th-century stewards. But rarely do you come across a triple-threat like Mohawk Bend's Thom Sigsby. Of all of the barkeeps we've encountered across the city, Sigsby is the one most likely to demonstrate his skills and scholarship humbly without ever leaving your glass empty — be it beer, wine or mixed drinks. I've seen him pull off cocktails perfectly paired to vegan dinners, unforced new twists on classic drinks and seasonally appropriate yet somehow unpretentious new concoctions, doing it all with class and conviviality whether his bar is deserted or five deep on three sides. – Paul T. Bradley
2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, 90026. mohawk.la.
Best Inoffensive Dive Bar Makeover: Crawford's
Linda's Place, a dank room with a liquor license, was once the dive bar of gin-soaked dreams. It earned no writeups and made few (if any) “best of” listicles. Certain Bukowski–T-shirted dive poseurs might have found it, shall we say, lacking in literary charm. So, when Linda's ascended to watering-hole Valhalla, new owners arrived earlier this year and took away the dank. Instead of turning it into an eight-kinds-of-IPAs yuppie playpen, they opted for Budweisers and fried goddamn chicken. While Crawford's is not the paragon of authenticity, it sure gets the job done. With red naugahyde booths, a pool table, Buck Hunter, crazy crap on the walls, a canoe on the ceiling and the general atmosphere of a Southern biker bar (or your cool uncle's basement), Crawford's should be beloved by working folks just as much as the people raising the rents in the neighborhood. – Paul T. Bradley
2616 Beverly Blvd., Westlake, 90057. 213-568-3133, instagram.com/crawfordsbarla.
Best Old-School Mexican Bar: The Mexican Village
Los Globos. La Cita. El Cid. So many of central L.A.'s Mexican haunts have been transformed, if only by the new people who now use them to rest their elbows. Hats off to the owners of those three for retaining some of their original cowboy-boots flavor. But if you want to see an old-school Latino bar original and unrestored, in the parlance of car collectors, then head over to the circa-1965 Mexican Village. Yes, it has a contemporary tequila bar and hard-to-find, south-of-the-border beers. But the immigrant crowds dancing to banda and reggaeton DJs are so for real that, if you speak English, some patrons will look at you as if you just came from outer space. Or Echo Park. Founder Abel Olivares died in June. His son of the same name has vowed to carry on the bar's adobe-style authenticity despite offers from trendy nightlife groups to sell out. Godspeed. – Dennis Romero
3668 W. Beverly Blvd., Silver Lake, 90004. 213-385-0479, themexicanvillage.com.
Best Rooftop Bar: Mama Shelter
With foosball tables and a nightly DJ, the lobby bar of Mama Shelter is easily a place you could spend all night and never get bored. But stay on the ground floor of the year-old Hollywood hotel and you'd be missing out on one of the city's most spectacular views, five stories up. The rooftop bar/restaurant — which can be reached from the elevator around the corner from the check-in counter — offers a sweeping panorama of the Hollywood Hills, the downtown and Century City skylines and even the Pacific Ocean if you squint on a clear day. Strewn with lights and adorned with potted palms, the rooftop is just swanky enough to make you feel like you're on vacation (if not, the $14 cocktails will), but the brightly colored lounge seating and game tables lend it the vibe of a casual backyard garden party. Grab a seat at the bar or head to the opposite end of the wooden deck to get comfy on a beanbag chair and watch classic movies projected on a pop-up screen. – Jennifer Swann
