For more of the best places to drink, check out our other City Guides.
Los Angeles is a sprawling city best explored through dissection, especially when alcohol is involved. Locals understand this, and they tend to split the City of Angels into two wings: the East Side and the West Side. Nobody can agree on where, exactly, to place the virtual scalpel on the map, and any dividing lines publicly drawn will be the basis for any combination of arguments, debate, and grumbling.
This exploration of the East Side’s drinking scene draws the dividing line along Western Avenue. The choice wasn’t due to history or geography as much as it was drawn by aesthetic and vibe. In music terms, the neighborhoods east of the main thoroughfare are hipster indie rock and traditional mariachi, where the glamor and flash of the West Side’s Hollywood and beach scenes yield to the influence of quirky creativity and multigenerational, multicultural neighborhoods. It’s what L.A. looks and feels like when the cameras stop rolling. Some may disagree with such delineation, and that’s OK — it comes with the territory, so to speak.
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At their best, the East Side’s drinking establishments capture this essence. While there are pops of refinement to be had, the region’s underlying character is never too far below the surface. It’s ultimately what makes drinking in these neighborhoods so cool.
Best Place to Start a Big Night: Thunderbolt
A happy bar space is essential for a memorable night of drinking. This Echo Park venue delivers joy just as readily as it serves up creative, unpretentious drinks. It’s also a space that carries some serious accolades. To wit: It was a finalist for Tales of the Cocktail’s American Bar of the Year in 2020. Yet such kudos deliberately take a back seat to its mission of being an easygoing neighborhood bar that serves damn good cocktails. “It was a real priority when we opened that the bar truly felt connected to the local community in vibe and practice,” explains Thunderbolt general manager Camron Robertson. “If anything, we take any praise we get as positive feedback that people are enjoying what we’re trying to do.” This communal ethos is perhaps best captured in the bar’s Echo Park Trash Can. It’s a carbonated cocktail starring amaro, Cognac, cacao, orange, coconut, and vanilla served in a recyclable can, and $2 from each order goes toward the Echo Park Trash Club, a community-based trash pick-up organization.
Tip Jar: Thunderbolt always has a revolving frozen concoction in the works. Kindly ask for a taste of whatever they’re working on in between cocktails. It will be tasty, and will help set the tone for a fun evening.
Website: 1263 W Temple St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90026
Best place for a Date Night: Big Bar
Tucked inside a bungalow and attached to a bakery, this cozy, unassuming, and Tales-nominated Los Feliz bar is relentlessly chill, even when it’s rocking with seemingly endless ticket orders. It’s the antidote for the “dudebro” and “woo girl” scene, making it the optimal place to enjoy a drink with your beloved. According to bar manager Eugene Lee, the space draws its unique energy from its surroundings. “Los Feliz is a feeling; it’s an atmosphere,” he says. “Our regulars are as chill as the vibes drifting through the air. The bar makes sense for where we are: Drop it somewhere else, I’m not sure it would be the same.” The atmosphere makes it easy to take a beat and appreciate the high quality of the cocktails. Lee says the drinks created for the menu are team efforts built through collaborative R&D, and such teamwork results in exquisite beverages, like the green tea-infused Scotch and cucumber shrub drink I(s)lay on Green Shores. Despite its name, Big Bar isn’t enormous — there are 15 stools at the counter and a couple of tables inside — but there are plenty of outdoor seats available on its spacious outdoor patio for you and your date.
Address: 1927 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90027
Best Place to Pre-Game: Benny Boy Brewing
Dodger Stadium’s breezy hilltop setting just north of downtown helps make it one of baseball’s most hallowed fields. It also makes finding a pre-game spot that matches its essence important. This relaxing brewery-cidery hybrid in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood will put you in the proper mood. A massive open-air beer garden, dubbed The Backyard, separates the property’s tap room and cider house, providing ample space for casual gameday chatter among friends and fellow fans. “We embrace that ‘75 and sunny’ lifestyle,” explains Benny Boy co-founder Chelsey Rosetter. “We also want to create a space that feels like you’re going over to your friend’s house.” Rosetter and her husband, co-founder Ben Farber, juxtapose this casual feeling with a serious approach to their juice, creating beers inspired by European brewing techniques and ciders made with carefully sourced apples and natural carbonation techniques. Don’t expect to see handles in the tap room: The staff pours the brews directly from their tanks.
Tip Jar: Leaving Dodger Stadium can be worse than the L.A. freeways at rush hour. Rather than fight the traffic, walk to the parking lot’s outer hillside rim. You’ll be treated to one of the best views of the city’s downtown, particularly at night.
Address: 1821 Daly St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90031
Best Place to Connect with L.A.’s Forgotten Past: Tabula Rasa
Los Angeles used to be wine country. So many vineyards blanketed the landscape in the late 19th century, the city was dubbed “the city of vines.” The East Side was the scene’s epicenter, so it only seems fitting to swing by this low-key neighborhood wine bar on the edge of the Los Feliz district and raise a glass in honor of the city’s bygone entanglement with viticulture. You’ll also be toasting to the beauty of natural wines and the importance of female winemakers — two concepts fervently supported by the venue. “Tabula Rasa’s list of wines are always stellar,” explains Philip Dobard, president and CEO of the L.A.-based food and drink education group Center for Culinary Culture. “Better yet, they are always presented and shared without any trace of pretense.” There’s also a properly curated list of beers on hand, should someone in your entourage prefer a drink of a different kind.
