So you’re hanging out one-on-one with that cute person you’ve only ever spoken with in a group setting. Or you’re meeting up with an ex who you’re still on exceedingly good terms with. Or you saw on Instagram that your college crush is in LA, and now you’re meeting up.
In other words, this might be a date. But it also might not be. So you don’t want a place where you’ll be surrounded by smoky-eyed couples tasting each other’s tongues. On the other hand, you don’t want a spot with folding chairs, fluorescent lights, and the ambiance of a 7-Eleven at 3pm, either. It should be impressive and sort-of-date-y, but not so expensive or crowded that things could go wrong. Basically, it should be one of these 13 spots.
You’re getting seriously mixed signals from this person. They wait half an hour before responding to any text that you send - but they DM you videos of golden retriever puppies on Instagram (a proven sign that they’re into you). A trip to Formosa Cafe should help clear things up. This spot in Weho is plenty intimate, but casual enough to maintain plausible deniability if things end up veering into the friend zone. The tiki drinks are killer, and there’s a menu of Taiwanese-Chinese classics like xiao long bao, chile wontons, and dan dan noodles if you get hungry.
You just spent the afternoon day drinking together at the beach, and you two agreed to continue the party. So rather than freaking them out by doing something really romantic, just go to Chez Jay. This old-school beach dive has some of the strongest drinks around, and recently opened up a back patio with a bunch of firepits. Inside, there are plenty of dark corners for you to drunkenly get to know each other, and a decent butter steak on the menu if you’re hungry (and feel comfortable ordering something called “butter steak” in front of someone you want to like you).
You’re pretty sure that when this person from an old improv class slid into your DMs, they wanted it to be a date. But you’re not so sure you want it to be one. So go to Connie and Ted’s. This huge restaurant in Boystown is filled with so many producers taking meetings that no one is going to think it’s intimate in here, but at the same time, they’ve got a menu full of demonstrably sexy foods like oysters, uni, and lobster if you decide you like this person. And if you don’t, there’s extremely non-sexy food, too, like clam chowder and mussels in red sauce. Because no one’s ever looked hot with marinara sauce on their face.
You’ve clicked through nine different pictures on your possible date’s Instagram, and it’s still extremely hard to tell whether or not this blonde person they keep posting with is a friend or A Friend. But if you go to Gran Blanco, the beachside cocktail bar in Venice, you can stop stressing about that and focus on eating a fantastic burger and drinking a gin-and-celery cocktail. And once you stop stressing, maybe you’ll work up the courage to just straight-up ask this person if they’re single. Or, more likely, do it in some roundabout way that will probably just keep you guessing. We know how it is.
You both work on the Westside, and there’s a strong chance that these are actually just networking drinks. So make them count and go to one of the best wine bars in the city. Esters has a massive selection of wines by the glass, and will let you taste them until you find something you like. And if it really does seem like this is an actual date, they’ve got excellent cheese and charcuterie boards, too - make sure you get the Drunken Goat, an absolutely fantastic Spanish goat cheese soaked in red wine.
Breweries are usually about as sexy as gas station bathrooms. Not Highland Park Brewery. This is a big, fun, crowded spot with a nice patio in Chinatown. And in addition to brewing some of the best beers in LA, HPB also has a great selection of wines by the glass. As far as food goes, they’ve got a really good burger, cauliflower tacos, and an excellent fried albacore sandwich. Basically, exactly what you want to be eating with a high-ABV hazy IPA.
Not eight minutes into the night, the person you’re with dropped an extremely unsubtle hint about their long-term significant other. That’s fine, because at least now you’re not stressing about it anymore. So stop trying to impress this person, and focus instead on how many pizzas you should order. That probably depends on how hungry you are, but no matter what, be sure your order includes the Spicy Chomper, a four-cheese pizza that will ruin your breath for the remainder of the night. Which is fine, because this person isn’t going home with you.
This isn’t a date, but maybe you wish it was. If that’s the case, head straight to Marvin. This spot in Beverly Grove isn’t the kind of stuffy French restaurant with $20 glasses of wine and servers who talk about onion tarts like they’re Jacques Cousteau describing seal mating rituals. Rather, it’s the kind with fantastic pasta, affordable (and excellent) wine, and a cool crowd of people you’ll wish you could get fashion advice from. It’s impressive, yes, but more than that, it’s just a fun way to spend a night.
Bar Flores is a bright bar in Echo Park with killer cocktails and a fun crowd. It’s a Latin spot with drinks that involve jicama, prickly pears, and something called schisandra berry (we don’t know what it is, but it tastes great with some vodka). On weekends, there’s a woman out back on the patio making some truly excellent tamales. You also have a very good view of Sunset, so you and your not-date can watch the craziness that exists at all hours of the day in this part of the neighborhood.
High Lounge is a rooftop bar in Venice that’s nice enough that this could reasonably feel like a date, but not so fancy that you’re going to set off any “It’s A Trap!” alarms when you suggest it. Between the ocean views and the celebrity-watching, you’ll probably never run out of things to talk about, and the cocktails are all strong enough to keep the conversation going in the unlikely event you do. And if, by some coincidence, the sunset views make this a little more of a date, then so be it.
Even though you’re not sure this is a date, you want it to be a damn good time. That’s exactly what Jones will provide. This Weho spot is dark, loud, and crowded, and thus, provides a lot of excuses to cozy up next to each other at tables with checkered tablecloths. And even if this isn’t a date, this is still an excellent place to come, thanks to the Beggar’s Banquet late-night menu, which features drink deals, a great orecchiette with bolognese, and $7.50 pizzas. Don’t skip the martinis, either - that’s an order, not a suggestion.
If you’ve gone out in Long Beach more than once, you know that your drinking options are pretty limited if you don’t like dive bars or beer. Unless you go to Portuguese Bend. This massive distillery serves gin and vodka good enough that we’ll drink them in bone-dry martinis (so, basically straight liquor), and big enough that one of them will make us question our decision to drive tonight. It’s what we’ll call “Long Beach Nice” in here, which means that it’s nice enough that you’d take your aunt and uncle from New York, but you can still come here straight from the beach.
Bar Calo’s a cool, fun cocktail bar in Echo Park that we’re pretty sure has been used for 7,000 maybe/maybe-not dates. It’s more of a lounge than anything else, with low, velvet stools and a long, deep-seated couch to sit on - neither of which are exactly sexy. But at the same time, the menu is full of things perfect for sharing, like chipotle peanut salsa, tom kha ceviche, and a hibiscus quesadilla. And the cocktails are interesting, innovative, and very strong - the paloma is our favorite, but you also can’t go wrong with the mezcal negroni.