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The best cocktail bars in L.A.

Check out L.A.'s best cocktail bars, from the beach and seasonal libations to the godfather of the cocktail bar scene

Photograph: Alicia Cho
The Chestnut Club

It's offical: L.A. has caught up with the rest of the country when it comes to quality cocktails. From bespoke libations made with farmers' market-fresh ingredients to the revivial of the classic cocktail worthy of Don Draper, cocktail bars in L.A. are mixing undeniably phenomenal drinks. Whether you're drinking in Culver City, Downtown, Highland Park or Santa Monica, there are exceptional places to imbibe all across town. Check out our list of the best places to grab a cocktail in L.A. right now. 

RECOMMENDED: Our guide to cocktails in Los Angeles

L.A.'s best cocktail bars

1

The Roger Room

This groundbreaking cocktailery from Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson—who brought you West Hollywood staples Bar Lubitsch and Jones—is small, but the drinks pack a punch. While difficult to find (just head to the Largo, then spot the neon sign for an old psychic parlor), guests feel instantly at home inside the dim-lit spot for mind-blowing mixology. Booze hero Damian Windsor has made this a destination thanks to his menu of more than 20 classic tipples with a twist, like a vanilla-charged Spiced Mule and the habanero-infused Thug—all served in chilled glasses with a signature metal straw and the occasional plastic monkey. Vigilant barkeeps in snazzy black vests are always on hand to shake up a recommended libation or launch an impromptu lesson on Japanese whiskey. Their slogan is "Nothing but the best." Here, it most certainly rings true.

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La Cienega
2

The Walker Inn

Alex Day, Dave Kaplan and Devon Tarby opened the Walker Inn in May 2015, joining its sister bar, the Normandie Club, within the Normandie Hotel. Inside a room just large enough to seat 27 adventurous imbibers, the menu tackles a new theme every few months. First, fog rose from a Big Sur-inspired drink made with pine-infused brandy, a standout on the PCH-centric menu; then, a smoked chocolate sazerac materialized with a graham cracker-washed bourbon from the Wet Hot American Summer lineup. An Alice Waters-inspired menu put head bartender Katie Emmerson's talent on display, with drinks like the Gazpacho, a bowl of chilled vegetable juices spiked with gin and vermouth. The Walker Inn also introduced omakase cocktails, a rarity in L.A., allowing imbibers to experience a two-cocktail lineup catered to their particular tastes. From day one, the bar has been a destination for both cocktail connoisseurs and timid drinkers alike—letting you decide if you really like vegetable juice with gin. 

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Koreatown
3

MiniBar

Perhaps Raymond Chandler put it best: “The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that's wonderful.” Such an establishment can be hard to come by in Los Angeles, but it does exist, believe it or not, on the ground floor of the Best Western Hollywood Hills Hotel, in the aptly named MiniBar. Every square inch of the space is thoughtfully designed, with accordion-style warm wood paneling, grasscloth wall treatments, retro brass light fixtures and white leather swivel chairs creating a funky yet sophisticated fusion of colors, textures and materials. The cocktail menu is simple yet stellar—an eight-drink compendium of classic revivals with subtly genius twists. If you’re after something serious, stiff and straight up, the Bernard is an improved gin martini with more than one twist; in addition to salt-cured olives, it comes with a pickled mushroom. 

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Hollywood
4

1886

1886 isn't just the best cocktail bar in Pasadena—it's one of the best in all of L.A. 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 this cocktail cove behind the Raymond, serving some of the best fancy drinks around. The 21-long menu changes each season and thrives on originality, from the Pimm's #13 made with mezcal and Mexican Tamarindo soda to the Meyer lemon- and rosemary-infused Yoshi's Island.

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Pasadena
5

The Chestnut Club

Exposed brick, sexy lighting and plenty of studded leather sofas—yup, we've got ourselves yet another industrial-chic watering hole. The vibe is relaxed thanks to a friendly neighborhood crowd, the barkeeps in deep-v T-shirts are accomodating and even the bouncer is polite. We'll even give them brownie points for a classic menu of swills that aren't flashy. A favorite is the Diamondback Lounge, made with rye, applejack and yellow chartreuse. It's boozy as hell, but balanced to a T. Tip: Grab a spot near the large window facing 14th Street for some fresh air and solid people watching.

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Santa Monica
6

Melrose Umbrella Co.

The mystique of prohibition lives on at Melrose Umbrella Co., a pedigreed saloon from the inspired minds of nightlife bigwigs Austin Melrose, Ian Shepp and Zach Patterson. Step inside this next-level watering hole and, quite suddenly, it's 1933. Immaculately attired staff shake up some of the best drinks in town thanks to Patterson and his buddies Julian Cox (Comme Ça), Josh Goldman (Sotto) and Paul Sanguinetti (Stark Bar). What the nine-option menu (five house specials and four classics) lacks in quantity, it makes up for in craftsmanship. These are strong, sophisticated, shrewdly balanced and, most importantly, accessibly priced swills ($6-$14). There's no better place to raise a glass to the end of prohibition.

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Melrose
7

Old Man Bar

For most, the phrase “old man bar” conjures a specific image of worn upholstery, bowls of peanuts on a laminate bar top and crotchety curmudgeons. This is not the Old Man Bar you’ll find at Hatchet Hall. Tucked away in the rear of the elegantly eclectic Culver City restaurant, the intimate space is considerably dark, even slightly spooky, with taxidermy, antlers, animal skulls and black-and-white portraits illuminated only by the low glow of etched antique lamps, candles and an ornate fireplace. You'll find Old Fashioneds here—nine variations, to be exact. The Oaxacan replaces bourbon with Fidencio Clasico mezcal and angostura with Aztec chocolate bitters for a smoky, sweet and slightly spiced finish, while the American Trilogy brings George Dickel rye and Laird's apple brandy to the bourbon party, creating a smooth and utterly patriotic concoction.