6500 Selma Ave., Hollywood, 90028. 323-785-6666, mamashelter.com/en/los-angeles.
Best Bar for a Girls' Night Out: The Powder Room
When Cahuenga Corridor fave St. Felix Hollywood decided to open a little bar next door geared toward party-girl tastes, management smartly kept the femme touches subtle. The Powder Room always has a soft, pink-lit hue, but the atmosphere is stylish enough to appeal to both sexes with its glossy marble bar and baroque, mirror-smattered walls. But the real draw at the Powder Room is the cocktail program, a colorful assemblage of alcoholic indulgences that might seem “girly” when you look at them but possess potent and complex flavors for all palates. Take Cake or Death, a creamy, cherry-infused sipper with egg whites, gin and chartreuse; or the refreshing Mango Tango Jimador margarita. The gold-dusted “milkshake” with sweet liqueurs and Belgian chocolate got a lot of attention when Powder Room opened, but it's the basics and cool new craft cocktails that draw a gaggle of “girls night” gatherings, including the Monster Energy Women's Ultra Mixer, an evening of entertainment biz chicks who get together for media domination–driven mingling. Open Fridays and Saturdays only, it's also popular with couples seeking a nightcap and a sexy refuge from Cahuenga's chaos. – Lina Lecaro
1606 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood, 90028. 323-469-5001, powderroomla.net.
Best Bar to Take Your Baby To: Bar 326
There's this idea that new parents long for nothing more than a trusty babysitter and a date night out so they can feel a little saucy once again and rekindle that fabled spark. It's not true. At all. Moms and dads of teeny babes are tired AF, so once that kid goes down at twilight, they happily do the same. Still, the parenting struggle is real, and sometimes mama needs a drank. That's why day drinking is essential, and Bar 326 in the Original Farmers Market is the perfect place to do it. First of all, it's outdoors, so baby's getting some fresh air and a little Vitamin D. Second, it's a daytime place, so it's not full of drunk creepers (usually). Third, the Farmers Market is a colorful wonderland, so there's a ton of stuff that will set off fun firecrackers in baby's tiny developing brain. Strap that kid in a carrier and take advantage before he develops pesky traits like free will. – Ali Trachta
6333 W. Third St, Fairfax, 90036. 323-272-4928, farmersmarketla.com.
Best Gay Bar: Bar 10
With the shuttering of Here Lounge back in February, and the Abbey's inevitable devolution into a nightly bachelorette party, West Hollywood has been thirsting for a traditional, quintessential gay bar. Like nectar from heaven, Bar 10 has come to wet the gayborhood's collective whistle. Rejecting the garish camp of nearby Hamburger Mary's or the tequila-stained trashiness of Fiesta Cantina, Bar 10 opts instead for casual dignity. The brick walls and sturdy wooden tables reflect an unspoken masculinity, where gym-chiseled guppies go for a stiff drink — not a cosmo or a glass of pinot noir, but a Jack and Coke. The menu offers a solid selection of American comfort cuisine, ideal for entertaining a queer business associate, but your best bet is to hit up Bar 10 for brunch. Its patio sits equidistant from Robertson and San Vicente, practically VIP seating to judge the cavalcade of queer craziness stumbling down Santa Monica Boulevard as you sip your bottomless mimosa. Much like the men around you, expect it to be strong, too. – Michael Ciriaco
8933 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069. 323-332-6445, bar10weho.com.
Best Speakeasy That Actually Used to Be a Speakeasy: Del Monte Speakeasy
These days, any vaguely old-timey watering hole where a bartender in an apron and arm garters takes 20 minutes to make you a $14 drink fancies itself a “speakeasy.” But the origins of the term are far more specific. During Prohibition, when consumption of “intoxicating liquors” was banned, a speakeasy was a hidden bar that required a membership card, a password or both to enter, in order to keep the cops, G-men and Anti-Saloon League zealots at bay. Few bars in L.A. ever operated during Prohibition as actual speakeasies, but the Del Monte Speakeasy, tucked away in the basement of the Townhouse bar in Venice, is one of them. Back then, what is now the Townhouse was a grocery store, and the Del Monte was a dimly lit dungeon of smuggled hooch, accessible only via trapdoor. Today you can take the stairs, and the vibe is considerably less illicit — though the room's low ceilings and antique wallpaper still give it the feel of a Boardwalk Empire set, especially when it's hosting a jazz or burlesque night. – Andy Hermann
52 Windward Ave., Venice, 90291. 310-392-4040.