While the rest of the country spends most of the year rationalizing never-ending winters and the other three months in 200% humidity, LA is usually hanging out at a casual 76 degrees and sunny. And that means one thing - all our friends are coming to LA to visit, and they’re thirsty. From beachside patios to Korean drinking taverns to downtown music venues, here are 18 bars to keep them (and you) happy.
Duke's Barefoot Bar
The reality is there aren’t any actual bars in Malibu, but Barefoot is as close as you’ll get. And after a stressful day of lying around on the beach, you and your friend need a stiff one. Barefoot is technically part of the restaurant Duke’s, but its casual atmosphere, affordable food menu, and umbrella-adorned cocktail drinks mean one thing - it’s way more fun. It’s also pretty much entirely outdoors and the ocean is right there. Life is good.
Your cousin who moved to Fargo for work just got diagnosed with a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Time to play healer and take her to Mama Shelter. The rooftop hotel bar in the heart of Hollywood is one of our all-time favorite places to day drink outside, with movie-themed cocktails, foosball, and a whole section dedicated to day beds. Weekend crowds get intense, so we recommend calling ahead for a reservation.
The Abbey is one of the most recognizable gay bars in America. This West Hollywood institution is a multi-room metropolis where you could spend an entire night just wandering around making sure you’ve seen every part of it. Weekends tend to get ambushed with college kids and gaggles of straight girls, so we recommend going on a weeknight when it’s just as fun, but the crowd is much more local and you’ll actually be able to find space on the dance floor. Don’t ignore the Sunday brunch either - it gets weird.
Going to Tramp Stamp Granny’s is like spending a night inside a theater kid’s fever dream. Which means a few things: piano singers so good you’d never expect to find them in a bar, innuendo-laden drink names, and occasional appearances by Broadway stars. The entire bar sing-shouts Elton John along with the person at the piano, and if you’re lucky, a super-talented singer/bartender will climb up on the bar for a song or two. Get here early, because there’s a line on weekends.
Your brother from Tampa’s version of karaoke is singing loudly in a Buffalo Wild Wings until he gets thrown out. Show him the real deal and get him to Max Karaoke in Little Tokyo. Located inside a gigantic indoor mall, Max is everything you want in private room karaoke, but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t known for one thing - BYOB. Roll in with a 30-rack of cheap beer or whatever your drink of choice is and employees will graciously turn their backs. Just don’t get him kicked out before the night even starts.
Your college roommate who plays in an adult ultimate frisbee league is in town, and wants a crazy night out in Hollywood. But you know nightlife in Hollywood is mostly just a horrifying collection of generic dance clubs and tacky tourist bars with vaguely-Hawaiian decor. Skip all that and go to Spare Room instead. Located on the second floor of The Roosevelt Hotel, you’ll impress your friend with Hollywood history (it was the location of the first Academy Awards), drink well-made cocktails, and even do some bowling if the spirit (tequila) moves you.
Not every LA bar is some rooftop poolside patio where you get to watch James Kennedy drink midori sours all afternoon. Our dive bars are some of the best places to drink in town, and you won’t find a better one than Joe Jost’s in Long Beach. This institution has been around since 1924, and is the kind of place you walk into at 2pm for a beer and end up staying until close because you got involved in a high-stakes billiards tournament with three 70-year-olds who just won their bowling league. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried their pickled eggs and pretzels.
Idle Hour Bar
Your friends from college just want to go to Sunset, but you live in North Hollywood and want to show them there’s plenty to do around here too. Idle Hour sprung back to life after decades of being a roadside eyesore, and almost overnight became one of the best places to drink in the Valley. Their cocktail and beer lists are strong and the crowd is exceedingly good-looking. Those two things tend to go well together. Also, you’re drinking in a gigantic wooden barrel.
photo credit: Wonho Frank Lee
Ddong Ggo is a rowdy indoor/outdoor beer garden in Koreatown. Walk into the massive outdoor area any time after 10pm on the weekends, and you’ll find huge groups of friends eating kimchi pancakes, smoking like it’s the 90s, and drinking beer and sake until the wee hours of the morning. Inside, you’ll find an even louder room with tons of TVs and a private karaoke room. The Koreatown drinking scene is vast and a bit overwhelming, but Ddong Ggo is an excellent jumping off point.
