Before the fancy condos came in and the high-end restaurants started opening up, downtown LA was always a nightlife destination. A home to the weird dive bars with no last call, hidden performance venues in abandoned factories, and everything else in between. Downtown was where you went to experience something different. And amidst its ongoing revitalization? We’re happy to report that that statement still stands.
There might be more fancy cocktail bars and rooftop patios than ever, but downtown and its surrounding areas are still where you go to experience nightlife that's different and interesting. So put down that basic margarita, grab your cool friends, and let’s get weird. Here are the 17 best places you need to be drinking in downtown LA.
Part bar, part restaurant, full outdoor patio greatness, ERB has quickly established itself as one of the more reliable places to grab a drink in the Arts District. There never seems to be a line, the cocktails are tremendous, and their back patio is one of our favorites. The vibe outside is definitely more laid-back compared to the interior bar, but sometimes sitting around and drinking cocktails with friends under the stars is what your Saturday night needs.
Let's quickly address the elephant in the room - we were none too kind to this all-day cafeteria when it recently reopened on Broadway. But that review was for food, and this is a drinking guide. And when night falls, this over-the-top wilderness-themed extravaganza transforms into its absolute best self. The massive top floor (only open at night) has multiple rooms, two separate live music areas, and an aesthetic that feels like your in partying it up in an 19th century Governor's mansion. Think brass bands, swing dancing, and some extremely strong bourbon cocktails.
Many of downtown's outlying neighborhoods are seeing a major halo effect from its ongoing gentrification, but Historic Filipinotown isn’t really one of them (yet). But that didn’t stop Crawford’s from opening its doors as an absolutely perfect bar for an area that desperately needed one. The small interior has a weird, dive-y feel to it, with a few scattered tables around, a pool table, and Buck Hunter in the corner. The real hidden secret though? The fantastic fried chicken sandwiches you can order at the bar.
Oh, The Edison - where would downtown even be without you? The massive nightlife mecca (in the basement of an old downtown nuclear power plant) might be the biggest reason the cool kids even gave DTLA a shot a few years back. But despite the fact that its initial allure is long gone, The Edison definitely still holds up. And with everything from a game room to a live music venue to private lounges and girls swinging from the ceiling, it’d be hard for anyone in your crew to walk away bored.
Greetings from the best new brewery downtown. Mumford might not be the biggest or the flashiest in the area, but the beer being cranked out of here can’t be beat. That said, their taproom on the Little Tokyo/Arts District border isn’t some sad cave you can’t find. It’s bright, airy, and a fantastic spot for hanging out with some friends on a lazy Saturday afternoon. They’ve got tons of games (Connect Four, anyone?) and you can bring in any outside food you want. Done and done.
Ktown has a bonafide monopoly on karaoke in this town, but deep in the heart of Little Tokyo is a tiny spot on the third story of a mall that on its own brings some fierce competition. Max is an LA karaoke institution and one that’s almost a rite of passage for new residents. So what’s the big difference? Four letters. B-Y-O-B. As in roll up with two 30-racks and a handle of Jim Bean and Max’s employees won’t even blink an eye. Stay safe out there.
Resident is the newest spot on the list, but it’s not hard to see this place being the next big thing in the Arts District. The entire setup is outdoor and the bar itself is an airstream, which makes the whole thing feel like you’re getting hammered at your cousin-who’s-still-trying-to-figure-it-out's place outside Boulder. The vibe is low-key, the drinks are good, there’s always a food truck, and the attached music venue has a great lineup. Get in now while you can.
One of the more exciting developments happening downtown is its rapid influx of gay bars, which up until recently, was a rather dire scene. And while we love Redline and Precinct for different reasons, it’s hard not to see Bar Mattachine as the most impressive. For one, it’s a legitimate cocktail bar. And two, it’s still fun as hell. The bartenders are actually nice to you, the music is always great, and they have a sleeper very solid Sunday brunch situation as well. Welcome to the neighborhood, indeed.
If you’re downtown looking for craft cocktails, The Varnish is simply where you go. Yes, it’s a speakeasy, but no, you aren’t going to hate it. Lines do get long during peak weekends hours, but once inside, the atmosphere is surprisingly low-key. The place isn’t large, but there always seems to be a booth you and your friends are able to snag. Getting hungry? Cole’s French dip sandwiches is attached and you can eat as many as you want at The Varnish.
If you already know about The Escondite, you probably don’t want anyone else to. Because this somewhat hidden bar on the Little Tokyo/AD border has everything going for it - live music, no cover, great crowds, good cocktails, solid bar food, and a great little patio with views of downtown. Just don’t tell anyone.
We get it - the arcade bar is on the verge of being extremely played out. But that doesn’t stop EightyTwo from being an all-out great time. The space is actually pretty large, with two separate rooms for games and an excellent outdoor courtyard if you're not in the mood for some Game of Thrones pinball. Bonus: There’s a whole separate section with a nightly-rotating food truck for when the inevitable munchies make their appearance.
Angel City Brewery isn’t brewing the best beer in downtown, but it definitely has the best space. Its massive taproom and attached brewery in the heart of the Arts District is spectacular, with tons of communal tables, plenty of corn hole, and a front patio where you'll always find a delicious food truck. Their hours go late into the night, but Angel City will always be one of our favorite day drinking spots in town. Just get there early, weekend lines here are no joke.
Located on the top floor of an old office building overlooking Pershing Square, Perch is the kind of place that makes you realize LA actually isn't all freeways and palm trees. The view of downtown from Perch’s outdoor patio is spectacular, and its fire pits and nightly live jazz music don't hurt anything either. The mood at Perch certainly varies depending on when you're there - weekdays remain low-key, but expect to get dressed up on the weekends.
Library Bar has quietly become downtown’s old reliable for us. It’s been around for a few years now, and though its library theme isn’t quite as enthralling as it was in 2009 (when every other bar wasn't a library theme), you never feel bummed about it. The vibe is always cool, low-key, and never so crowded that you can’t breathe. It’s also got a great after-work scene as well.
You’ve done the Angel City thing a few too many times and are looking for a change of scenery - hello, Arts District Brewing. One of the newest breweries to open downtown, the beer here is solid, but you and the crew are here for the fantastic space. There’s a massive bar, tons of open seating, and an entire wall dedicated to skee-ball. And if you get hungry, there’s a designated window where you can pick up all the chicken and burgers from Fritzi next door.
Admittedly, Villian’s isn’t quite the hot spot it was four years ago, but maybe that’s a good thing. One of the first bars to make the Arts District a nightlife destination, there was a time when Villian’s lines were wrapped around the block and down another. Thankfully, those days are gone, but the bar you loved remains. The dystopian circus theme is still as wonderful as it is concerning, and the outdoor live music is always a good time. And to not have to pay a cover for live music downtown is basically unheard of.
We’ll cut to the chase here - this place is an all-out sh*tshow. But sometimes that’s just where the night takes you. Casey’s is secretly gigantic, with multiple bars, a huge front patio with ping pong, and an entirely separate room full of games you only see at Dave & Buster’s. This isn’t a place you head downtown specifically to go to, but if you’re crawling your way through the neighborhood, it’s a great spot to grab a cheap drink and experience some strange.