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Employees Only Outside
Photograph: Courtesy Elliot Montero

The 18 best bars in Los Angeles

This May, check out Employees Only's new golden hour special, late night bites at the Bamboo Club and other updates from L.A.'s best bars.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Stephanie Breijo
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After almost two years of pandemic turmoil, L.A.'s bar scene is finally back in business, and there might be no better time than now for a good, well-made drink, preferably with a side of bar bites and good, old-fashioned camraderie. After all, bars, like restaurants and public parks, give rise to the sought-after sense of belonging and community that characterizes what sociologist Ray Oldenburg called “third spaces.”

Right now, much of L.A.’s drinking scene seems to have found its post-vaccine mandate footing, and we’re glad to be back at a busy bar, credit card in hand, hoping to flag down a  bartender. L.A. might have cozy dives near the beach, rooftop happy hours with views of the Hollywood Hills, and pricey but delicious concoctions in the swankiest Downtown hotels, but if you’re really asking us, here are the 18 best bars in Los Angeles—for any occasion.

May 2022: Though L.A. County has dropped its mask mandate, we’ve kept our patio option callouts on our Best Bars list. Note: Both City of Los Angeles and L.A. County no longer requires bars, lounges, distilleries and wineries to ask for proof of vaccination to enter indoor spaces—but businesses can still set their own rules for guests. 

The best bars in L.A., ranked

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Echo Park
  • price 1 of 4

We expected great bar bites—after all, the food menu’s brought to us by the team at the Park’s Finest next door—but Thunderbolt more than delivers on cocktails, too. An ample madeira collection and playful concoctions such as the clarified take on a piña colada (Tropipop) put fruit and Southern flavor at the forefront, and they just so happen to pair perfectly with plates of country ham and their luscious fried green tomato sandwiches. But the bar team isn’t just about the South; Thunderbolt also pays homage to Historic Filipinotown with sleek, creative and so-good-you-can’t-put-them-down options like the P-Town Boxing Club, made with pandan and coconut-washed rye. Throw in a lively front patio, comfy leather sofas and top-notch playlists, and it’s no surprise we tend to stay all night.

Outdoor patio available.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Virgil Village

This breezy spot with one of our favorite patios is a wine bar, yes, but it’s also a hub for some of L.A.'s best food pop-ups, an occasional DJ and event space, and perhaps, above all, a reopening era nexus for wine-and-food loving aesthetes from all over the city. Some nights, it's a “full on scene,” in the words of comedy writer Dave Schilling. “Guys I’m serious. Melody is popping off. It’s 90 percent horny,” he tweeted while at a Fishwife pop-up last year. With a rotating menu full of small-producer and organic wines, it’s also one of the best ways to taste your way through some of L.A.’s best new culinary concepts. Depending on the night and pop-up, the crowd can get kind of hectic, so plan accordingly (Melody only takes walk-ins).

Heated outdoor patio available.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 2 of 4

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 boozy boon to the Arts District that feels part elegant cocktail den, part raucous patio party. No matter which experience you choose (based on where you choose to sit), you’ll be ordering some of L.A.’s best cocktails. They come inspired by Los Angeles and seasonal produce—we recommend the long-time favorite Yo LA Tengo, which comes packed with mezcal, grapefruit, Aperol, ginger and lime, or the You’ll Rhubarb the Day, which involves, you guessed it, rhubarb—and the food follows suit. Don’t skip the bar bites, which include some of the most flaky biscuits and one of the best burgers in town. Head here on Tuesdays for ERB's Taquito and Taco Tuesday menu, which now includes craveworthy crunchu tacos.

Heated outdoor patio available.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Los Feliz
  • price 2 of 4

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 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 non-alcoholic cocktails abound, but don’t think they can’t do classics; the martinis, margs and spritzes here are some of the best in town—and all the better on that gorgeous patio. This May, Big Bar is offering an early taste of summer with their Guavana, a rum-soaked tropical drink flavored with guava, lime and banana peel and I(s)lay on Green Shores, a scotch whiskey highball that uses Japanese sencha green tea, cucumber shrub and sherry that'll definitely get you out of your comfort zone.

