You’re in the mood for a good cocktail. But when you go out, you inevitably spend $19 on a margarita made by a bartender dressed like an old-timey pharmacist, and your home bar is really just a shelf in your kitchen with tequila on it. Fortunately, there are a bunch of casual bars in LA where you can drink great cocktails without worrying about getting scolded for wearing flip flops. Whether you’re planning a low-key date night, a catch-up with friends, or a solo drink, these are the best casual cocktail spots in town.
The cocktail list at Know Where Bar looks like it was pulled from a speakeasy during Prohibition - meaning you probably won’t find anything infused with jalapeño or cilantro. This is a tiny, tropical-themed spot that fills up on weekends, but on weeknights, you’ll find a mix of dates and groups of friends catching up over martinis and listening to live music.
At the bottom of a dated business plaza in Beverly Hills, Bibo Ergo Sum is in a space that was probably once a realty office where everyone smoked cigarettes at their cubicles. But now, it’s our favorite cocktail bar in the whole neighborhood. The heavy after-work industry crowd is mostly here for the same reason - to grab a few well-made cocktails before heading home to starfish in bed. The space looks like a membership-only lounge inside a 1940s train station and even though it’s not big, you can always find a few seats at the bar.
Highland Park has a lot of great places to drink cocktails, but ETA is the only one where you can show up in jorts to eat oysters and drink French 75s. This dark, quiet bar on Figueroa is the ultimate spot for an after-dinner drink. It’s usually pretty full, but you’ll always manage to find a seat should be able for some of the most interesting drinks on the Eastside. Our favorite is the Penultimate Word, which includes mezcal, gin, chartreuse, and a worm salt rim (exactly what it sounds like). After your dinner date in Highland Park, head straight to ETA for a nightcap.
No one would consider Mar Vista a tentpole of LA nightlife, but this sleepy Westside neighborhood is home to one of our favorite neighborhood cocktail bars in the city. Accomplice is the kind of place you walk into at 6:30pm for a quick drink after work and end up staying for three hours because the bartender knows how to hold a conversation about anything other than the Lakers, and the vodka negroni is too good to only have one. Plus, if you get hungry, you can order food from the Taiwanese spot next door directly to the bar.
Any place with a sno-cone machine and video loops of mermaids swimming past ship portals might seem a little cheesy, but this neighborhood dive bar in Little Tokyo is the opposite. Expect a small, darkly-lit room filled mostly with musicians, Downtown locals, and people who’d rather die than stand around a mediocre brewery in the Arts District all night. The cocktails are fantastic (get the Drink Your Vegetables), and if you want that sno-cone, nobody’s going to stop you - not even the mermaids.
Perhaps because it’s hidden under a tiny neon sign next to The Largo theater on La Cienega, The Roger Room tends to get lost in the mix. The place isn’t big, but the big crowd inside is mostly comprised of people who know how to drink and comedians waiting to go on at The Largo (read: people who know how to drink). Get the Spiced Mule or the absinthe-infused Green Fairy, sit and talk to bartenders who actually know how to engage in conversation, and realize you’ll probably never drink anywhere else again.
It’s a shame that the Wendell flies so far under the radar. Maybe it’s because it’s on the same block as The Varnish. Or maybe it’s because there’s not much in the way of signage, and the only telltale sign is the bouncer with a pitbull named Willis sitting out front. Inside, though, you’ll find friendly bartenders making excellent cocktails, and a big crowd of people who stopped in for an after-work drink, and won’t stumble out until midnight.
Catcher In The Rye resides in that section of Toluca Lake dedicated entirely to the drinking needs of disgruntled studio workers. But unlike the hostile environments you find in other bars around here, this literary-themed spot is where you and your favorite coworkers can have some cocktails in peace after work. With drink names like the Tequila Mockingbird and Pearadise Lost, there’s no subtlety in the theme here, but everything tastes good and you can actually hear your friends talk, so you don’t care.
On the ground floor of the Hollywood Historic Hotel, The Edmon exists in an in-between area of Hollywood, and for that reason alone, it never gets too slammed. The art deco space has good cocktails, a crowd that’s there because they want to talk without having to scream, and plenty of comfortable chairs at the bar for you and your first date who wouldn’t commit to a full dinner. But if dinner is on the itinerary, come for a few pre-drinks before walking one block over to Osteria La Buca.
Ignore the fact that you have to look up R Bar’s password on their Facebook page to get through the door - this Koreatown bar is super easygoing. Good beer, strong cocktails, and entertainment that ranges from live jam bands to stand-up and trivia. Certain nights are more popular than others (avoid karaoke if you want to find a seat), but otherwise, expect a mostly local crowd full of regulars who are on first-name basis with the bartenders.
The Alcove might be known for having one of the busiest patios on the Eastside, but inside, you’ll find the small, quiet, Big Bar. It usually clears out after dinner, and the bartenders will actually talk to you, so it’s a good place for a solo drink when you don’t feel like making the same pre-mixed margarita like every other Thursday night. The drinks tend to be pretty sweet, but they’re also strong, so it all balances out.
One block from the madness of Grand Central Market is Bar Clacson - a calm, Italian-themed bar in Downtown LA with excellent cocktails and super knowledgeable bartenders. Come here for a drink with co-workers you actually like, and maybe play some foosball or bocce when one negroni turns into three. There’s an entire wall of hard-to-find liquors, and the price is listed below each - a surprisingly obvious feature we wish more bars had. There’s also a fantastic sandwich place attached called E Stretto - get the Ill Papa.
Famous for being the first place you could get a Kogi taco without having to stalk down the truck, the Alibi Room still holds up as a great Culver CIty neighborhood bar. This is the kind of place where you close out a successful first date with some cocktails in a quiet corner, or swing by the bar after finishing a shift at a nearby restaurant for some drinks and a late-night Kogi quesadilla.
Father’s Office might be known as a craft beer haven (which it is), but the Culver City location takes cocktails just as seriously as it does beer. On any weekday, you’ll find their patio filled with nearby studio workers unwinding, and drinking mostly classic cocktails - things like negronis, boulevardiers, and sidecars. All the drinks use fantastic, near-top shelf liquors, but they still stay in the $10-$12 range.