You just landed at LAX and the excitement is mounting. It’s your first time to LA and our golden city of sun, smog, and membership-only children’s restaurants awaits. But as your cab begins to weave its way out of the horseshoe of death we call an airport, it dawns on you - you have no goddamn idea what to do here. Whether you’re in town for work, finally visiting your college roommate who just moved here to become a wellness DJ, or hosting your friend because you’re the DJ, getting a grasp on where people actually go out and drink in this city is not easy. You need those quintessential, surefire bets, because four days goes fast in LA and you don’t have time for gross bars full of terrible people. Here are the 22 bars you need to be drinking at.
If you’re sitting in your hotel room wondering where LA parties on a Saturday night, the answer is Clifton’s. By day, this massive downtown spot is an offensively mediocre cafeteria, but at night, it turns into an adult Disneyland of your rum-soaked dreams. Three separate bars, brass bands, swing dancing, hidden tiki rooms, and taxidermied grizzly bears to pose next to when you’re hammered.
You’ve heard all about the insane craft beer coming out of the LA area in the last few years, but now that you’re in town you don’t know where to actually find it. Go to Surly Goat. The West Hollywood bar is the best place to drink craft beer in the city, with a low-key crowd that’s there to do the exact same. Come Friday or Saturday, this place will be packed, so get there early, snag a Pliny, and post up at the shuffleboard tables all night.
Read it and remember it: Koreatown is the best nightlife neighborhood in Los Angeles. And no night out here is complete without at least one round at Dan Sung Sa. The traditional Korean tavern is loud, crowded, and smoky (from the grills, not cigarettes), and feels like you’ve left the country. This is the kind of place you can start your night at, end your night at, or just stay and drink at until the soju has rendered you immobile.
Of all the bars on this list, chances are you’ve heard the most about Davey Wayne’s. It’s been the most popular bar in the city for years, and is still as good as ever. Yes, this 1970’s house party-themed bar can definitely still get a little aggressive, but the bone-crushing mania of a few years ago has largely subsided. Now, you can enjoy an absolutely amazing space (and sno-cones in the backyard), listen to some live music in the living room, and role play Three’s Company with your friends in peace. Oh, and there are roller skating shows on the roof too.
Located in the iconic Sunset Tower, Tower Bar feels like it’s been around forever (but has actually only been open for a little over a decade). This hotel pool bar is a Hollywood staple and a good way to spot a celebrity, and also feel like one yourself. Grab your biggest pair of sunglasses, order a $19 cocktail, get involved with that build-your-own sundae situation, and enjoy some of the best people-watching in town.
For the constant sunshine this town gets, our outdoor beer garden situation is fairly dire. But then there’s Red Lion Tavern, the old-school German restaurant in Silver Lake that all but makes up for our shortcomings. Hang inside for a bit and listen to the really old guy sing at the piano and then make your way out back to their beer garden where one boot of beer becomes two boots which becomes you convincing everyone you’re 100% German and the master of Bavarian folk dancing.
The Valley will never be a beacon of LA nightlife, but when it comes to Idle Hour, your slightly longer drive is worth it. For one, the space itself is insane. You’re basically drinking inside a massive wooden barrel from the 1920’s and in the back patio there’s a two-story bulldog holding a pipe in its mouth staring back at you. There’s also a great craft beer list, good cocktails, and a crowd that’s always down to party.
A long, regrettable night of Ktown karoake is a rite of passage in LA. But finding the right spot among the seemingly endless supply is not easy. So just go to Brass Monkey. Hidden behind a bland office building on Wilshire, Brass Monkey is the kind of place you walk into sober and leave after trust-falling into the crowd because you nailed “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.” This is not your private room karaoke joint. This is your rowdy, sing-in-front-of-everybody throwdown and one of the most fun nights out you can have in LA.
LA has no shortage of rowdy hotel pool bars. But for our money, you won’t find any better (or rowdier) than Tropicana at The Roosevelt in Hollywood. Beautiful people, strong drinks, and a setting straight out of a margarita-soaked weekend in Palm Springs. It can definitely get expensive here, but that’s the price you pay for love and luxury.
At some point during your night out in Hollywood you’ll wonder where all the people who actually live around here drink and have fun. The answer is The Woods. The dive-y bar on the ground floor of a La Brea stripmall looks like a foreclosed gentlemen’s club from the outside, but inside you’ll find everything you want in a neighborhood bar: cheap drinks, an unpretentious crowd, fantastic music, and absolutely zero lines. Yes, you’re sitting on wooden stumps and no, you don’t give a sh*t.
