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 the best ones in West Hollywood, if not 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.
Plain and simple, the nightlife situation currently going down at Clifton’s is on a different level than anyone else. Ignore the subpar cafeteria on the main floor, and head up the staircase to discover a multi-level (and multi-bar) drunken extravaganza. Think jazz bands, swing dancing, aggressive taxidermy, and a hidden tiki bar speakeasy on the top floor. If you want to know where all of LA is on a Saturday night, look no further than Clifton’s.
The concept of heavy drinking and bowling is not a new one. But The Spare Room has figured out a way to do it just a bit better than everybody else. The upstairs bar in The Roosevelt Hotel has a speakeasy feel to it, except for the fact that it’s actually quite big and not too hard to get into. There are large (and actually comfortable) areas for you and your friends to take over, the cocktails are great (beware of the tiki punch bowls), and the bowling is done the old-fashioned way - by writing down your scores. No tacky TVs or bad 90’s music blaring over the sound system, just a cool vibe you wish you could find more of in Hollywood.
LA’s craft brewery scene is among the best in the country. But unless you’re a diehard beer snob, you aren’t running all over city drinking new releases inside random tap rooms. Which brings us to Surly Goat. The West Hollywood craft beer bar certainly doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside you’ll find the best craft beer stock in the city. Don’t know anything about beer? There are screens above the bar telling you everything you need to know about each beer on tap tonight. You don’t drink beer? There’s still a full bar, shuffle board, and a great side patio to hang out on all night.
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.
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.
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, cocktails run upwards of $20, and reservations for one of its few tables should be made weeks in advance. But it’s all worth it. Because with monthly cocktail themes that range from Wet Hot American Summer to the PCH to In N Out, this is a drinking experience unlike anything else.
Located on the ground floor of a fantastically rundown 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 loves bars with weird entrances more than most people like their families. And at Davey Wayne’s, your route is through a run-down refrigerator in a garage. And on the other side of that run-down refrigerator? The 1970’s house party of your drunken dreams. Chill out in the living room and listen to the live band, or get rowdy in the backyard with the snow-cone machine and maybe another band on the roof. It’s all insane and gimmicky, but if you can’t find fun at Davey Wayne’s, we can’t help you.
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.
We can all agree that the novelty of the speakeasy bar has died, been placed into a canoe, lit on fire, and pushed out onto open water. But that’s not to say the best ones still aren’t going strong. Located in an old nuclear power plant downtown, The Edison isn’t just a speakeasy, it’s an entire prohibition theme park. The space is seemingly endless, with game rooms, live music venues, private lounges, and anxiety-inducing aerialists swinging around overhead. If you’re looking to blow it out, The Edison is still one of LA’s best spots for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As downtown’s craft beer scene continues to gain respect among the beer snobs, Angel City is doing what it does best - making your Saturday afternoon that much more fun. No, this is not the best beer place downtown, and that’s ok. This Arts District tap room resides in a massive old warehouse and has all the lawn games, food trucks, and community tables you could ever want for your day-drinking extravaganza.
You’re damn right The Abbey is on this list. We’re well aware a Saturday night here is dominated largely by horny Brentwood housewives and teenagers from Pomona looking for a ride home, but when you’re the biggest money-making bar in the city and arguably the most recognizable gay bar in America not named Stonewall, you win. The move here is always on a weeknight when the crowds are more local and you and your friends can actually find a few square feet on the (many) dance floors. Don’t sleep on that Sunday brunch either.
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.
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’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.
For whatever The Abbey 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.
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.
We read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as kids. Send us through an armoire to get into a bar, and we’ll be there every damn weekend. But as cool as the entrance to La Descarga is (seriously, it never gets old), it’s what’s on the other side that makes this place so great. A Cuban-themed, rum-filled Narnia with excellent cocktails, an actual cigar room, and burlesque salsa dancers sliding around on the banisters. Your move, C.S. Lewis.
ERB wins the award for the newest spot on this list (by a longshot), but that hardly diminishes its standing. The 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.
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.