Heated outdoor patio available.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Historic Filipinotown
  • price 2 of 4

Blink and you’ll miss Historic Filipinotown’s near-hidden cocktail gem marked only by a lit-up coupe-glass sign out front—and you don’t want to miss Genever, an intimate, Filipina-run Art Deco den specializing in gin-based drinks. Inside, you'll find delicate, feminine touches in the gold-accented decor, creating a scene that practically glows. Menuwise, mezcal and rum may make a brief appearance, but even the most gin-averse should try an one of the infused juniper libations here, which incorporate green tea and tropical fruits for light, herbaceous and complex notes in your cocktails. Genever even offers non-alcoholic versions of many their drinks—just look for the asterisk on the menu. This spring, their newest cocktail list features all spirit brands owned or run by women, including the bright pink Dollywood made with tequila and raspberry-infused rum.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

The renowned Employees Only first made waves in New York City, but its WeHo location has become a full-blown upscale neighborhood spot and citywide cocktail destination. The Prohibition-inspired bar’s artful cocktails pair beautifully with its extended dinner menu, where you might find seasonal arancini,  wood-fired chicken in lacto-blueberry barbecue sauce and fresh oysters with rose petal mignonette. Now, there’s the more moderately priced Golden Hour menu, where early birds can enjoy $12 cocktails and $8 to $16 bar bites between 6 and 7pm. By mid-evening, the bar’s moody Art Deco ambience is full-throttle in its (largely reservation-only) dining room and walk-in bar. Look closely to spot the entrance to the hidden Henry’s Room, a speakeasy accessed through a back wall. It’s all fun, sleek and exactly the kind of low-lit space you can lose hours in.

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  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 2 of 4

The best place to flick soju bottle caps and chat over anju (Korean bar bites) with friends in L.A., Dan Sung Sa is a quintessential Koreatown drinking spot with wood panel interiors, dim lighting and no-nonsense service. Stepping through its doors can make you feel like you’ve been transported back to a late-20th-century Seoul pojangmacha—according to Eater, owner Caroline Cho constructed the bar based on her own memories of South Korea’s tented street pubs when she first opened it in 1997. Wooden block menus present an array of over 90 food items, all of which are meant to be eaten alongside bottles of sake, fruit and yogurt-flavored soju, baekseju (an herb-infused rice wine) and makgeolli, a lightly sparkling, off-white rice wine that manages to read on the palate as sweet, tangy and bitter all at once. Pro tip: Order the corn cheese.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

If the name looks familiar, the extremely stylish apothecary-themed bar at the edge of Chinatown’s warehouse district is the sibling to New York City’s Apothéke, which racked up acclaim through detail-driven, botanical-toned drinks in a dimly-lit setting. Here in L.A., the vibe, atmosphere and menu are all similar, with a few unique drinks for good measure. True to the apothecary theme, cocktails are paired off into cures for what ails ya: stress relievers, stimulants, pain killers, euphorics and more, and they might include produce, tinctures or bitters such as cantaloupe, bee pollen, bell pepper, sage, coconut charcoal, or a honeyed chamomile cordial. Don’t miss out on the side patio—one of the cutest in the city—nor the live programming, which has included bands, DJ sets, burlesque and even private cocktail classes.

Heated outdoor patio available.

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  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Central LA
  • price 2 of 4

Housed in the historic Firestone tire station on La Brea, All Season Brewing is the expansive, all-purpose informal Mid-Wilshire bar that the city has been waiting for. Beer lovers flock here for All Season’s extensive list of brews, which runs heavy on IPAs and lagers, but those who’d rather sip on something fruity will be more than sated by their tropical-leaning cocktails on tap, including a delicious mezcal paloma. A menu of draft wines and classic cocktails, delicious snacks from Chicas Tacos, arcade games and Skee-Ball round out a night at the expansive open-air brewery, which also has an excellent weekday $1 discounts on shots and $2 to $3 off on select beers. It’s the perfect spot for watching sports, casual hangs and large groups.

Outdoor patio available.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

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 Chinese Theatre and instead head inside the Hollywood Roosevelt, you’ll be rewarded with spirits so startlingly refined, an indoor bowling alley and a vibe that’s so Old Hollywood, it’s as though you’ve traveled back in time. That’s not to say that the Spare Room isn’t modern: The cocktail bar’s drinks scream “fun” with modern flair. The bar team, with new director Tess Anne Sawyer in tow, work magic into flamboyant concoctions and understated classics alike; unwavering since its 2011 launch, the Spare Room is undeniably one of the top bars in the city—or anywhere, really.

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  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • East Hollywood

With limited seating and absolutely no reservations, Lolo Wine Bar in East Hollywood is a hard sell for anyone trying to corral a group of friends who live across the city. For neighborhood locals, those willing to show up early and people who don’t mind having to wait, this gold-tinged natural wine bar with a small, chic checkered floor patio and excellent food menu is yours for the taking. Lolo’s house-made pastas, market-fresh vegetables and other small plates rise beyond the standard wine bar charcuterie fare, all while paired with an extensive list of wine bottles and a few choice wines by the glass. They also operate a wine shop (pickup only), including 6-bottle and 12-bottle variety packs for the regular at-home drinker.

