You've dined at the best restaurants and stalked celebrity hangouts like a champ. Now, it's time to paint the town red (and bust a move) at the best bars in Los Angeles. Destination? Hollywood. Forget clichéd, tourist spots and velvet-rope attitude; instead, check out our top bar picks—from the best cocktail bars to the best dive bars—in Hollywood.
RECOMMENDED: Best bars in Los Angeles
Hollywood's best bars
In business since the '30s and with one of the finest neon signs in the entire Los Angeles region, the Frolic Room remains what it's always been: a straightforward, friendly little room in which to get loaded with others of a similar mindset, a neighborhood hangout in a neighborhood without many of them, and a bar not for dilettantes but drinkers. Look out for the beautiful Al Hirschfeld cartoon mural on the back wall.
Jonnie and Mark Houston, the twin brothers behind Houston Hospitality, have a reputation for pushing the envelope. Their latest venture, Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, is no exception, taking us back to the 1970s via an operational garage sale. After browsing records, clothing and other vintage paraphernalia, you’ll find the portal to this booze-fueled time machine—an old refrigerator. Step through its door and you’re instantly transported to a house party in the era of hard rock, sideburns and shag carpeting. Vintage beer cans and retro tchotchkes surround the tufted bar, where bartenders whip up craft cocktails with forgotten spirits and draught beer is served in novelty mugs. Outside, sno-cones and tiki drinks are doled out from a repurposed trailer in the “backyard,” where, if you’re lucky, you might catch a rooftop roller show. Dig it.
When we first caught wind of Grandpa Johnson’s, a new Art Deco-inspired cocktail lounge in Hollywood, it was like a vintage bar nerd’s dream come true. Our imaginations bubbled over with visions of Gatsby opulence, of antique light fixtures, of the wood-paneled walls we’ve come to hold so dear. Inside, we found a stunning interior that lived up to its hype, and—perhaps most shockingly—a table. An impressive marble-topped brass bar is curved to accommodate leaning patrons, which helps when seeking drink suggestions from the equally accommodating bartenders. Perhaps they'll recommend the T-Bizz, a tart and refreshing highball with Angel’s Envy Bourbon, ginger syrup, apple cider, amaro, lemon juice and angostura. There’s the surprisingly crisp Winnie, a shaken drink with Beefeater gin, darjeeling syrup and a striking hint of giffard apricot that lingers after each sip. And for those who like to nurse their drinks, the Eddie is a spicy concoction that hits you with a smoky combo of Auchentoshan 3 Wood scotch and Ancho Reyes chili liqueur before rounding out with banana syrup and coffee tincture—it’s definitely not one you can put down fast.
Don't let this Ivy-league name, with its vintage lights and ski lodge den in dusty rebellion, deceive you into thinking it's a place for the aspiring e.e. cummings or next Norman Mailer. The draw here is live music—mostly blues and rock 'n' roll—and a big front bar featuring American-made craft cocktails shaken and stirred by tattooed and torn-jeans-sporting bartenders. Smokers are welcome to indulge their vice in an enclosed outdoor alley accessible through a back entrance, while high rollers can reserve tables and private areas. Even a Harvard degree won't get you access if you don't heed the dress code, which is discouraging of shiny shirts, shorts, flip-flops and logos. Serious cocktail connoisseurs should head to the back R&D Bar to sample a nightly curated list of bespoke cocktails designed by a rotating brigade of mixologists. Things are fairly calm until moments before the band goes on, when an influx of locals and groupies take over the front bar, hoarding tables and crowding in for the show. That's also when VIP's have access to the upstairs area.
As its title may suggest, Hemingway's Lounge serves as the ultimate Hollywood haven for hipsters and cocktail-starved wordsmiths looking to take a break from birthing their respective novels. The chandelier-lit space is littered with dusty volumes (unreadable, of course, as they're glued to the walls), moody artifacts and velvety places for guests to park their trendily-clad behinds. Tea-stained menus catalogue cocktails with names like A Moveable Feast; and at $16 each, you can experience the bizarre conundrum of choosing between buying the drink or the actual book. No happy hour, no food—Hemingway's Lounge is a place for expensive imbinging only, and so imbibe expensively you shall.
Welcome to the land of milk and honey known as Jumbo’s Clown Room. Hollywood’s notorious pole dancing club, this small laid-back dive has dancers of all body types shaking it onstage to rock music hits from the past and present. It’s not a "strip club" per se; pierced, inked, and totally rock 'n' roll, these chicks don’t get naked, but perform some serious pole acrobatics onstage in their underwear. The crowd is eclectic and the vibe is welcoming: men, women, old-timers and newbies come to witness the sexy skills of these badass alternative beauties. Tips for the dancers are always encouraged, but if guests don’t have the funds to make it rain for the girls, they can sit farther away from the stage, order some drinks and enjoy the show.
To enter this reservations-only bar, patrons must pass through a secret closet, which leads them down a spiral staircase and straight into a Havana-inspired speakeasy, offering rum-based cocktails, a selection of cigars (though it's OK to bring your own, too), and regular burlesque performances.
Step inside this enchanting lair—where bartenders are easygoing, drinks are wholly original, and unclaimed property is free—and you quickly forget that you’re in Tinseltown or, at least, in a room attached to the most touristy beer hall in Hollywood (33 Taps, formerly Dillons). Want a used fedora? What’s lost is yours, no strings attached. Then there’s the drink program, which includes 50 international whiskeys and a slew of creative cocktails. For those with a sweet tooth, The Perfect Daiquiri, made with two types of rum, lime and sugar, has you covered. For the more adventurous, the Howard Hawks—a frothy blend of egg whites, rye, coffee-infused rum, lemon, lime and an absinthe rinse—should do the trick.
