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.
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.
No matter which side of the city you plan to roam, there are plenty of can’t-miss watering holes you’ll want to hit.
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Here are the best places to drink in Los Angeles.
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 pickup 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 ’50s 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
Best Place to Feel Like an Insider: Melrose Umbrella Co.
If you start your night at this Tales of the Cocktail-nominated space, particularly mid-week, you’re likely going to run into a bartender on their night off or a liquor rep chilling after a day of meetings. Even if you don’t, the bartenders squeezing behind the venue’s skinny bar will treat you like an industry vet who’s been swinging by here for years. But this isn’t just an industry joint with friendly folks. It’s a neighborhood bar that achieves the tall order of matching the vibe of the surrounding Melrose shopping district, an area famous for its chic boutiques and funky second-hand shops. It dials into the aesthetic with its own vintage effects, most notably the Prohibition-era apothecary cabinet that’s been reimagined as its retrofitted back bar. Here, bartenders also sling delicious and inventive drinks like Ricky Bobby, a tequila blanco cocktail featuring lime, blackberry, and Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro. These elements create a bar that will leave you smiling, if not a little reluctant to leave.
Tip Jar: Be careful about parking in the West Side. Plenty of bars stand adjacent to residential neighborhoods with time or permit restrictions, and signs posting these restrictions are occasionally covered by tree overgrowth. Find these signs before you belly up, and don’t be shy about asking the bartender how strict the neighborhood is in enforcing mandates.
Address: 7465 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90046
Best Place to Seek Out Whiskey Unicorns: Old Man Bar
You’d be forgiven if you’d classify this joint in the West Side town of Culver City a speakeasy. Tucked behind the rustic Southern-meets-early-American restaurant Hatchet Hall, this compact lodge-like space marked by taxidermy, vinyl records, dim lighting, and zero frills permeates speakeasy vibes. Whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that it’s a place to get serious about whiskey. The spot boasts a deep roster of rare and unicorn spirits that hardcore whiskey aficionados tend to obsess over. It’s also home to several private house barrels from popular labels like Buffalo Trace and Knob Creek, and craft producers of lesser fanfare like Wyoming Whiskey and Traverse City Distillery. While there are plenty of great drams to consider, don’t ignore the cocktail list. Classic drinks are the name of the game here, including seven different Old Fashioned variations.
Address: 12517 W. Washington Blvd. Los Angeles, Calif. 90066
Best Place to For a Date Night: Lost Property Bar
This dark, Gothic Hollywood bar contains the elements needed for an intimate night of imbibing: elegant space, exemplary service, exquisite drinks. It also hits the right balance between cozy and spacious, allowing you and your mate to feel undisturbed without feeling fully isolated. The secret to the bar’s success is the boundless energy owner Rhino Williams puts into creating the best bar experience possible for anyone walking through the door, whether they’re on a date or flying solo. “Rhino is both a master bartender and a master mensch,” says Philip Dobard, president and CEO of the L.A.-based food and drink education group Center for Culinary Culture. “He’s also a master of hospitality, and everything about Lost Property is evidence of that.” The cocktail list emphasizes modern compositions, but it also sprinkles in surprising throwbacks like Harvey Wallbangers into the mix. Its whiskey selection is built to impress, too.
Address: 1704 Vine St., Hollywood, Calif. 90028
Best Place for a Nosh and a Tipple: Jones Hollywood Cafe
This West Hollywood Italian spot composed of dark leather, exposed brick, and inky dimness captures the essence of a Hollywood that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s your imagination’s Tinseltown — one where studio bigwigs banter about bankrolling blockbusters over olive-festooned Martinis and heaping pasta dishes set atop gingham-draped tables. These scenarios don’t happen today, but that hardly matters. The vibe of these phantom encounters is present, and that’s good enough to make it essential. “The Jones is one of the last true heartbeats of Hollywood,” explains Cutting. “Nestled firmly between the bosoms of rock ‘n’ roll and fine Italian food, it still gives back to the people with late-night happy hour and an authentic embrace.” Cutting’s endorsement holds strong on the bar menu, whose music-themed drink menu stars tricked-out versions of popular drinks like the Manhattan, Penicillin, and Paloma. There’s also room on the menu for the classic Boilermaker featuring Coors Banquet and a shot of Jack, lovingly named The Keef after Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
Tip Jar: West Hollywood is the nexus of Southern California’s LGBTQ+ community and carries a rich and important history — the country’s first legally permitted Pride parade was held here in 1970. While the city boasts an abundance of intense, high-energy gay bars, including legendary spots like The Abbey Food & Bar, it is still woefully lacking in lesbian bars.
Address: 7205 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif. 90046
Best Excuse to Visit the Valley: Augustine Wine Bar
The clump of West Los Angeles tucked away on the north side of the Hollywood Hills known as “the Valley” has spent decades being picked on for its lack of polish and refinement. True, it’s not glamorous, but that doesn’t mean it’s bereft of gems. This Sherman Oaks wine bar, recommended by Dobard, shines rather brightly. Housed in a former radio repair shop built right before World War II, the rustic space succinctly captures the Valley’s blue-collar ethos. It also effectively removes the pretense that could otherwise emerge from its rotating European-centric list of by-the-glass and by-the-bottle offerings. Indeed, there are some serious “pinkies-out” experiences to be had, including the potential to indulge in the 50-plus-year reserve labels that occasionally pop up on the bar’s daily specials chalkboard. The regularly changing menu provides several small bites and a few proper main course options, along with an option to create your own cheese and charcuterie board to pair with whatever wine you choose.