Another mid-April snowstorm has crushed your New York friend’s soul into oblivion, and they’re on a last-minute flight to LA before any more emotional damage occurs. Your gut’s saying you probably shouldn’t take them to a bar that’s been in NYC for a decade, but when that bar is Apotheke, ignore your gut. The Chinatown cocktail bar has a heavy 19th-century apothecary aesthetic, but the drinks are so good, we don’t care that it’s a little much. Also, that back patio is fantastic and your friends’ best bet at emotional repair.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Everson Royce Bar
Your friends want something fun but not crazy, cool but not douchey. And they really want good drinks and maybe some food. Does a magical place even exist? Yes, and it’s called Everson Royce Bar. This bar/restaurant on the south end of the Arts District is fantastic because you can have whatever kind of night you want there. Whether you’re in the mood to relax on the patio and have a couple beers and a burger, or get rowdy inside at the bar, ERB has your Saturday night covered.
Hosting tip: no one is ever going to turn down a tiki bar outing. And while you can really take your pick in Los Angeles, the best choice for visitors is definitely Tonga Hut - the oldest tiki bar still in operation in the city. The place is on the smaller side, but the big booths somehow always fit the whole crew. The crowd is laid-back, they have a fantastic jukebox, and one or two of those tiki drinks will be all you need to get your night started.
Dude. Your cousin Blake from Boulder is in town and he wants to go to the coolest microbrewery in the city. Take him immediately to Mumford. DTLA has no shortage of craft breweries, and while others have better spaces (Arts District Brewery and Angel City), Mumford has the best beer. Taps rotate pretty consistently, but if you see a Northeast IPA, get it. You can also bring in outside food.
If your visitor is from the US, chances are they’ve been to a bluegrass bar before. But we’re pretty sure they haven’t been to a bluegrass bar with a whole Southern farmhouse inside of it. That’s exactly you’ll find at Sassafras Saloon, where they somehow took a real Savannah house and rebuilt it inside this Hollywood bar. They also added a whole bunch of hanging moss and a stage for line dancing, which you will almost certainly be tempted to join in on after a couple of their very good (and strong) cocktails.
photo credit: Wonho Frank Lee
Your sister is in town from Milwaukee, and her top priority is spending as much time outdoors as possible before she has to go back to the snow. When you run out of hikes to take her on, head to Block Party. This spot in Highland Park has a huge, sunny patio, complete with a cruise ship-sized shuffleboard game, and tons of picnic tables where you can post up and drink alcoholic slushies. At night, they set up a Wii and project it on the wall, so you and your sister can relive memories of whatever video games you played each other in that always ended with shouting matches.
Pacific Seas is the hidden tiki bar on the top floor of Clifton’s Republic downtown. While Clifton’s three main floors are worth exploring (and your friend from summer camp definitely needs to feel the rush of watching professionals swing dance in a room full of taxidermy), you’ll want to go up the stairs to Pacific Seas. Here you’ll find a massive space (with a full boat inside), tons of hidden areas to take over, and a tiki cocktail menu that’s delicious and also
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, if you’re visiting LA for the first time you have one goal - to lock eyes with a celebrity. Quick tip: it won’t happen on one of those terrible celebrity bus tours with made-up addresses. It will, however, probably happen at Tower Bar. The scene at this classic Sunset Strip bar/restaurant is a chaotic blend of aging celebrities boozing their way through pitch meetings and young celebrities trying to get photographed. There’s also a whole pool area and a build-your-own-sundae situation that you’re obviously getting involved with.
The Varnish is one of LA’s original craft cocktail bars, and even though it’s been pen for over a decade, this Downtown speakeasy feels just as exciting as it did in 2009. There’s no elaborate entrance or gimmicky design scheme, just tremendous cocktails in a low-key atmosphere where you could spend the entire night. If you get hungry, Cole’s is right next door, so you can order french dip sandwiches to the bar.
The Westside has no lack of hotel rooftops, but the reality is most of them are stuffy, expensive, and boring. The roof at the Hotel Irwin in Venice can admittedly get a little bro-y at times, but for the most part, you’re able to get right in, find a seat, and watch your childhood neighbor from Minnesota take in a sunset over the ocean for the first time.