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 20 bars you need to be drinking at.
If you come to LA with the expectation of dancing and drinking on rooftop patios all weekend, you’ll be disappointed. We don’t really have that and many of the ones we do have are over-priced, over-crowded, and generally terrible. Except for Mama Shelter. The colorful hotel rooftop in the heart of Hollywood is certainly a party, but that’s why it’s fun. Grab a well-made cocktail from the bar, play some foosball, watch a movie on the big screen, and pray for the girl in stilettos trying to do a round-off on a daybed. There’s also a separate restaurant section with very solid Mediterranean food in case you get hungry.
Block Party is massive beer garden in Highland Park that’s a perfect place to burn an entire Saturday day-drinking. From the outside, the place actually seems fairly small, but the party starts on the back patio where there are long communal tables and cruise ship-sized shuffleboard for showdowns with your enemies. They also have an excellent craft beer list, boozy popsicles, and you can order-in any outside food you want.
Most people come to LA with the intention of experiencing some sort of Old Hollywood atmosphere, and end up looking in all the wrong places. Go to Musso And Frank. The Hollywood Blvd. steakhouse is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and while it’s definitely filled with tourists, nothing beats cruising up to the bar and drinking a few of their lethal martinis. Most of the bartenders have been working there for decades and will probably tell you some insane story about a dead celebrity. Expect to walk out of here stumbling.
In cities like New York and Chicago, restaurants on top of skyscrapers are old news. In LA, they’re basically local landmarks. 71Above is a modern restaurant/bar on top of the US Bank building that has only been open since 2016, but is easily one of the most objectively impressive spaces in the city. With nearly 360 degree views of LA and a ceiling that looks like an optical illusion, drinking in 71Above is like being inside an interpretive art museum. While we totally endorse eating a full dinner here, you could also just come by for a strong drink before a night out Downtown.
There is no shortage of divey beach bars going along the Santa Monica/Venice coast. Hinano is simply our favorite. Located on an aggressively touristy stretch of Washington Blvd in Venice, Hinano is one of the few bars in the area that locals actually still go to. The beer is cheap, there’s sawdust on the floor, and there’s a burger on the menu that we’d travel long distances for. Once your buzz is good and strong, the beach is only a half block away for you to frolic in.
If you’re sitting in your hotel room wondering where most of 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.
Hollywood is the land of over-designed bars that were probably decorated by people who also consult for Disneyland. On paper, Sassafras is one of them. This bayou-themed cocktail bar on Vine has moss hanging from the ceiling, a proscenium stage for live music, and a reconstructed Savannah townhouse that actually came from Savannah, Georgia. It’s over the top but manages to get away with it because the cocktails are excellent, the crowd is always low-key, and you never have to wait long to get in - an important detail to consider when drinking in Hollywood.
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.
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 80s. 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 in LA? No. But your 3pm buzz definitely doesn’t give care. Lines can get long here, but if you arrive before noon, you’ll get right in.
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.
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.