Address: 13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, Calif. 91423
Best Rooftop Bar: Grandmaster Recorders
Imbibing while enjoying a rooftop view of the city is the West Side’s ultimate power move. This Hollywood venue stands a few stories above the others because of its impressive history. Its bones were the former home of the namesake recording studio where acts from David Bowie and Stevie Wonder to Foo Fighters and Kanye West laid down tracks. The rooftop menu specializes in cocktails on tap, but don’t assume that they’re afterthoughts. “They’re making next-level cocktails that aren’t afraid to set trends instead of cowing to the mainstream,” explains Cutting, who also endorses this pick. An example of this creativity is Midnight Vultures, a mezcal-based Margarita riff spiked with Campari, prickly pear, and cilantro (and named after an album by L.A. native Beck to boot). When you’re done gazing at the scenery, head inside to the building’s other drinking establishment, 71 Studio Bar, which serves up more unique drinks within the confines of the original recording studio.
Address: 1518 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. 90028
Best Place to Post-Game Beverly Hills: The Roger Room
Beverly Hills is the playground for the wealthy, and it’s worth traipsing around to window shop and people watch. It’s also an area that begs for a spot to decompress if you exist outside its scene. This dark, intimate West Hollywood speakeasy with an old-timey circus motif provides a refreshingly moody counterpunch to Beverly Hills’ gaudy flash, not unlike how a proper craft cocktail bar in New York’s Lower East Side can be an antidote for Upper East Side poshness. “The Roger Room is definitely not as glitzy or glamorous as a lot of other places in the surrounding area. It just feels familiar and comfortable,” says the Roger Room bartender Jason Yu. “The general low-light aesthetic, the old wood, the antiqued presence of the bar, and the conversational staff help set the pace.” The exquisite drinks also provide perfect conduits for groups of friends to break down whatever haute and eccentric stuff they may have witnessed during their excursion. Then again, creations like the lemon-kissed absinthe and egg white creation Green Fairy — one of three absinthe drinks on the menu — are great enough to spark their own conversations.
Tip Jar: There’s no signage for the Roger Room, so look for a black door marked “370.” Also, your best bet is to swing by after 8 p.m. — the Largo comedy club is next door, and the bar does get crowded with pre-show imbibers.
Address: 370 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif. 90048
Best Place to Explore Agave: Gracias Madre
Agave spirits are inescapable and ubiquitous these days. Not all of them are good. The same can be said for the L.A. venues highlighting tequila, mezcal, and lesser-known siblings like raicilla. To truly explore agave and its associated categories, it’s important to find a spot that treats the category with respect and not like it’s a conduit for a frat party. Yu recommends this WeHo spot to help you properly dig into things. “The agave selection is phenomenal and really well curated,” Yu notes. It’s also noteworthy: Its creator, beverage director, and VinePair 50 winner, Maxwell Reis, deliberately eschews well-known brands in favor of smaller, obscure labels that uphold Mexican traditions and support the families directly attached to making the juice. Stop here, and you may leave with a new favorite brand — one that you can feel great about enjoying in more ways than one. This deep integrity effortlessly extends into the cocktail menu, which is loaded with classics and agave-based riffs on standards like Negronis and Cosmopolitans. If you’re feeling hungry and earth-conscious, take note: The spot also doubles as a vegan Mexican restaurant.
Address: 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, Calif. 90069
Best Homage to L.A.’s Unique Vintage Style: All Season Brewing Company
Los Angeles is the epicenter of “Googie,” the mid-century modern architectural style marked by streamlined curves and exaggerated angles. This establishment celebrates the iconic style in all its atomic-age glory. The brewery, also recommended by Dobard, sets up shop in a historic Firestone tire shop along the city’s storied Miracle Mile. While it honors the past — the original signage still stands — head brewer and L.A. beer scene vet Erick Garcia brings things into the 21st century by producing no-nonsense, American-style brews from the venue’s 15-barrel brewhouse. Hoppy IPAs and easy-drinking lagers anchor the menu, while other choices like the Rocket Bunny Chocolate Porter and the tart fruited Berliner Weisse Pom/Berry On Das Acid showcase Garcia’s versatility. Not in a beer mood? All Season delivers a full-service approach to imbibing by additionally offering classic cocktails, including several concoctions on tap.
Address: 800 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90036
Best Place to Close a Big Night: Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
This spot at the eastern edge of Hollywood feels like a vortex. You walk through a refrigerator door and instantly step into Los Angeles circa 1974, during the height of John Lennon’s legendary “Lost Weekend” escapades. Owners Mark and Jonnie Houston created the bar as a homage to their father (Davey Wayne Houston), and this endearing intention results in a far-out atmosphere generated through stone walls, corduroy sofas, throwback beer and soda can displays, and tech gadgets that were state of the art during the Watergate hearings. The drinks’ names drop old-school references that spread throughout the ‘70s, but their construction is decidedly modern. Dig, for example, the Fat Elvis, a groovy concoction that joins peanut-infused rye whiskey with blackberry shrub, crème de cacao, lemon juice, and cayenne. There are also grown-up snow cones available to lighten the mood even further. Add it all up, and you have a venue equally driven by cool and kitsch, just like L.A.’s West Side itself.
Address: 1611 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90028