The thirst is real in Los Angeles, which works out well because there’s no shortage of great drinks from the city’s best bars. There are cozy dives around town, happy hours with a view in Hollywood highrises, and pricey concoctions in the swankiest Downtown hotels. Here are the best of them all: the 15 top bars in Los Angeles, for every occasion. We’ve thrown in a few favorites by neighborhood and genre, too, to help you sip your way through L.A. Cheers.
January 2020: The city is full of stellar new bars, so you know we’re kicking off the year with a few new additions to our list. Our latest update includes Thunderbolt, a Southern-leaning cocktail bar that’s big on charm, madeira and hospitality; Venice’s breezy new Gran Blanco, where a former Accomplice bar lead crafts deceptively complex takes on approachable classics; and Old Lightning, one of the city’s most reliable, high-tier—and hidden—bottle collections. Removed from our list is Pacific Seas, Clifton’s whirlwind of a tiki bar, due to the complex’s renovation closures and erratic schedules; hopefully you’ll find it back on the list once it reopens.
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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. But the cocktails don’t stop in the lobby: There’s also a cheeky beverage program on the roof, where tiki-leaning cocktails and blended drinks arrive in plastic pineapples, and a coffee-cocktail program in the café once the sun sets. No matter the NoMad bar you visit, 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.)
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, 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, whether you’re looking for a classic, some tiki or a collaborative evening with guest bartenders from around the country.
Designated sake bars are few and far between in L.A. but Echo Park’s latest wants to change this, all while changing the way we think about sake. Tsubaki’s literal sibling concept—“OTOTO” translates to “little brother”—doesn’t just offer a menu of rice wines: It makes the Japanese classic as accessible as wine at a wine bar, and it makes it clear that sake is much more versatile than you’ve ever imagined. Organized primarily by tasting notes of Fruit & Flowers, Earth & Umami, Rice & Minerals, and Delicious Weirdos, the pours are approachable and varied, and pair with the bar’s limited menu of Japanese drinking food (karaage, okonomiyaki) and less traditional items (truffle cheese, chili burger). Co-owner and operator Courtney Kaplan lovingly scrawls the tasting notes onto wooden planks behind the bar, happy to talk shop, fermentation and common misconceptions with first-timers and sake aficionados alike.
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 and colorful, eccentric concoctions alike—all the better to enjoy with the bao and dumplings made right next door at sibling restaurant Little Fatty. (Who else is giving you rice-washed Japanese whiskey with kefir, mango, banana liqueur and baiju?) No matter how much you love your ’hood, you’ll consider a move to Mar Vista every time you drop by for a quaff.
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, 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.
One of the Westside’s most stylish bars launched with a three-part menu inspired by Christopher Nolan’s film The Prestige, but flipped the theme and now the cocktails have taken their own turn, if you will. Now, tailored to its setting, the cocktails all revolve around a "Day in L.A." theme, resulting in a handful of cocktails inspired by Venice Beach (refreshing), parking in K-town ("good luck") and crossing Sepulveda (adventurous): this means cask-strength bourbon with banana and caramelized Coco Lopez; and California brandy with rum and pimento dram. Note that the bar also added some seriously fun bites, such as their own take on the Dodger dog, here made with pineapple chips and red onions.
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.
We expected great bar bites—after all, the food menu’s brought to us by Filipino BBQ mecca 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) and the signature, peachy Thunderbolt put fruit and Southern flavor at the forefront, and they just so happen to pair perfectly with those slow-smoked brisket plates and little bowls of shrimp and grits with peanuts. 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 those comfy leather sofas and the top-notch playlists and it’s no surprise we stay all night.
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. It’s dimly lit and a perfect place to bring a date—or go solo and bring yourself on one.
The weekday-only Old Lightning has less of a “What’s the password?” greeting and more of a “Do you have a reservation?” protocol at the door, but that’s only due to its intimacy issues: Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix’s quintessential hidden bar behind Scopa Italian Roots only boasts around 25 seats, and they’re usually filled by Angelenos here to learn and savor. Stocked with more than 1,000 spirits—many of them rare and vintage—Old Lightning is the bar for anyone who can appreciate some of the city’s most unique pours, though they come at a price (around $100 for flights). To prevent photos, they’ll take your cell phone (don’t worry, you’ll get it back at the end), then you’ll be led to the unmarked door, and from there, it’s all tasteful midcentury modern decor and smooth, boozy sailing.
Blink and you’ll miss Historic Filipinotown’s near-hidden cocktail gem marked only by a lit-up coupe-glass sign out front. Genever is women-owned and -run, an intimate, sleek and gin-focused Art Deco den. Mezcal and rum may make a brief appearance, but even the most gin-averse visitors should at least sample a few of the infused libations here, which incorporate green tea and even butterfly pea flower into gin for light, herbacious and complex notes in your cocktails. There are delicate, feminine touches in the gold-accented decor, but it’s an inclusive and intimate space for all—but especially for gin lovers.
The team behind beloved Aussie café Great White took a bite out of an even bigger space with Gran Blanco, their new bar just across the street, which sits quietly under the iconic VENICE sign. The mood here is vinyl playlists, white walls, ceramics and wood, and it’s a casual but cultured spot to grab a glass of Australian chardonnay or sip breezy-but-considered cocktails from one of our favorite bar leads in town. Mitch Ono Bushell plays the hits for the neighborhood crowd—old-fashioneds, skinny margaritas, espresso martinis—but uses so many hidden bar tricks and no-waste kitchen hacks that you’ll find yourself downing frosé after frosé and marveling at the house-made watermelon-jerky garnish all the while: It’s high-quality cocktailing that never takes itself too seriously.
Bar Clacson is what happens when the team behind Pouring with Heart (formerly 213 Hospitality) opens a French- and Italian-cocktail hideaway in a city that very much appreciates 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. Hungry? At the front of the bar you’ll find new sandwich shop E Stretto, where you might catch fresh handmade pasta or a stacked-high Italian sub.
Stepping into this whimsical, ornate cocktail bar is like a trip to Paris or Victorian England. Either way, we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore. Antique lamps, sconces and scultpures dot the space, while stained glass arches form the showstopping ceiling. Of course the cocktails—made almost entirely with in-house ingredients—are also like nothing else in Los Angeles. The program meticulously ages barrels of amari and vermouths, painstakingly building cocktails whose components can take months to make—but take one sip and you’ll see why they’re worth the wait.