Heated outdoor patio available. 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Downtown Historic Core
  • price 2 of 4

Stepping into this ornate Downtown cocktail bar is like a trip to the early 20th century. Antique lamps, sconces and art dot the space, while an old train station’s stained glass arches make up the awe-inspiring ceiling. In its post-lockdown era, the Wolves now also features a serious specialty cocktail program by bar lead Nathan McCullough, who takes a culinary approach to mixology. Here, you'll find oddly delicious drinks made with unusual ingredients: haricot verts (Prey for Us), shiitake mushrooms (Let Them Talk) and cream cheese (Millions of Peaches). For the novelty-inclined, there's a weekly farm-to-glass cocktail special, where McCullough uses a different ingredient from the farmers' market to create an entirely different cocktail.

Small upstairs patio available. 

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  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Los Feliz
  • price 2 of 4

This wine den seems traditional—Edison bulbs, 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, the preferred menu is all verbal. 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. Want to drink at home? Covell's offerings just might upstage your local bottle shop with their dealer’s-choice to-go mystery packs, where three, six or 12 wine bottles can be yours, still tailored to your adjectives. 
Outdoor patio available.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Culver City
  • price 2 of 4

The crown jewel of Culver City’s long-awaited food hall, Bar Bohemien is probably the most low-key rooftop bar in the city. This can partially be attributed to its small size, as well as to the byzantine downtown Culver City streets (courtesy of closures for outdoor dining), but for those who find their way up Citizen Public Market’s winding stairs, this intimate, mostly outdoor watering hole provides everyday good vibes and even better cocktails. With a bush-lined patio that’s beautiful at sunset, it’s the perfect spot to meet an online date or a group of old friends. Featuring unique distillers like locally made Amass Botanicals and non-alcoholic spirits maker Seedlip, Bar Bohemien’s cocktail menu is full of pleasant surprises. Note: Walk-ins only.

Heated outdoor patio available.
 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 2 of 4

The chances of you, a mere mortal, walking into this underground Arts District cocktail bar without a reservation are slim to none, but the L.A. outpost of this famous New York cocktail bar still has some of the best (and most expensive!) drinks in the city. Flavor profiles and vibes divide the menu under labels like such “light and playful” and “boozy and honest.” Many drinks run in the $24 to $26 range—the sky-high prices you’ll have to pay for time-tested techniques and a vast array of unique, hard-to-find spirits. Not to be outdone by the drinks, Death & Co. also serves a small food menu, for an upscale drinking experience that’s big on aesthetics, balance and flavor. On the other hand, a slightly damp, “old building” smell hangs in the air, and anyone who’s closed their tab will definitely feel pressured by staff to leave.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Long Beach
  • price 1 of 4

The city of L.A. has its fair share of tiki bars but it doesn’t have Bamboo Club, Long Beach’s prime tiki destination, which is home to killer tropical cocktails and some of the best vinyl nights in the area. While you’re enjoying all that surf punk and those games of pool, you’ll be sipping on some of the most affordable tiki concoctions we’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting; most drinks run about $14. There are tiki classics, as well as tiki drinks sans rum, and a section of the menu devoted to coconut, which includes our favorite Bamboo Club drink: the Piña Verde, where a classic piña colada gets an upgrade from green chartreuse. We also like the bar bites, which include equally breezy, tropical fare including a Hawaiian macaroni salad and an ultra-popular Thai tea fried chicken sandwich. Got a case of late night munchies? As of May, the bar's got a delicious new late-night menu—think shishito peppers, garlic noodles and kahlua pork fries.

Outdoor patio available.

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • La Cienega
  • price 2 of 4

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 cocktails in addition to classics-leaning drinks split into categories of sparkling, rum, tequila, whiskey, gin, vodka and even absinthe. The place fills up fast, so stop by early or late. The lights are low and the drinks are spot-on, making it a perfect place to bring a date—or go solo and bring yourself on one.

Outdoor patio available.

  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Eagle Rock
  • price 1 of 4

What happens when a dive meets pinball meets meticulous throwback touches and a great craft-drink list to match? You get Walt’s Bar, Eagle Rock’s pinball spot and watering hole serving local beer and cider, natural wine and eternal classics like cans of ice-cold Hamm’s. The mood is casual and the vibe is immaculate, and there’s almost nowhere in town we’d rather haunt. Giant pretzels, hot dogs, vegan dogs and chips are all on offer, too, with appearances by Café Wednesday and other pop-ups for more gourmet bites. Stop by at 8pm on on Wednesdays for $5 tournament nights—and don’t forget to bring some cash; while there’s a change machine, it only takes $1s and $5s.

Outdoor patio available.

Still thirsty?

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Best bars by neighborhood

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