Take equal parts neighborhood bar, a staff with swagger, Taiwanese soul food and a cocktail menu that somehow makes even the most de rigueur drinks exciting, and you’ve got a Mar Vista gem that’s also the city’s best. The vibe is unpretentious, and the drinks are unadulterated fun: Pan-Asian ingredients sneak their way into the fundamentals, like a carrot-tinged spritzer made with sparkling sake (in lieu of prosecco) or a whiskey sour brightened by ginger and sesame—all the better to enjoy with the bao and dumplings made right next door at sibling restaurant Little Fatty. No matter how much you love your ’hood, you’ll consider a move to Mar Vista every time you drop by for a quaff.
You won’t find the themed menus that first made the Normandie Hotel a pin on the map of cocktail must-visits, but don’t fret—you can still find this speakeasy sporting its famous drink omakase, and it’s as impressive as ever. You access the Walker Inn through the Normandie Club, its fabulous sibling bar, and head to the back hallway; buzz to be let in, and enter a moody lounge brought to you by the drink geniuses at Proprietors LLC and 213 Hospitality. A bit of mad science from a hidden cocktail lab creates whimsical, fabulous clarified bloody Marys, brown-butter martinis and more, available à la carte or via the reservation-recommended omakase experience—even after all these years, seats fill up fast.
When the hospitality juggernaut landed in L.A., it had to live up to its world-class New York City counterpart. To our amazement, it did. We’re thinking the awesomeness has something to do with the rigorously trained team, a massive yet expertly curated 40-drink menu and, oh yeah, one of the sexiest, moodiest interiors in all of Downtown. Local, seasonal ingredients and house-made yogurt, tinctures and tonics brighten rare liquors for drinks so good you’ll have to convince yourself to try something new each visit. (Even if they are around $20 a pop, they’re worth the splurge.)
This charming spot is the Los Feliz equivalent of Cheers, where everybody knows your name, but it gets even better: This repurposed Craftsman home also sports a café, a bakery and one of the best patios in the city. The bar team, led by the creative and ambitious Cari Hah (Clifton’s, Three Clubs), whips up house-made syrups, oft-rotating concoctions and some of the most cheeky, fun-loving menus L.A. has ever seen. Puns, drink accessories and seasonal ingredients abound, but don’t think they can’t do classics. Just ask Hah about perfect dilution ratio for a martini and buckle up for a cocktail history lesson.
You enter beneath the neon sign hanging over the door—it just reads “BAR,” you can’t miss it—and the second you’re in, you’ll probably agree with the second neon you see: “My, that’s better.” Stepping into Everson Royce Bar is like heaving a sigh of relief, a hidden gem in the Arts District that feels part elegant cocktail den, part raucous patio party. Cocktails come inspired by Los Angeles—we recommend the Oaxacan old-fashioned, or the Yo LA Tengo which comes packed with mezcal, grapefruit, Aperol, ginger and lime—whether you’re hanging with friends outdoors or tucked into a dark corner inside on a date. Don’t skip the bar bites, which include some of the best biscuits and one of the best burgers in town.
This wine den seems traditional—tea lights, cheese boards, a draft list on the chalkboard—but ask for a menu and things take a turn. Despite offering a staggering list of 150 wines by the glass, you’re not going to find a written list to help you sort through it. Instead, owners Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner devised a way to make wine recommendations based on a few simple questions about your preferences and maybe an adjective or two (think: “fruity,” “clean,” “funky”). Then, your drink-slinger is off, pouring samples and drawing in the most serious of customers until they crack a smile and get something that’s just to their liking.
You see it on the coasters, you see it atop the foam on your drink: “YES.” It’s the unofficial ethos of Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson’s high-minded cocktail bar, where it’s best to just go with the flow because everything off that order-by-the-spirit menu is going to be good. But first, you have to find it: Look for the neon “PSYCHIC” sign on La Cienega, then enter through a curtain to find a handful of seasonal tipples in addition to classics-leaning cocktails split into categories of sparkling, rum, tequila, whiskey, gin, vodka and even absinthe. The place fills up fast, so stop by early or late. It’s dimly lit and a perfect place to bring a date—or go solo and bring yourself on one.
There are tiki bars, and then there’s Pacific Seas. Clifton’s Republic’s ode to the original pan-Polynesian extravaganza, which opened around the corner in the 1930s, is one of L.A.’s most over-the-top cocktail destinations. It’s a sight to behold, with hanging canoes, maps, masks, pufferfish lanterns and other ephemera sourced from the original Pacific Seas and other now-shuttered L.A. tiki bars, but the drinks alone are worth crossing, well, the Pacific seas to get there. You can’t go wrong with the classics—some of which use original Trader Vic’s recipes—while showy, multi-person scorpion bowls and punches served in custom-made glassware are sometimes all you’ll see on the scattered tabletops. Look out for DJ nights and hula dancers, which really get the party going.
Bar Clacson is what happens when the team behind 213 Hospitality opens a French- and Italian-classics cocktail hideaway in a city very much having a European moment. The nightlife heavyweight brought in an extensive amari collection, not to mention the bar group’s usual preference for no frills and no pretention, creating a laid-back spot where you’re just as likely to sidle up to the bar and hunch over a strong negroni as you are to show up with a group for spritzes and a round of pétanque (think: bocce). The $5 aperitivo hour is one of DTLA’s best happy hours, and if you change your mind and want a location that’s a little flashier, there’s always the Slipper Clutch, Bar Clacson’s highball-focused hidden pinball bar.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mayhem of Hollywood Boulevard. But if you dodge the multiple Spider-Men posing for pics outside of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, you’ll be rewarded with spirits so startlingly refined and a setting that’s so Old Hollywood, it’s as though you’ve traveled back in time. That’s not to say that the Hollywood Roosevelt’s tucked-away bar and gaming parlor—complete with its 1800s bowling lanes—isn’t modern. The bar’s drinks scream “party,” with a focus on punch bowls and tiki-inspired spins topped with fresh fruit and purple orchids. Unwavering since its 2011 launch, the Spare Room has quickly become one of the top hidden bars of the city—or anywhere.