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The best cocktail bars in LA

Check out LA's best cocktail bars, from Santa Monica's beachside, seasonal libations to Downtown's godfather of the cocktail bar scene

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Now Boarding

It's offical: LA has caught up with the rest of the country when it comes to quality cocktails. From bespoke libations made with farmers market-fresh ingredients to the revivial of the classic cocktail worthy of Don Draper, cocktail bars in LA are mixing undeniably phenomenal drinks. And while Hollywood bars make up the majority of this list (what can we say, Tinseltown is driven to drink), there are exceptional places to imbibe all across town. Check out our list of the best places to grab a cocktail in LA right now. 

RECOMMENDED: Our guide to cocktails in Los Angeles

LA's best cocktail bars

1886

1886 isn't just the best cocktail bar in Pasadena—it's one of the best in all of LA. Aidan Demarest (Neat) and Marcos Tell (The Varnish) make a great team—they had previously opened First & Hope together—so it was no surprise when they helped launch this cocktail cove behind The Raymond, serving some of the best fancy drinks around. The 21-long menu changes each season and thrives on originality, from the Pimm's #13 made with mezcal and Mexican Tamarindo soda to the Meyer lemon- and rosemary-infused Yoshi's Island.

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Pasadena

Grandpa Johnson's

Grandpa Johnson’s, an Art Deco-inspired cocktail lounge in Hollywood, is like a vintage bar nerd’s dream come true. Inside, a stunning interior features zig-zagged chevron floors and ceilings, streamlined brass inlays, Orient-inspired panel paintings and mirrored walls reflecting dim light throughout the space. The impressive marble-topped brass bar is curved to accommodate leaning patrons, which helps when seeking drink suggestions from the equally accommodating bartenders. Try one of the most popular drinks on the menu, the T-Bizz—a tart and refreshing highball with Angel’s Envy Bourbon, ginger syrup, apple cider, amaro, lemon juice and angostura.

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Hollywood

Harlowe

As is the case with all 1933 Group bars, stepping inside Harlowe is a little like going back in time. At this West Hollywood spot, it's to the golden era of Hollywood, where an old soda fountain replaces pop with booze. The floor is French Moroccan tile, the beer taps are custom, the steel stools are repurposed, and everything is bathed in a sepia glow from the vintage light fixtures overhead. It's the sort of thing the team behind Sassafras and Oldfield's has down pat—that, and a solid post-prohibition drink program. Slick-haired mixologists in seersucker aprons serve Sazeracs in bottles and Old Fashioneds on draft, so find your seat in the roomy joint and stay awhile.

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West Hollywood

MiniBar

Perhaps Raymond Chandler put it best: “The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that's wonderful.” Such an establishment can be hard to come by in Los Angeles, but it does exist, believe it or not, on the ground floor of the Best Western Hollywood Hills Hotel, in the aptly named MiniBar. Every square inch of the space is thoughtfully designed, with accordion-style warm wood paneling, grasscloth wall treatments, retro brass light fixtures and white leather swivel chairs creating a funky yet sophisticated fusion of colors, textures and materials. The cocktail menu is simple yet stellar—an eight-drink compendium of classic revivals with subtly genius twists. If you’re after something serious, stiff and straight up, The Bernard is an improved gin martini with more than one twist; in addition to salt-cured olives, it comes with a pickled mushroom. 

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Hollywood

Melrose Umbrella Co.

The mystique of prohibition lives on at Melrose Umbrella Co., a pedigreed saloon from the inspired minds of nightlife bigwigs Austin Melrose, Ian Shepp and Zach Patterson. Step inside this next-level watering hole and, quite suddenly, it's 1933. Immaculately attired staff shake up some of the best drinks in town thanks to Patterson and his buddies Julian Cox (Comme Ça), Josh Goldman (Sotto) and Paul Sanguinetti (Stark Bar). What the nine-option menu (five house specials and four classics) lacks in quantity, it makes up for in craftsmanship. These are strong, sophisticated, shrewdly balanced and, most importantly, accessibly priced swills ($6-$14). There's no better place to raise a glass to the end of prohibition.

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Melrose

Now Boarding

A mid-century bar is nothing novel, but one that’s inspired by the golden age of air travel? Now that's impressive. At this aeronautical-themed West Hollywood boîte, retro-fab chandeliers cast a glow onto well-heeled ladies and gents sipping stiff cocktails around a stainless steel wing-topped bar. The airplane motif isn't exactly subtle, but somehow Now Boarding narrowly escapes being kitschy. Of course, the real reason to land is for Roger Room vet Will Figueroa's high-flying drink program. Ask for the Ginsberg—not exactly a swill Don Draper would order. It’s a refreshing, inventive combo of rye, scotch, Fernet Branca, Aperol and bitters that’s sure to make you feel groovy, in case the DJ’s remixed Motown set just isn’t doing it for you. Oh, and don’t forget your bag of peanuts before exiting through the “Departures” door.

