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See Also: Best Hip Hop Jukebox in a Dive Bar
An amazing jukebox will tell exactly how connected bartenders and their bosses are to their patrons and the moods they want to create.
This list is composed of those heroes that wouldn't dare let you drink to the adolescent caterwauling of some bullshit Justin Bieber or nu metal. And those freewheeling digital jukeboxes that might allow an interloper to insert crap into your bar's precious soundscape? No way — we omitted those bars for that very reason. But the following ten establishments understand exactly why you make well-curated music-making machines available to the masses.
10. Max's Steiner (or Candi Bar or … whatever it is at night)
Genuine shithole dives always seem to disappoint in the music department — whether it's the house Staind cover band or the ever-present bar-rat that can't resist playing Journey's “Open Arms” over and over. Well, the grimiest shithole dive we know (and we mean that with the utmost love and admiration), Long Beach's Max's Steiner, has upped the game — they keep you bumping and grinding to dive-appropriate albums from AC/DC, the Stray Cats and yes, the Scorpions. There's nothing like blasting “The Winds of Change” to a Hasn't-Changed-in-50-Years bar crowd.
9. Cinema Bar
Fine, they're physically the closest bar to LA Weekly's offices and they don't even put copies of our paper in their doorway. We're okay with that, “Speak Freely” and whatnot. Despite that, we're more than willing to put Cinema Bar at number nine on our list for their commitment to locals and outliers. It's kind of hard to find a bar with an out-of-the-box country selection that won't make you want to slit your wrists — thankfully for the twang-lovers, they've got former Angeleno Mike Stinson's entire catalog, Lucinda Williams and local country balladeer Patty Booker.
8. The Roost
The Roost's spot on this list is anchored by its collection of musical reasons to drink. If two Elliot Smith albums don't put you in instant bender territory, we don't know what else will. They've taken the cinematic soundtrack element to new heights with Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs — if a shot of whiskey doesn't give you the courage to seal the deal, Robbins' “Big Iron” sure will.
7. El Prado
Their jukebox is you. OK, it's not a jukebox, per se. And yes, this is kind of a cop out, but show up on Tuesdays with some records and they'll play them. El Prado also takes the cake for playing full vinyl the rest of the time, a big plus for patrons with good musical tastes who don't want to be pestered with thinking while they drink or have their equilibrium harshed by down-tempo reggae following post-punk back and forth all night.
6. The 101 Coffee Shop
“Everyone plays that Adele album fucking constantly,” a waitress whispered to us when she saw us checking out their jukebox. Despite that one blip, the 101's juke is perfectly matched to its “We're a hip but classic kinda bar and diner” atmosphere. They've got that “I read Pitchfork religiously” sensibility, but then that “What the hell is Pitchfork?” counterbalance. Beach House's Teen Dream, Neu! and The Shangri-La's Remember more than make up for Adele's tear-jerkers.
5. The HMS Bounty
When the manager insists that a Platters album stays on the juke because she had a *wink* “lovely time” after one of their concerts — how can it not make it to the top half of the list? Well, in addition to their CD-based wall unit, they've got the original 45 flipper in the corner that the manager insists will be fixed “soon.” Given the HMS Bounty's history, we wonder what Sirhan Sirhan plunked down for inspiration before he crossed the street and ended Bobby Kennedy's presidential run back in '68. Chances are, it was not Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis or Bird's records — who could shoot someone after Kind of Blue?
4. Footsies / Short Stop
Cypress Park / Echo Park
Two bars owned by Afghan Wigs / Twilight Singers frontman, Greg Dulli, ought to have stellar music selections, right? We've seriously seen anything and everything rad and interesting rotate through these boxes — two whole Bread albums, Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast , Sun Ra and a bunch of Sharon Van Etten. To boot, at a Footsies happy hour, they'll just dole out a hundred credits and let regulars go hog wild. A notable omission? The, uh,The Afghan Whigs.
3. Blipsy Bar Arcade
Kind of like you or your nerdy older cousin's dream basement arcade lair, circa 1992, the Blipsy's messy bedroom vibe is matched by their “30 CDs for a dollar” Columbia House era selections. Thankfully, they didn't go for a straight Alternative Rock Hits ticket. Instead, they've mixed it up — about half is college eclecticism, Nirvana's Bleach instead of “that other one” and Nation of Ulysses and Blonde Redhead. The other half is a very healthy love of hip-hop — RZA'a Liquid Swords, De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate and Beatnuts' Musical Massacre, among others.
2. El Chavo
This one has clearly been filled by the album-obsessed friend that pushes your musical tastes in new and amazing directions. Can, Kruder and Dorfmeister (two whole albums!) and, y'know, all of Paste Magazine's Top 10 Albums of 2011 — because that's practically an East Side ordinance. El Chavo gets all kinds of sheer chutzpah points for going against the grain — sure, you have incredible and iconoclastic taste in music, we get it. No one wants to listen to that stuff while they're being social, right? Isn't Tago Mago an “I'm driving around at night by myself” kind of record? It sure is, but playing it in a hipped-up taco bar is sure to help weed out the poseurs. So is Conguero Sabu's album Palo Congo, Cibo Matto's Viva La Woman, and The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
1. Drawing Room
Owning your own jukebox rather than renting it clearly has its benefits, as this supreme dive bar and venerable Los Feliz hangout can attest. In addition to their bar staff's in-depth knowledge of local punk rock and general L.A. music history, patrons have brought in their own mixes for the bar's decades-old CD slinger. Each of the mixes, like your best mixtapes of yore, has the offbeat tracks that demonstrate a real love of digging for great music and barroom staples done live or or by other people. Their themed mixes range from classic hip-hop to '80s punk to old soul — there's even one with Sharon Jones' cover of “Wild Horses” for the ultimate meta jukebox win — all hip and new but also a soul-style Rolling Stones cover.
Runners Up: Of all of the digital jukeboxes, some of them tried their hardest to keep it real, and for that, we salute Hank's Bar downtown for its hip-hop rep, Sherman Oaks' The Barrel for its idiosyncratic commitment to Mike Patton projects and Mid City's the Cork for its endless soul jams.