There are all kinds of crazy bars in Los Angeles where you can go for a unique experience. Bars hidden behind delis and underneath brothels? Check. Bars that feel like a house party or a vintage airline? Absolutely. Bars themed after novels and literary heroes? Take your pick.
Sometimes, though, you crave simplicity. Sometimes you don’t want to wait in line for a novel concept. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a decent cocktail and a coherent conversation. Here are 10 cocktail bars in L.A. with a balance of high-quality drinks and low-key vibes.
The Normandie Club, Koreatown
Small but mighty, classy but humble, The Normandie Club is perfect for tipsy conspiring by candlelight. It never seems to get too crowded — perhaps partly due to the quiet exterior and blinded windows. Sample their fun and ever-changing variations on your favorite classics, like Martinis with raw honey or Daiquiris with oolong tea. Their bottle selection is also impressive, if you feel like sipping something neat.
The Roger Room, Beverly Grove
West Hollywood can be a bit of an upscale scene, but The Roger Room takes it down a notch. You’ll find speakeasy-quality drinks without the passwords and secret doorways. The cocktail menu is full-spectrum, with snappy options for everything from whiskey and gin to tequila and absinthe. There’s a variety of booths and tables, so arrive early and channel your inner Don Draper with a few friends.
Everson Royce Bar, Arts District
While the narrow bar can get pretty tight, there’s ample seating in the back patio of Everson Royce Bar. Their cocktail selection is all over the map, and that’s a good thing. You can guzzle a prickly pear Margarita, try unique drinks with ingredients like black lemon bitters, or opt for one of their rotating barrel-aged cocktails. Since you’ll be there for a while, make sure to take advantage of the bocce ball court.
Oldfields Liquor Room, Palms
Just on the edge of Culver City is an unassuming building with a cute little patio called Oldfields Liquor Room. Try the Wolfsblood, a sturdy drink made with overproof whiskey and Dubonnet Rouge, or knock back mules with house-made ginger beer. If you’re with a group, they’ll even make an entire punch bowl of your preferred signature cocktail. The best part? Happy hour goes until 9 p.m.
The Know Where Bar, Hollywood
Under a buzzing neon sign, on a fairly quiet stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, sits The Know Where Bar. Don’t let the Art Deco throwback motif fool you; this place is real. Order the Brooklyn cocktail, which your bartender will expertly craft with just a touch of panache. Steal one of the couches up front, and lounge under the gilded tin ceiling while the old-timey jazz music croons.
The Blind Donkey, Pasadena
What are you doing in Pasadena? The correct answer is: trying all the whiskeys at The Blind Donkey. Duck away from the chain stores and polished windows of Old Town for a round of shuffleboard and a proper drink. Cocktails are simple but well done, and despite all the ice spheres, there’s no ego here. Still, the real star of the show is their encyclopedic whiskey list. Get a flight and start studying.
4100 Bar, Silverlake
All along Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake there’s a plethora of hip spots to choose from. But 4100 Bar, nestled behind a Jiffy Lube, is a dark little dive with nothing to prove. You won’t find obscure ingredients or uniformed bartenders, but you will find well-crafted cocktails that won’t gut your wallet. Perch yourself at the bar, or claim a cushy corner booth, and mellow out under beaded lamps and hanging tapestries.
Tribute, Sherman Oaks
It’s unclear what this bar is doing way up in Sherman Oaks, but it doesn’t matter. The cocktail game at Tribute is on point. At a place that features ingredients like a “Green Chartreuse mist” you’d expect loads of monocles, but you can tell these guys just love making great drinks. You’ll feel well taken care of as you admire the funky tile floor and peruse the seasonal menu.
Big Bar, Los Feliz
Good luck getting a table at Alcove. But sneak inside and turn a corner to find Big Bar, which is actually quite tiny, and wrangle yourself a bar stool. Every time you arrive, you’ll find new cocktails to try with fresh ingredients and beautiful presentation. Don’t let the bakery and cafe up front fool you; the bartenders here are no joke. You’ll feel super classy sipping your Tigermom Gimlet and chatting at the marble-topped bar.
Golden Gopher, Downtown
Is it a cocktail lounge? Dive bar? Liquor shop? Golden Gopher is a little of each. Under the glow of eclectic chandeliers, you can get cozy in one of the many nooks, or chat up strangers on the patio. There’s also billiards, and even a Pac-Man table. Get something simple like an Old Fashioned and you won’t be disappointed, and yes, you can buy a bottle to go on the way out.
With a seemingly endless growth of stellar bars popping up in L.A., you’ll never run out of new things to try. It’s nice, though, to have some go-to options where it’s all about the cocktails and conversation. What other spots would you add to the list?