Best cocktail bars: Where to find the classiest cocktails 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.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Seriously Dangerous at Library Bar

LA's cocktail bars are officially in the midst of a revolution from bespoke cocktails made with housemade bitters and farmers market-fresh ingredients to the revivial of the classic cocktail worthy of Don Draper or Dorthy Parker. Whether you're a gin drinker—shaken not stirred—or looking for something sweet (and maybe, sassy), we've got your guide to the city's best cocktail bars. What's your favorite? Cast your vote below.


RECOMMENDED: See more Los Angeles Bars


Library Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

20-year-aged balsamic vinegar, shiso leaves, and passion fruit are just a few of the cocktail-friendly ingredients found atop the bar of farm-to-table mix master Matt Biancaniello. Tucked away inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, this tiny, clubby space—cluttered with tufted sofas and zebra skin bar stools—caters to a mix of hotel guests, scenesters filing in from nearby Teddy’s, and cocktail connoisseurs who follow Biancaniello’s every seasonal stir. In the past three years, Biancaniello has earned a reputation as Los Angeles’ most creative bartender—it would be easy to drink here on a nightly basis and try a new intoxicant every night—and a trip to this bar will show you why.

  1. Hollywood
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Pour Vous

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

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

  1. Hollywood
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Blind Barber

  • Price band: 2/4

Need a haircut? Had a rough day? Take a cut and craft cocktail at the second location of this hip, Culver City barbershop, first born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side not too long ago. On a somewhat random (and very empty) strip of Washington Boulevard, look for the red- and blue-striped barber’s pole and step inside, past the barber chairs and clippers, into a discrete speakeasy. This stylish watering hole, with its checkered floor, cushy booths and mood lighting, serves up a short list of predefined and bespoke fruit forward cocktails, presided by former Library Bar barman Greg DeBolt.

  1. Culver City
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Varnish

  • Price band: 3/4

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.

  1. Downtown
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Black Market Liquor Bar

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Studio City has never been known for its cocktail scene, until the launch of this gastropub-like bar focused on simple, fresh fruit beverages and small plate American/Italian fare. It’s admittedly masculine by design with its den-like brick ceiling, long wooden bar, and comfy crescent-shaped booths, but the top-notch intoxicants—crafted by lauded barmen Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix—continually attract even the female contingent. Also on offer, a rotating list of craft brews and a short list of vino.

 

  1. Studio City
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Harvard & Stone

  • Price band: 2/4

On a dingy strip of Hollywood Boulevard, amid a clutter of Thai restaurants and bars, sits a gem in the rough—a hip, rustic, industrial number from the Houston brothers, the same duo who brought you Piano Bar and La Descarga. Top-notch "American" cocktails are mixed and muddled with domestic craft spirits from the centerpiece bar; expect to see mustaches, plaid, and nerd glasses galore. Past the tufted sofas, dangling Edison bulbs, and exposed brick sits a tiny secondary bar dubbed R&D—here, find guest bartenders and different spirits featured monthly.

  1. Hollywood
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Sassafras

  • Price band: 2/4

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 at $13 a pop—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.

  1. Hollywood
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1886

  • Price band: 3/4

Pasadena will never be as cool as Silver Lake or Downtown, but at least it’s trying with the inception of 1886. 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 a shoebox-sized cocktail cove behind The Raymond, serving the best fancy iced drinks found in Pasadena. With the bar now under control of Garrett McKechnie, the artisan cocktail list is divided into "Regional," "Seasonal," "Shaken," and "Stirred," changing quarterly with farmers market offerings.

  1. Pasadena
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Shorebar

  • Price band: 2/4

It's about time Santa Monica upped its bar game, and thanks to the h.wood group (Bootsy Bellows), this nautical, beach club-inspired watering hole fills that void. While the small upstairs bar room is reserved for members only—locals flash their card for access—the ground floor houses a DJ and a bar serving a bevy of seasonal elixirs, consulted by lauded Copa D'Oro owner Vincenzo Marinella.

  1. Santa Monica
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Stark Bar

  • Price band: 3/4

Stark Bar, the open-air drinkery adjacent to Ray’s restaurant at LACMA, looks like a spread from Design Within Reach. The fancy-pants bar (and restaurant) from Patina Group is a pretty little thing, with mod, mid-century design composed of colorful Eames pieces. A loungey patio extends out from the long, low-slung open bar where Ray’s sommelier Paul Sanguinetti helps keep guests lubricated with esoteric reds and whites and hip hop-themed intoxicants like Lemon Balla (gin, Seleccion Especial Moscatel, muddled lemon wedges, basil) and Miracle "8 Mile" (bourbon, Meletti Amaro, orange peel).

  1. Mid-City West
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Users say

2 comments
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?