Bar-goers can expect the same Houston Brothers touches at No Vacancy, such as a red-carpeted walkway that leads you to three doors; live performances of DJs, dancers, old-timey band porch sessions; and a surprise, gravity-defying act. The entire house is outfitted with antique touches (think: red velour chairs, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, original, wood moldings, vintage glasses) and clandestine corners—the "gift shop" sells retro candies and stogies, while the "telephone booth" doubles as a leather-tufted photo booth. Reserve a private room upstairs with its own private bar and available bottle service. The rest of us should come dressed to impress and settle into the main bar, decked out with a bitters bar, homemade seasonal syrups and tonic water and an extensive selection of spirits for creative cocktailing.
The plainly named Piano Bar is a rare find in the heart of Hollywood: a comfortable, low-key and friendly dive. On any given night, the house piano man generally keeps things lively in this endearingly contrived Brit-themed hangout. It's also where you can see local songwriting/singing legend Chuck E. Weiss (subject of Rickie Lee Jones’ song “Chuck E.’s in Love”), who has played with the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters.
Rising from the ashes of the old Powerhouse, where everyone from The Beatles to Bukowski wet their whistles, is the newly refurbished Power House, which takes its ever-so-slight name change from the original neon sign remaining out front. The new interior is classic and sexy, with faded brick walls and exposed ceiling beams interplaying with cream hexagonal tiles and vintage fixtures to create a muted decadence. The drinks here are delicious—and unique compared to what other Hollywood bars try to get away with for the same price. Try the Mr. Pineapple wheat beer while you get a history lesson from the bartenders on the bar's storied past.
1933 Group (Bigfoot Lodge, Thirsty Crow, Oldfield's) brings the barrel-aged cocktail front and center at Sassafras, their latest throwback to another time and place: the Old South. Though in the middle of Hollywood (on Vine and Fountain), once inside, it’s easy to imagine Tennessee Williams as a regular here. Walk past what looks like a patio on the Bayou—weeds creep out of the ceiling above the wicker chairs—to the long bar framed by odd family heirlooms—a bust of President Lincoln, scratchy mirrors and patriarchal portraits on brick walls—and dangling bottles of barrel-aged cocktails in constant rotation (literally, on an ancient dry cleaning rack). Behind the bar sits a Savannah townhouse—an actual building that was dismantled in Georgia and reconstructed down to the moldings and fireplace. If the scenery is too much for you, focus on the menu—seven premixed and oak barrel-aged cocktails ($14), house-brewed ginger-beer drinks ($12) and concoctions inspired by the bar’s namesake (as in the plant, used for root beer). To eat, there's Southern grub like jambalaya ($10) and sweet potato pie ($5).
This is the Hollywood good old boy’s pub you’ve been waiting for. Owners Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson (Il Covo, Roger Room) have transformed the former dive into a spacious country tavern where grand iron chandeliers and wall lamps illuminate British paraphernalia on the walls, red leather booths and two dark wood-paneled bars and dining room. A friendly and helpful staff serve up a full bar of beer, wine, spirits and a stellar selection of specialty cocktails pair perfectly with a menu of elevated pub fare for vegans, locavores and omnivores alike. Opt for Mary’s Vinegar Chicken ($19) or a Worcestershire aioli-smothered burger ($15), both served with "chips", thrice cooked and possibly the tastiest this side of the pond. Singles can drop in after the dinner bell and hold up at the back bar. Take advantage of daily happy hour from 4-6pm, which sees reduced prices on their specialty cocktails, red and white wines, bar snack and well drinks.
Milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard, so it should come as no surprise that The Libertine Group's sexy new Cahuenga lounge has one for $500. The Powder Room is the only place in town where you can get the classic dessert beverage with edible gold and a take-home crystal ring—created by Adrian Biggs, a La Descarga vet, no less. But don't be fooled by the snake-skin bar stools, seductive pink lighting, and groovy playlist: Head bartender Luke Andes is not messing around with this drink program. Libations are equal parts gorgeous and tasty, meticulously crafted with three-to-seven fresh market ingredients and housemade infusions. The intimate lounge is a classy alternative to the boulevard's usual sports bar and nightclub debauchery.
Tucked away on the second floor of Hollywood's Roosevelt hotel, the Spare Room is like stepping into another era where classic cocktails and punch bowls—served by waitresses in Gatsby-era dresses—pour freely and people make merry all night long. The big draw here is Monday game night when an exclusive bowling league competes (get on the waitlist to high-five with Hollywood's pretty, young things). Groups of up to six—clad in Spare Room's George Esquivel–designed bowling shoes and argyle socks—can reserve one of two lanes for $100 an hour. Or just chill in the lounge, and cozy up to your neighbors with a friendly game of Dominoes, Monopoly, Connect Four or Battleship. On Wednesdays, from 8-10pm, there's half-price bowling and happy hour–priced food and drinks.
You could call Three Clubs a dive, but that term seems to apply to any establishment that’s been around more than ten years and doesn’t have a bespoke cocktail program. With its deep red interior compounded by carpeted floors, velvet wallpaper, mahogany paneling, black leather and a sparkly black ceiling, it’s an atmosphere that immediately demands a martini, but will settle for a beer and a shot. During happy hour (which is every day from 6 to 8pm), there’s a laid-back, loungey vibe; as the evening progresses, you can expect anything from karaoke and live music to burlesque shows, all of which take place on stage in a side room adjacent to the bar.