After months of swiping, messaging, Instagram lurking, and bargaining with a higher power, you finally did it - you’re going on a first date. But that also means you have to do that thing where you meet a complete stranger then attempt to convince them that you are a cool, stable person who’s worthy of love and affection (or at least one little kiss).
To pull that off, it helps to have alcohol. Preferably at a bar that’s not so fancy it’s uncomfortable, not so loud you have to shout, and not so quiet you can hear the other person regretting this decision. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if that bar also has delicious drinks and a decent menu, either. It’s a tall order, but we have some ideas. From cocktail spots to neighborhood dives to wine bars where the lighting is so romantic, you might fall in love with yourself, these are our go-to spots in LA for first dates.
You’ve swiped through all their Hinge pictures a thousand times, but still can’t seem to tell if they’re actually cute or just tall. Head to Gran Blanco, a casual beachside bar in Venice where it’s just as easy to spend five minutes at as it is to spend fifty. If you want to make a quick getaway, grab a drink at the bar (we like the gin and celery cocktail) then make up some excuse, like your roommate just found black mold in the kitchen and you need to leave right this second (this works surprisingly well). Or, if you actually like them, find a table and ask them nice, normal getting-to-know-you questions, like “Where did you grow up?” or “How’s the air up there?”
From big groups and party-goers to people leaving LA officially, (kids and burger enthusiasts, we’ve recommended Everson Royce Bar so many times, our guides should come loaded with an automatic spot for them. Because guess what? They’re also great for first dates. The massive Arts District bar has everything you’d want while getting to know a complete stranger: no lines, a spacious back patio, tables that are just the right amount of spaced out (a.k.a. far enough apart that no one can eavesdrop), excellent cocktails, plus burger that’s one of the best in the city. We’d live here if we could.
The latest addition to Culver City’s rooftop pantheon is Bar Bohemien, a new cocktail lounge on the top of the historic Citizen Public Market. The building itself has been around since the 1920s and the combination of the original brickwork and plush leather green bar seats creates a look that’s a little mysterious, a little art deco, and 100% where you should be going on your next first date. There’s a scenic patio attached to it for walk-ins only but with plenty of space. Go for drinks like the “Fire & Rain,” which combines mezcal, lavender bitters, and fresh lemon, or just choose from their list of craft beers and wines from local California producers.
As anyone who’s ever watched Vanessa Hudgens’ seminal 2006 music video, “Say OK,” after a night out knows, bowling alleys and drinking are the ultimate combo. Which is why we love Highland Park Bowl, a relic from 1927 that got a major $2 million renovation in 2016. You’ll find eight super shiny lanes here, plus comfortable leather couches and draft cocktails for you and your plus one to share. Make a reservation then do something cute and cheesy, like bet the loser has to kiss the winner (or at least pay for a game).
You’ll find the full range of the human experiment at this premiere party spot in Torrance. 21-year-olds celebrating birthdays, couples on their night out, old men who will ultimately outdrink everyone, etc. It’s also a great place to meet up with a potential love interest because it’s so low pressure. No one’s paying attention to you, there’s no weird mood lighting or expensive bottles of Champagne, just shareable Japanese dishes like pork shabu shabu and ice-cold glasses of Asahi. If they can’t have a good time here, that’s a sign.
With their menu of funky, natural bottles and a sprawling sidewalk patio, Tilda is a wine bar in Echo Park where you go to impress a date who’s probably cooler than you. A patient person on the waitstaff will walk you through their long list of natural wines, ranging from subtle and floral sparklers, to cloudy gamays. And although you could just sip and have a fine time, you should order from their excellent rotation of cheeses, charcuterie, and tins of fish that are served with a baguette, butter, and salsa verde.
Casual, beautiful, and extremely fragrant, Bar Flores is one of our favorite places to drink on the Eastside. And a place where we, personally, have gone on 5-10 first dates. Whether they were successful or not has more to do with our poor judgment skills rather than the actual ambience. There’s a gorgeous patio in the back, the drinks are strong and taste great (the sangria should win some international award), and it smells better than an Aesop showroom in here.
Thunderbolt in Historic Filipinotown, one of our favorite neighborhood bars, has reopened for outdoor seating. That means you’ll get old Jay-Z tracks playing over the speakers, plus a mix of Southern-ish snacks, like flaky buttermilk biscuits and crispy pork belly ends - but what you’re really here for are the drinks. They all exist in that dangerous, highly coveted Venn diagram of “Very Strong” but still “Genuinely Tasty,” like the “Tropipop,” which is sweet and tropical, but filled with so much rum you’ll forget that it’s the middle of the workweek and you’re not actually on vacation with your newfound lover.
Gigi’s is one of the toughest reservations to get in town right now. But if you do manage to snag a table, your date is sure to thank you because you’ll be treated to a special night that makes you feel like you’re the star of a romcom. Located on the increasingly exciting Sycamore Ave., this new French bistro perfectly threads the needle of being both upscale and casual at the exact same time. It’s a great place to grab a few cocktails as the sun goes down, or get all dressed up and take down some steak-frites and a bottle of wine with someone who might be important to you one day.
