If you go to a lot of bars in LA, things start to get repetitive pretty quickly. Entering speakeasies through various household objects, dancing in Weho bars with vodka-sticky floors, and playing board games in Arts District breweries are all fun ways to spend a night, but sometimes, you just want something a little more out of the ordinary.
So we put together a list of unique bars in LA. At one of them, ’90s pop stars occasionally drop in to do piano covers. Another buys extremely hard-to-find liquor from estate sales in Nashville. We’ve also included a strip club in Hollywood that everyone should experience. Next time you want to mix up your normal routine, these are the best places to drink.
Clifton’s At Night is a nightlife emporium. This Downtown landmark spans three floors with four different bars (including a tiki bar with a boat in the middle of it), a gigantic dance floor with a live swing band, and aggressive taxidermy everywhere you look. Whatever you’re in the mood for tonight, you’ll be to find it somewhere in here. Just don’t get lost in the fake Redwood forest on the ground floor.
There’s an actual house from Savannah that was torn down and rebuilt inside this Southern-themed bar in Hollywood. It’s a bit over-the-top, and we love it. Most nights, there’s a live bluegrass band, and occasionally there will be line dancing. As wild as all that sounds, there are plenty of nooks and crannies where you can take a seat, so it’s a pretty low-key place to grab a drink after work, or late on the weekend. Most importantly, the cocktails are strong, and you’ll never wait in line to get in.
The piano bar of every theater kid’s dreams, Tramp Stamp Granny’s is a fantastic spot in a part of Hollywood that’s otherwise lacking in reliable places to drink. The rotating cast of piano players all sounds more like they should be on Broadway than at a bar on Cahuenga. There’s plenty of space to dance, or more likely, sing along to Celine Dion. They have themed nights like Queer Cabaret and ’90s night where (real) members of N*Sync have been known to make appearances. The cocktails aren’t going to blow you away, but they’ll certainly get the job done.
Tiki Ti is a tiny bar near Sunset Junction that’s half the size of an average Silver Lake studio. The drinks are extremely strong, and each one comes with its own tradition. For example, the whole bar chants at you when you order the Ooga Booga, and another drink involves a tiny robotic toy bull marching down the bar. Chances are that once you’re in, you won’t have a chair to sit in, because they’re all occupied by people who have been sitting there since the ’70s.
One of the best special occasion bars in town, Old Lightning is a reservation-only spot behind Scopa Italian Roots in Venice. There’s a dress code, and you have to turn your phone in to the concierge before you’re led inside to an extremely rare liquor selection. They have excellent cocktails, but we always just order liquor flights - you name your favorite spirit and a price range, and they’ll bring you a sampling of three very different versions of it. One might be a Four Roses bourbon made just for this bar, another could be from a tiny Nashville distillery, and the last might be a handle from a distillery that closed 40 years ago. The liquors are sourced all different ways - mostly from auctions and estate sales.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Red Lion Tavern
Before Silver Lake became that place where all your writer friends moved after selling their first features, the Red Lion held down this part of town. The German biergarten has one of the best patios on the Eastside, and most nights, it’s full of people drinking too many steins of hefeweizen. You can’t go wrong with anything from the all-German beer list, which will go great with a huge house pretzel and a sausage platter.
If you’ve heard a lot about “aprés-ski” (which basically translates to getting drunk in a ski lodge), but you have no idea how to ski or where the closest snow is, look no further than Bigfoot Lodge. This bar in Atwater goes heavy on the mountain bar theme, and pulls it off. On weekend nights at Bigfoot, you’ll find a whole bunch of people ready to mix it up with some dancing and very well-made cocktails.
A fantastic hidden coffee shop/bar in the Arts District, In Sheep’s Clothing isn’t your typical gimmicky, enter-through-a-broken-TV speakeasy. Instead, it’s just a door off to the side in Lupetti Pizzeria. Inside, you’ll find a calm crowd of people listening to records (curated by the bartenders) and drinking extremely excellent cocktails that usually involve Japanese whiskey.
Lost Spirits Distillery
While it’s not technically a bar, you are certain to walk out of Lost Spirits swaying a little bit. Without giving too much away, for $37 you’ll join a distillery tour that feels a bit like you’ve stumbled into Hogwarts, complete with a boat ride and a real-life potions masters. You’ll get to try different spirits, like rum and scotch, and sometimes they have bourbon or brandy. Tours happen with groups of 12, and be sure to book early, because they tend to fill up fast.
LA is littered with great karaoke spots, but few compare to the madness of Brass Monkey in Koreatown. Located on the ground floor of an office building on Wilshire Blvd. (you enter through the back alley), this barn-like bar feels like you’re singing karaoke goes from palpably rowdy to full-out chaos in a matter of hours. Disclaimer: This is not private room karaoke, so if your fear of public performance is real, this might not be the place for you.
Walking into DwitGolMok (or DGM, as most people call it) in Koreatown is like walking into a crowded street market that’s somehow entirely indoors. This rowdy tavern off of Wilshire has seemingly endless nooks and crannies full of hidden booths and graffiti-covered pathways leading to even more hidden booths. And everyone is drinking soju out of copper pots and eating as much excellent Korean bar food as possible (get the seafood pancake). Weekdays are definitely more low-key, but come Friday and Saturday, expect a decent wait.
Located on Vermont Ave. in the middle of Los Feliz, The Dresden is broken up into two distinct areas - the main dining room and the bar/lounge. And while you can have a decent enough prime rib dinner here, the real move is to skip the dining room altogether and head right to the lounge. Sadly, Marty Roberts---part of the iconic cabaret duo Marty & Elayne---passed in January 2022, after performing there weekly for nearly 40 years. Even so, the iconic lounge is still a great place to drink old-school cocktails like the rum-infused Blood & Sand, catch a live music show, and get a little weird along the way.
If you’re wondering how a Hollywood strip club could possibly make this list, you clearly haven’t spent a night at Jumbo’s. This iconic dive bar has an energy unlike anywhere else in LA, and that makes waiting in the hour-long line worth every second. Once inside, you’ll find the cheapest and strongest drinks in the neighborhood, a mixed crowd of people, and a stage full of artists who care about what they do.
Located on Hollywood Blvd., Black Rabbit Rose is part-speakeasy and part-magic show theater, and you can experience both things together or separately. The theater is a ticketed situation (via their website), with prices running $40 per person for a show that runs about 45 minutes. If paying that much to see cool sleight-of-hand tricks and some very flexible women dance around isn’t your speed, the good news is you can still walk in without a pre-ordered ticket and drink as much as you want at the bar. Bonus: You can order food from a Thai takeout window next door.
If you want a tiny glimpse at what Santa Monica was like before the Third Street Promenade became a tourist hurricane, Chez Jay is the place to go. The best dive bar on the Westside, this one-of-a-kind spot has been serving extremely stiff drinks and surprisingly good buttered lobster tail on Ocean Ave. since 1959. You get the sense that not much has changed here since then - the celebrity photos on the walls, the songs on the jukebox, and even the people at the bar.