It seems like every other weekend there’s a new place everyone’s drinking at in Los Angeles. Whether it’s an outer space-themed speakeasy downtown or a three-story dance club hellzone in Hollywood, staying on top of nightlife in this town is a full-time job. But still, nothing beats drinking at a classic.
So we compiled a list of our all-time favorites - those bars we find ourselves returning to again and again. They’re the standbys that make LA what it is. In other words - the Greatest Hits.
If you live here, you should be drinking at all of them. If you’re just visiting and already tired of the Santa Monica pier, get out and try as many as you can. Some are strip-mall dives, some are high-end cocktail bars, and some are somewhere in between. All of them are essential Los Angeles watering holes.
Perhaps because you can only find it under a tiny neon sign in the courtyard of The Largo theater on La Cienega, The Roger Room isn’t always the first place you think of to grab a cocktail. But it should be, because this little spot has some of the best ones in West Hollywood, if not all of Los Angeles. The place isn’t big, but the crowd is cool and mostly comprised of people who know how to drink and comedians waiting to go on at The Largo (read: also people who know how to drink). Get the Spiced Mule or the absinthe-infused Green Fairy, sit and talk to bartenders who will actually talk back to you, and realize you’ll probably never go anywhere else again.
Hidden behind Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, Old Lightning might sound like one of those contrived speakeasies you stopped going to years ago. It’s not. Yes, this reservation-only bar is tricky to get into (they’re only open on weekdays and spots fill up fast), but once you’re inside, you’ll be treated to one of the largest and rarest collections of liquor in the country. The space looks like a tiki-themed airport lounge from the 1960s, and if you want to take a photo, you won’t be able to because they take everyone’s phone at the door. You can come here and stick to their excellent cocktail list, but you should really try a tasting. You name your liquor, the amount of money you want to spend (they range from $50 to $5,000), and then spend the rest of the night sipping Oaxacan mezcal from a distillery that closed in the ’70s.
It’s fair to say that the tiki bar is one of our greatest achievements as a civilization. And LA is home to the Mona Lisa of them. Located in a glorified lean-to in Los Feliz that’s barely larger than your Honda Accord, Tiki Ti is where you go when you want to forget you aren’t in LA for a night. The crowd is almost all regulars who’ve been sitting there since the 80’s, there’s a mechanical toy bull that walks along the bar, and two of those cocktails will have you under the table speed dialing your mom. Just call before you go - they tend to close down whenever they want.
Drinking and bowling have gone hand-in-hand since before the dinosaurs. But Highland Park Bowl does it better than anybody else. The space has actually been around since the 1920s, but closed for a massive renovation a few years ago, and reopened as a magical steampunk wonderland where bowling, drinking well-made cocktails, and eating very good pizza are required activities. If you do want to bowl, make sure you reserve well in advance.
On Vermont Blvd. in Los Feliz, The Dresden is equal parts restaurant and bar. That said, you don’t come to this LA institution to eat. You come here to drink heavily at the bar and watch one of the greatest acts in town - Marty and Elayne. This iconic jazz duo has been performing nightly at 9pm since the ’80s and watching one of their shows is a quintessential LA nightlife experience. Just get there early because they bring a massive crowd.
It doesn’t take a nightlife connoisseur to notice that this list is predominantly filled with sceney destination bars. Located on a quiet stretch of Historic Filipinotown, Crawford’s is the antithesis of that. This is a divey beer and wine bar that every neighborhood in LA wishes it had. The simple space is consistently filled with a casual crowd that probably listens to better podcasts than you do. Also, the hot fried chicken you can order from the bar rivals that of Howlin’ Ray’s.
There are craft cocktail bars, and then there’s The Walker Inn. Below a blinking red light in the back of The Normandie Club in Ktown is a door that leads to one of the most serious drinking establishments in the city. Walker Inn is small, subdued, and the cocktails run upwards of $20. That said, you can walk-in any night of the week without a reservation and snag a table. Not too bad for some of the most inventive and creative cocktails in the city.
This rowdy piano bar on Cahuenga is one of our favorite bars to open in LA in several years. Come here almost any night of the week and you’ll be treated to Wicked sing-alongs, drag queen cabarets, and waitresses belting Celine Dion while pouring tequila shots. This is the kind of bar you stumble into with your friends because you heard singing from the sidewalk, and leave three hours later wishing you had stuck with musical theater in high school.
Harvard and Stone comes from a long line of bars with aggressive themes that get old quickly (Davey Wayne’s, No Vacancy, Breakroom 86). Consider Harvard and Stone the black sheep of the family. There’s definitely an industrial aesthetic to this Thai Town spot, but not in the way that makes you feel like you’re on a never-ending ride at Universal Studios. There’s live music during the week, an actually fun dance floor, and a cocktail list that changes weekly.
LA has plenty of hotel pool bars, but none are better than Tropicana at The Roosevelt. This place is pretty much a party all day every day during the summer - the kind of party you want when it’s 85 degrees out, you have nothing to do until Monday, and your summer bod is at its peak. Also, their food menu is surprisingly solid when the time comes for some afternoon nourishment.
This somewhat-hidden Arts District spot is one of those places that makes getting everything right look easy - great cocktails, excellent bar food, a fun atmosphere, and the kind of back patio we could spend every Saturday night on for the rest of our lives. Get the burger - it’s our favorite in the whole city.
Located on the ground floor of a Hollywood strip mall, The Woods is everything you want in a neighborhood bar: cheap drinks, good crowd, fantastic music, and zero lines. The place is small and dark inside, but you always manage to find enough room to dance uncontrollably in the back. And the woodsy decor (yep, those are tree stumps you’re sitting on) isn’t nearly as dumb as it sounds.