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Culver City
8

The Spare Room

The Spare Room opened in 2011, a swanky hotel bar from Med Abrous and Marc Rose with two lanes of bowling and an original cocktail program designed by Aidan Demarest. It has always been a place to congregate with good-looking people and never-ending bowls of punch, but the arrival of beverage director Yael Vengroff transformed it into something else entirely: a place to sip slowly, where handcrafted 'tails could push the envelope while still feeling approachable. Take Vengroff's martini, for example: the Salt & Vinegar Martini, made with potato vodka, dry vermouth, pickle brine, celery shrub and a side of potato chips. It took Vengroff two years to perfect the drink; it takes two sips to realize how utterly unique the cocktail truly is. The Spare Room is having a bona fide moment in L.A.'s current cocktail climate—don't let it pass you by.

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Hollywood
9

The Corner Door

Culver City’s the Corner Door feels like a neighborhood place where everybody knows—or should know—your name. It's a cozy culinary and libation retreat where exposed red brick meets dark-wood paneling under Edison-approved lighting, and the drinks and bites are reliable and flavorful. Beau du Bois heads up the beverage program, which sees featured craft cocktail specials as well as a set list of classics, beers on tap and a decent selection of Italian, French, New Zealand and domestic wines. Happy Hour is in swing every day from 5 to 7pm, when cocktails are under $10 and glasses of wine are $6, but be sure to stop by for Burger R&D Nights on Sundays: a burger, fries and a beer go for $17, while bourbon Old Fashioneds are a mere $6.

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Culver City
10

Everson Royce Bar

The concrete exterior of this Downtown Arts District haunt seems intentionally nondescript. A bold neon sign above the door reads simply “BAR”—the small plaque beside it, “everson royce bar, est. 2015,” verifies the spot’s identity. Inside, E.R.B. is bustling and bright, and a spacious patio out back offers ample seating for drinking, dining and stargazing. Varnish alumn Chris Ojeda adds a whole lot of credibility to the cocktail list, like the Infanté ($12), a tequila tipple with lemon, almond, nutmeg and rosewater. The Business ($12) was another favorite that Bee’s Knees fans should enjoy—lime replaces lemon in this delightful mingling of gin, citrus and honey. To eat, Osteria Mozzachef Matt Molina cooks up bites like the steamed buns ($10), made with melt-in-your-mouth roasted pork belly, cucumber pickle and hoisin wrapped in pillowy warm bao.

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Downtown Arts District
11

Now Boarding

A mid-century bar is nothing novel, but one that’s inspired by the golden age of air travel? Now that's impressive. At this aeronautical-themed West Hollywood boîte, retro-fab chandeliers cast a glow onto well-heeled ladies and gents sipping stiff cocktails around a stainless steel wing-topped bar. The airplane motif isn't exactly subtle, but somehow Now Boarding narrowly escapes being kitschy. Of course, the real reason to land is for Roger Room vet Will Figueroa's high-flying drink program. Ask for the Ginsberg—not exactly a swill Don Draper would order. It’s a refreshing, inventive combo of rye, scotch, Fernet Branca, Aperol and bitters that’s sure to make you feel groovy, in case the DJ’s remixed Motown set just isn’t doing it for you. Oh, and don’t forget your bag of peanuts before exiting through the “Departures” door.

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West Hollywood
12

Varnish

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 L.A.'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.

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Skid Row
13

Big Bar

Imagine your grandmother’s house: Warm and inviting, with no shortage of antique knick-knacks. Now add a ton of booze. Welcome to Big Bar which, despite its name, is actually quite small—about 15 people inside feels snug, though more like a friendly hug than a claustrophobic nightmare. Yet somehow this utterly vintage nook adjacent to Alcove Cafe & Bakery hosts inevitably-packed events with utter ease, from weekly bartender takeovers to monthly movie-themed drinks coinciding with a screening on the patio. Add to that an uncomplicated yet whimsical drink program from master mixologist Cari Hah (Clifton’sThree ClubsCity Tavern DTLA), and you’ve reached neighborhood bar heaven. 

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Los Feliz
14

Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping is what happens when you put a classic cocktail lounge in Highland Park. In this ever-changing neighborhood, curious imbibers can find the drinkery from Spirit Animal Group’s Nicholas Krok, Ryan Duffy and Jeremy Simpson inside a converted garage off an alleyway behind Cafe Birdie. Stop right there if you are getting even the teeniest inclination that this is a speakeasy; instead, the twinkle-lit courtyard and homey interior combo conveys a downright neighborly feel. Prepare to be welcomed with open arms regardless of whether you live within walking distance or are traveling from further afoot. And the best part: no crowds. Be sure to order the Paloma—tall and only slightly smoky with a mix of lime, bell pepper, mezcal and a house-made sea salt tincture, it’s undoubtedly one of the most original Palomas you’ll ever have.

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Highland Park
15

Sassafras

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—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.

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Hollywood

Looking for craft beer instead?

Comments

3 comments
Correy S
Correy S

Cocktail bars in Los Angeles are pretty cool to be in. I say that because a friend of mine invited me to a party in one of them. It was pretty cool to be there and to have tried out some of the drinks in one of those bars. http://www.chinaruby.com/about.asp 

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?