Address: 5125 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90027
Best Speakeasy That’s Not a Speakeasy: Bar Flores
This second-story Echo Park spot doesn’t require secret codes or passwords, but it comes by its hidden-venue vibe honestly. Its concept sprung from Sip, a since-retired pop-up speakeasy project owner Karla Flores-Mercado hosted throughout the city throughout its run. While the address is permanent, entering the space still feels like you stumbled upon a big secret, as the narrow stairs that greet you at the nondescript entrance reveal a bustling, vibrant space imbued with the energy of a classic East Side cantina. Margaritas and other agave drinks are properly made with fresh ingredients and plenty of love. You’ll also find a few riffs on classics like the Flores Old Fashioned, which adds house-made mole into the mix. While the bar has fantastic energy, take a moment to step onto the outdoor patio and bask in the pops of color radiating from its plants and overhead lanterns.
Address: 1542 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90026
Best Place to Hang With the Cool Kids: The Friend Bar
Nestled in L.A.’s hipster mecca Silver Lake, this neighborhood joint’s pastiche of pastels, pinball, and pops of local art equally comes from a place of creative whimsy, ironic energy, and nostalgia that straddles the line between the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s a bar that knows its neighborhood. It’s also a bar that effortlessly exists on two planes: It carries a relatively low-key vibe during the week. On the weekends, it’s a rambunctious high-volume groove hall with just enough room for dancing to go down. The drinks menu also exists in this duality. Craft cocktail aficionados can enjoy a serious drink like The Islander, made with 7-year rum, Angostura Amaro, Angostura Bitters, lemon, orgeat, and pineapple puree. Those looking to cut loose can order up The Lover, a hipster-friendly combo of a bourbon shot and a PBR tallboy.
Address: 2611 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90027
Best Place for Serious Imbibing: Death & Co
Before you start wondering why the L.A. version of a New York bar is on the list, remember that Los Angeles is a city of transplants and Brooklyn bled Dodger blue first. Besides, this sleek bar in downtown’s Arts District has already built up a dizzying local reputation for envelope-pushing, esoteric excellence since opening its doors in January 2020, weeks before the pandemic arrived. “Death & Co are leaps and bounds ahead of L.A. trends,” explains Will Cutting, L.A. trade development manager for Empirical Spirits. “They’re also unafraid to use non-mainstream brands.” This approach leads to creation of eye-catching drinks like Queen of the Rodeo, an ambitious drink made with Compass Box Artist Blend Scotch, Bowmore 12-year single malt, Amaro Nonino, blood orange, and lime. The bar also wisely avoided Hollywood glitz in designing its L.A. digs: The subterranean space is slightly darker than the original East Village spot, generating a brooding yet elegant vibe worthy of the bar’s pedigree. “It can’t be easy to live up to such a flawless reputation, yet they always do,” Robertson says.
Address: 818 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90013
Best Place to Geek Out Over Brown Spirits: Seven Grand
You won’t know every whiskey label at this bar, nestled in downtown’s Historic Core. That’s what makes it fun. The mother dough of a mini-bar empire — it has opened locations in San Diego, Austin, and Denver since launching in DTLA in 2007 — this beloved venue naturally carries a distillery’s greatest hits, but it also totes a ridiculous roster of its deep cuts. This, along with the wealth of craft expressions ranging from vaguely familiar yet untried to completely off-the-radar, provides your inner whiskey geek plenty of options to plunge palate-first into the joys of liquid newness. Its selection shines through the stable of Old Fashioneds anchoring its cocktail menu, which include versions built around cult favorites like Booker’s, Elmer T. Lee, and Old Weller Antique 107. If you plan appropriately, you may be able to squeeze into Bar Jackalope, Seven Grand’s 18-seat, reservation-only Japanese whiskey lounge featuring a tight list of 120 domestic and international whiskeys, including several unicorns.
Address: 515 W. 7th St., 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, Calif. 90014
Best Place to Experience LA’s Retro-Cool Subcultures: The Mermaid
A non-kitschy mélange of tiki, tropical, and pirate sensibilities sets the tone at this women-owned, nautical-themed bar in downtown’s Little Tokyo district. Yet the venue’s true beauty lies in how the colorful space uses these design elements to create a mid-century vintage vibe that effortlessly connects with the city’s perpetually groovy throwback trash-pop scene, a landscape whose branches like Rockabilly and pin-up come from deep and sturdy multicultural East Side roots. The drinks also play a key part in creating this atmosphere. There are classic concoctions like Daiquiris and Gimlets to be had. They also share space with modern beverages like the Midnite Madness, a complex liquid indulgence consisting of dark rum, Fernet Branca, cinnamon, passion fruit, and lime.
Tip Jar: There are a couple of regular happenings where The Mermaid’s subculture celebration cranks to 11. The bar spins ’50 and ‘60s oldies, garage, and rockabilly tunes every Tuesday. On the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, it hosts “Boozy Bingo,” a tipple-touched take on the classic parlor game hosted by local pin-up model DeeDee Cupcake.
Address: 428 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90012
Best Place to End a Night: Normandie Club
Nothing’s worse than finishing a crawl at a place where you don’t feel appreciated. That won’t be a problem at this self-proclaimed “damn fine bar.” Located in the city’s historic Hotel Normandie in Koreatown, this sleek and swanky space carries a sterling reputation for being an industry darling, which is how you know it’s a quality spot. “I dare you to find a bar with more of L.A.’s best bartenders saddled up brass-side,” Cutting says. Riffs provide the backbone of the menu, with classics like the Bramble, Manhattan, and Boulevardier getting tweaked with ingredients that make sense. If that’s not your bag, bartenders will deliver you the classics as God and Dale DeGroff intended. Regardless of what you order, you’ll leave a happy soul — regardless of where or how you believe the Los Angeles sprawl should be divided.
Address: 3612 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90020