LA has no shortage of great dive bars, but Joe Jost’s is our favorite. This iconic spot on the eastside of Long Beach has been in operation since 1924. It’s where you go to drink giant steins of beer on Sunday afternoons, play billiards with some random people who just came from their weekly bowling league, and eat pickled eggs and pretzels out of a basket. Joe’s Jost’s is a weird, wonderful place that no one should miss.
Whether you’re just visiting and want to see some celebs drinking martinis, or you’ve been in LA for years and aren’t one to ever turn down a build-your-own-sundae situation, the Tower Bar is a must-visit. In the heart of The Strip, Tower Bar is an old Hollywood classic where young Hollywood types still want to hang out. The outdoor patio is a certifiable scene, so bring your best pair of sunglasses and sharpen up that side-eye, you’ve got some eavesdropping to do.
For whatever gay nightlife in LA represents to you, Akbar is the antithesis. Located on the Los Feliz/Silver Lake border, this is a true neighborhood bar and the kind of place West Hollywood could never have: zero lines, cheap drinks, an unintimidating dance floor, and a waitstaff that didn’t bring a stack of commercial headshots with them to work tonight. The crowd is always mixed and everyone is there to have a lot of fun. If the Weho thing isn’t happening for you anymore, Akbar is your remedy.
Let’s call it like it is - Santa Monica just doesn’t have good bars. Or should we say, bars you actually care about. Save for Chez Jay. The nearly 60-year-old nautical-themed landmark is a one-of-a-kind drinking hole where you can get a dangerously stiff drink and a buttered steak all in the same place. There are peanut shells on the floor, the jukebox probably doesn’t play anything newer than music from 1983, and you’re almost positive that weird giant fish on the wall is staring at you. If you want one of the last remaining authentic experiences in Santa Monica, this is where you find it.
Can someone tell us why there aren’t more outdoor beer gardens in LA? Actually don’t, because we’d still only go to Red Lion anyways. The old-school German restaurant in Silver Lake doesn’t look like much from the outside, but go up that dark staircase in the piano lounge and you’ll find yourself outside on one of the best patios in town. The Bavarian theme isn’t exactly subtle, but it feels genuine. And everyone’s having too good of a time to care about anything else.
There’s no part of town that knows karaoke better than Koreatown, and Brass Monkey is its epicenter. If you’re looking for a private room karaoke joint to sing off-key with a few friends, this isn’t your place. Brass Monkey is a crowded, one-room tavern where things get rowdy fast and whole bar sing-a-longs are commonplace. Drinks are cheap and strong, and if you stick around long enough the chances of you seeing a blacked-out B-lister singing Meatloaf are high.
If you’re uncomfortable with a strip club making this list, please stop reading. If you aren’t, get yourself to Jumbo’s Clown Room at your earliest convenience. Because this burlesque club in East Hollywood is one of the best nights out in this city. Get there early, as lines get long, and they’ll absolutely let the regulars in before you. Once inside, it’ll all make sense: cheap drinks, a mixed lively crowd, and performers who actually care about what they’re doing.
Not all that long ago, Idle Hour was nothing more than a local North Hollywood eyesore, and a constant reminder of probably how fun and weird that place was in its heyday. Good news - after a big renovation, the gigantic wooden barrel on Lankershim is back in business as one of the best bars in the Valley. Weekends can definitely get a little rowdy here, but the crowd is fun and that back patio is there when you need some fresh air. Welcome to the new heyday.
El Cid wins the award for that place you always forget about, but then go to one night and judge yourself for not coming more. The Silver Lake bar isn’t much more than a doorframe along Sunset, but walk down the stairs and you’ll pop out into a hidden drinking oasis. The cocktails are cheap, the crowd is cool, and the two-tiered patio (with old movies projecting on the wall) is the ideal casual hangout spot. There’s also a fantastic little theater attached with nightly events ranging from live music to flamenco lessons.
There’s no shortage of tacky British pubs or pricey hotel rooftops or places with a TV so-we-guess-it-can-be-considered-a-sports-bar on the Westside. But a spot solely commemorating the life of Charles Bukowski, the American poet, novelist, and world-class drinker? Not so much. Santa Monica has one, and it’s excellent. The dimly-lit dive has a no-frills 1960’s vibe with lots of tall boy cans, a few pool tables, and plenty of Bukowski writings hanging around on the walls for you and your drunk friends to argue over.
If you’re roaming around downtown looking for cocktails, The Varnish is where you go. Yes, it’s a speakeasy and no, you’re not going to hate it. There’s no over-the-top theme or gimmicky decor, just a good space with great drinks, and a surprisingly low-key atmosphere. Getting hungry? Cole’s French Dip sandwiches are right next door and you can order as many as you want.
If you’ve never had a night you’ll never forget (and many more you’ll never remember) at Saddle Ranch, you actually haven’t lived in this city. This ridiculous, country-themed bar on The Strip is the definition of a hot mess, but they fully embrace it, and so will you. You’re definitely going to make out with someone with a Warped Tour tattoo and they’re going to ask you for a ride back to Yorba Linda in the morning. But you aren’t even mad, because this is exactly what you signed up for. Rage on, lovers.
If you want to go out tonight, but also maybe get yelled at by a retired pirate, Ye Rustic Inn is your spot. This dark, dingy bar on Hillhurst in Los Feliz has a surly waitstaff, loud music, and is the kind of place you go to hook up with someone with more tattoos than you. Oh, and they also have the best wings in the city. A very solid place to watch your team lose on Sunday and angrily troll a sports commentator on Twitter afterwards as well.