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West Hollywood

Pour Vous

What was once Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce has been transformed by brothers Mark and Jonnie Houston (Harvard & Stone) into a French-themed aphrodisiac parlor where bartenders rock black bow ties and chandeliers glitter from the ceiling. The central, domed cocktail nook with veined mirrors and a glowing fireplace is where you'll want to sit and indulge in oysters, chocolate, and Frenchy cocktails made with cognac, Armagnac, and eau-de-vie

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Central LA

The Fiscal Agent

For cocktail worshippers, The Fiscal Agent feels like sacred ground; a hidden temple in which liquid divinity is expertly concocted and salvation is but a few sips away. Lodged above Barrel & Ashes in Studio City, the bar sports an atmosphere that invokes the sultry sophistication of a private club in London or Paris. An interior by Ricki Kline (The Varnish, The Normandie Club) plays a big role in this, with black paneled walls, chevroned wood floors, antique portrait prints and a mosaic of stained glass bringing a blend of old world and contemporary aesthetic to the intimate seating area. With its combination of carrot and white rum, the Silly Rabbit is one of the most whimsical cocktails we’ve ever had. The carrot, combined with hints of coconut and banana, lends a subtle sweetness and earthiness to the drink, while a deliciously creamy kaffir lime foam on top serves as a built-in dessert. We could definitely survive a juice cleanse on this stuff alone. 

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Studio City

Sassafras

The 1933 Group (Thirsty Crow, Big Foot Lodge) has a knack for design, and at their newest Hollywood enclave, they’ve upped the ante, transporting a townhouse from Savannah, Georgia and planting it smack dab in the middle of Hollywood. Make yourself at home—the living room, dining room, or front patio, each space is bedecked with mismatched vintage furniture. As its name suggests, the bar features sassafras root—think earthy, herbaceous flavor of root beer—in its fancy-pants cocktails using homemade sassafras bitters and sarsaparilla soda, in addition to ingredients like malted milk powder, grilled peaches and pink peppercorns. The second half—and priciest section—of the menu centers around barrel-aged cocktails, an old-time tradition of aging premixed drinks, but, for Los Angeles, a new take on Southern comfort.

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Hollywood

The Chestnut Club

Exposed brick, sexy lighting and plenty of studded leather sofas—yup, we've got ourselves yet another industrial-chic watering hole. The vibe is relaxed thanks to a friendly neighborhood crowd, the barkeeps in deep-v t-shirts are accomodating and even the bouncer is polite. We'll even give them brownie points for a classic menu of swills that aren't flashy. A favorite is the Diamondback Lounge, made with rye, applejack and yellow chartreuse. It's boozy as hell, but balanced to a T. Tip: Grab a spot near the large window facing 14th Street for some fresh air and solid people watching.

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Santa Monica

The Roger Room

This groundbreaking cocktailery from Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson—who brought you West Hollywood staples Bar Lubitsch and Jones—is small, but the drinks pack a punch. While difficult to find (just head to the Largo, then spot the neon sign for an old psychic parlor), guests feel instantly at home inside the dim-lit spot for mind-blowing mixology. Booze hero Damian Windsor has made this a destination thanks to his menu of more than 20 classic tipples with a twist, like a vanilla-charged Spiced Mule and the habanero-infused Thug—all served in chilled glasses with a signature metal straw and the occasional plastic monkey. Vigilant barkeeps in snazzy black vests are always on hand to shake up a recommended libation or launch an impromptu lesson on Japanese whiskey. Their slogan is "Nothing but the best;" here, it most certainly rings true.

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La Cienega

Varnish

Classic craft cocktail aficionado Sasha Petraske is a big deal in New York (he opened one of the city’s first serious cocktail bars Milk & Honey) so when he teamed up with Downtown nightlife operator Cedd Moses (Golden Gopher, Broadway Bar, Seven Grand) and barman Eric Alperin in 2009, he launched one of Los Angeles' first sophisticated bars, now considered the godfather of LA's craft cocktail movement. The Downtown speakeasy sits inside Cole's, past a discrete rear door, marked only by a drawing of a coupe glass. Standing at the bar is not permitted, so snag a vintage booth and take in the live piano music; but, of course, the main draw here is the drinks.

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Skid Row

Comments

3 comments
Correy S
Correy S

Cocktail bars in Los Angeles are pretty cool to be in. I say that because a friend of mine invited me to a party in one of them. It was pretty cool to be there and to have tried out some of the drinks in one of those bars. http://www.chinaruby.com/about.asp 

Jason Briseno
Jason Briseno

Great list! Almost all locations listed are top-notch! However we forgot to mention Cinco bar in Playa Del Rey/ Westchester. Must see place.

Jimmy T
Jimmy T

@Jason Briseno great place!

Have you seen The Exhibition Room in Long Beach?