Akbar has managed to nail the perfect atmosphere for a first date. If you want to get sweaty and dance all night to Whitney Houston, go on the weekend. But if you just want to grab a quick drink and discuss hypothetical dinner guests (living status withstanding) on a random Tuesday, it should still be one of your top choices. That’s because they have strong drinks, a laid-back atmosphere, and a disco ball the size of the feelings you’re quickly developing.
Because of the slightly hidden location under the Gold Line tracks, entering this French bistro’s patio in Chinatown is like stepping into a New York film noir - everything has a muted pink tint to it and the romantic drama is palpable. In addition, all of the food is fantastic (get the bavette steak), and the wine list is full of organic and biodynamic reds, whites, and sparklings that will certainly help break the ice.
If the words “60-year-old dive bar in Santa Monica” don’t immediately make you think “perfect first-date spot,” we don’t blame you. On paper, Chez Jay sounds more like a place you’d take your much older, out-of-town cousin than the setting for a romantic evening. But after an extensive update, the large back patio is now decorated with fire pits, string lights, and big comfy chairs ideal for making you feel relaxed and super cute. We like the crispy chicken sandwich with house slaw or the cheeseburger, but if you aren’t all that hungry, stick to martinis and an order of calamari.
While we would never recommend taking an actual wine certification course on a first date (too much studying), a night at Angeleno Wine Co. makes learning about grape juice actually fun. It’s the first winery to open in LA since Prohibition, and the owners of the place will also happily tell you about varietals, vineyards, and vintners while you try to figure out if your date has any weird attachments to their ex.
After months of upvoting each other’s posts and messaging online, you’re finally ready to hang out with the person you met on an architecture porn subreddit. Head to Idle Hour. The iconic wooden barrel it’s housed in is one of LA’s greatest examples of programmatic architecture - and is a great thing to stare at when you run out of getting-to-know-you questions. While you can’t actually drink inside the barrel right now, their excellent back patio is open every Tuesday through Sunday with a daily Happy Hour and brunch on the weekends.
Much like the vintage couch you paid way too much money for, Dan Sung Sa is one of a kind. The dark, all-wood tavern has a big tent in their front parking lot, smoke from the central grill hanging like mist over the tables inside, and a crowd that’s pounding Hite like it’s their last night on Earth. The whole scene is a beautiful, drunken dreamscape - perfect for when you want to take the pressure off, and just have fun while meeting someone new. There’s also a large menu full of skewers, kimchi pancakes, and other excellent dishes, all of which are designed to hold off your inevitable hangover.
It’s a fact of life that wine will always set the mood. But some wine bars have a tendency to kill it. Not Tabula Rasa. This casual spot keeps things cool in an unpretentious, industrial space in Thai Town. The wine features a variety of natural whites, reds, sparklings, and oranges, and their draft beer selection is quite solid as well. If you’re looking for something to snack on, you should order the Cuban sandwich, plus a salami board, just to be safe.
If you’re the kind of person who puts a lot of effort into looking effortlessly cool, head to 1642. You won’t find a place more low-key than this Echo Park bar (they don’t even have a sign out front), which is perfect for when you’re just trying to feel out your date’s vibe, and don’t plan on spending more than an hour with this person. There’s a live band playing most nights, plus a great rotating wine and beer list that’s scrawled on the chalkboard above the register. So grab a drink, find a place to sit, and hope that they don’t bring up cryptocurrency or something.
Located in a converted bungalow in Virgil Village, this neighborhood wine bar has everything you like about your apartment (huge windows, cozy atmosphere) and none of the things you don’t (poor wifi connection, unwashed dishes in the sink, nosy neighbors who feel way too comfortable knocking on your door). In addition to the tables on their wraparound patio, their outdoor courtyard is one of the most romantic in the books - think big, comfy couches, lanterns overhead, and an evening light that’s so flattering, you run the risk of having anyone sitting across from you falling in love.
Sometimes, you want more than a dark room and good conversation for a first date - you want to destroy somebody in a pinball competition. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Walt’s Bar is perfect for you. This retro dive bar in Eagle Rock is the kind of laid-back, unpretentious spot we wish every neighborhood had. They’re stocked with a row of old-school pinball machines in the back, tons of local brews on tap, and a spacious back patio. You know, in case your date needs somewhere a bit more private to nurse their wounds after losing.
The Black Cat in Silver Lake is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure date spot. If you want something a little more serious, grab a table on their patio and order a full meal, with dishes like chopped kale salad, shishito peppers, and a burger covered with melted onion and raclette cheese. But if your date is showing some red flags, like going on and on about how Die Hard is their favorite Christmas movie, then it’s just as easy to stay for a single drink, slip out quickly, and bury that memory away forever.