There’s some debate over whether LA is the birthplace of the tiki bar, so we’ll proclaim it here with confidence: LA IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE TIKI BAR. And while we have plenty of spots to throw back some rum drinks, nothing quite compares to the magic inside Tiki Ti. Located in a glorified lean-to in Los Feliz, Tiki Ti is the kind of place you walk into and realize everyone at the bar has been sitting there since the 80’s. There’s a toy robot bull that walks along the bar, the crowd chants when specific drinks are ordered, and two mai tais will have you under the table Facebook messaging your 4th grade English teacher asking her if she’s well.
Angel City is the best brewery for a drunker-than-you-planned Saturday afternoon. The space is in a massive old warehouse in the Arts District, with tons of communal seating, brewery tours, corn hole, and an entire outside area with food trucks on the weekends. Is it the best craft beer you’ll find? No. But your 3pm buzz definitely doesn’t give a sh*t. Lines can get long here, but if you arrive before noon, you’ll get right in.
Mama Shelter is the newest spot on this list, but it takes one strong cocktail-while-the-sun-sets outing to realize this is one of the best rooftop bars in the city. Smack in the heart of Hollywood, Mama Shelter has excellent cocktails, unparalleled views of the city, and weird couch beds that work great for an impromptu personal photo shoot. If you want to experience Hollywood without the usual clubby garbage people that come with it, Mama Shelter is your spot. Warning: weekend crowds are intense, get a reservation or go during the week.
To be clear, Cha Cha Chicken is not a bar. It’s an order-at-the-counter jerk chicken joint a block from the Santa Monica beach that has one of the only BYOB policies on the Westside. Skip the aggressively lame bar situation that dominates most of Santa Monica, and head to Cha Cha instead. Pick up a 12-pack of your favorite beer, order some spicy wings from the counter, and spend the day on their fantastic patio. This is what drinking by the beach is supposed to look like.
Contrary to what your parents remember from their trip to LA in 1995, downtown LA is very much a thing now. While you can find any type of bar you want downtown these days, your first move needs to be Ace, and to take the elevator all the way to the roof. The open air patio doesn’t just have some of the best views of downtown, there’s also a pool, excellent cocktails, and a cool, low-key crowd that’s ready to mingle.
The Abbey needs little introduction. It’s the most recognizable bar in Los Angeles and no matter where you fall on the Kinsey scale, you can’t really leave this town without stopping in for at least one $15 vodka soda. The place turns into a total madhouse on the weekends, largely dominated by horny housewives looking for gay validation and inland empire kids whose parents think they’re at a bonfire. But come weekdays, it’s just as busy and full of people who actually live in and around West Hollywood. Come here then instead.
You can go to plenty of places in LA and get great cocktails, but if you want the best, head to Walker Inn. The reservations-encouraged bar is hidden in the back of The Normandie Club in Ktown behind a tiny door with a flashing red light above it. On the other side is an omakase-style craft cocktail excursion. What the f*ck does that mean? Basically, you pay one price ($70) to taste a bunch of different cocktails that all revolve around a theme that changes every 6-8 weeks. With themes ranging from PCH to In N’ Out to boating, expect the unexpected and expect it to be great.
When it comes to drinking cheap cocktails and listening to live music in LA, Hotel Cafe can’t be beat. The hidden space on Cahuenga in Hollywood (you have to enter in the alleyway) is neither a hotel or a cafe, but your best shot of seeing people perform who will be on the radio next year. Also, famous people love it here too, so the chances of seeing Justin Timberlake hop on stage for a quick acoustic set in between acts is high. The vibe here is far cooler and low-key than the rock venues on The Strip, with an insider crowd who’s there solely to drink and discover new music.
You’re in LA - it’s only natural to want a drink in a weird, old Hollywood spot with potentially a ghost in inside.. Turns out you’re going to have to go to Los Feliz to find it. The Dresden is a flat-out classic and has been serving drunk famous people since the 1950’s. But the real reason you need to come to The Dresden these days is to experience the force of nature that is Marty and Elayne - the jazz duo who have been performing here Tuesday-Saturday every week since 1982. So cozy up in one of their big booths, snag a famous “Blood and Sand” (basically scotch and orange juice), and listen to two LA icons do their thing.
Half the reason you’re even visiting in LA is because you want to drink alcohol by the beach and post an Instagram of you doing it for your bitter East Coast friends. Go to High Rooftop and accomplish both. Despite being one of the only rooftop patios on the Westside, High gets largely bypassed by tourists, leaving the whole place with a relatively calm and relaxing atmosphere to enjoy the sunset in. Drinks are a tad pricey, but you’re paying for way more than just alcohol here.
There are nights you go out for a few drinks and there are nights you go all out at Saddle Ranch. The kitchy, over-the-top whiskey apocalypse on the Strip is pure insanity and one of those places where if you don’t leave with a great story, you know you didn’t do it right. You’re going to take some Fireball shots, ride on a mechanical bull in front of strangers, and give your number to a girl from Tucson who has her ex’s name tattooed on her knuckles. Don’t come to Saddle Ranch to judge because it certainly isn’t judging you.