The best dive bars in L.A.
In business since the ’30s and with one of the finest neon signs in the Los Angeles area, 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.
Naturally, L.A.’s best nautical-themed bar sits a full 15 miles from the water. Located in Koreatown, this agreeably egalitarian bar is famed for the warmth of its welcome and the cheapness of its drinks, characteristics that are embraced by everyone from visiting rockers to residents of the Gaylord apartment hotel directly above the taproom. Saddle up to the bar or stake out a red leather booth where well-seasoned waitresses serve up dishes—don’t miss the Famous Baseball Steak—from a traditional American menu.
The Kibitz Room could be in the encyclopedia under “dive bar.” It’s been attatched to Canter’s Deli since 1961, and back in its heydey, the Doors and Frank Zappa jammed there on Tuesday nights. Stars still frequent the Kibitz, but the clientele either don’t notice or don’t care, for the most part. The beer isn’t fancy, but the vibe is low-key and the live entertainment ranges from typical open-mic nights to impromptu drop-in shows from the likes of Joni Mitchell or Guns N’ Roses. It’s dark, boozy and there’s 24-hour Jewish deli food right next door. What’s not to love?
Harbor Room might just be the tiniest bar in L.A. County, and it’s absolutely one of the smallest bars in the country—which means there may be a wait for a bar stool (all seven of them). Don’t let that dissuade you from stopping by; the drinks are strong and cheap, and the bar has an insane amount of charm, from the classic jukebox and vintage cash register to the salty old regulars taking up all those stools. Check out all the old photos on the wall and get the bartender to tell you neighborhood tales while he makes you one of the best dirty martinis in town.
Hipsters pack into this Tijuana-themed, Silver Lake bar illuminated by a lone “Lounge” sign out front. Inside, the thatched roof bar serves Pacifico by the bottle or PBR on tap. Join the party, decked in the festive, Mexican knick-knacks from sombreros and colorful flowers dangling overhead to portraits of drag queens and blacklight paintings on the walls. The bar’s décor is a confusing conundrum, which is just one of many beloved Cha Cha quirks appealing to the locals. Photo booth, foosball and oversized, shiny black booths—all in view.
This funky shack has been sitting beachside since 1969, slinging cheap, frosty mugs of beer, free popcorn and a pretty damn good burger (there’s a veggie option, too). Though they have an extensive food menu, the place is really a bar: Note the sawdusted floors, pool tables, jukebox and minimal seating. Expect colorful regulars, frequent live music and a couple TVs for game-watching. The place only serves beer and wine and is cash only, so leave your credit cards and hard-liquor hankerings at home.
The first thing to know about this dive bar in Los Feliz: The chicken wings are the stuff of legend. Ye Rustic Inn has a full menu of pub grub, as well as a regular rotation of both old-timers and a younger (and rowdier) crowd on the weekends. There’s an old-school jukebox (no touch screens here), kitschy mood lighting (chandeliers!) and TVs playing the sport of the season.
At the Purple Orchid, pass by regulars smoking under the neon purple sign and enter a tropical mecca of fruity drinks and kitschy decor. There are the requisite bamboo-lined walls and tiki lamps, but the Purple Orchid also does tropical with a twist: yes, tiki masks hang throughout the bar, but there are barbies dangling from their mouths as sacrificial offerings, and a cage with tiny heads hangs by a big screen TV. The menu lists classic picks like a Mai Tai, Scorpion, Blackwell Daiquiri and various coconut-infused libations. You may or may not get an umbrella depending on who is working, and sometimes the bartender confuses the Vic’s Grog with the Navy Grog (a tarter version of the rum-based cocktail). Purple Orchid is like the grungy, cheap offspring of a tiki bar and a dive bar, and we’re here for it.
Santa Monica’s ultra-divey karaoke gem provides casual libations and a high energy, low brow atmosphere. Anything goes at the dimly-lit watering hole, from the varied clientele to the diverse array of musical stylings. Open from 4pm til 2am every day of the week, the Gaslite provides many opportunities for the late night (or, uh, midday) rock star in you to make an off-key public appearance.
This place boasts “the stiffest pour in town” and “all your favorite beers,” both of which are true as long as your favorite beers by and large come from massive corporations. The bar isn’t as divey as it used to be (we miss the old jukebox and the free popcorn), but the vibe is surprisingly quiet and cozy, you’ll always see the same regulars (for better or worse) and if you’re into cider, they have Stella Artois’ version—by far the fanciest thing about the Roost. There’s also a handful of Thai dishes perfect for drinking—think: dumplings and pan-fried noodles to soak up that alcohol. Note: This place is cash only. There’s an ATM, but with a hefty fee, so come prepared.
Sip bourbon alongside the barflies or play foosball and billiards at this low-ceilinged dive bar full of regulars of all stripes at this Highland Park stalwart. An old-fashioned jukebox blasts tunes from Sonic Youth to Iggy Pop, and the beer selection is pretty impressive for a dingy dive.
This Manhattan Beach dive has been a staple since 1927. Nondescript and proudly showing its age with initials etched into wooden booths, Ercole’s keeps regulars happy with its legendary burgers, which some swear are the best in L.A., and the prices are reasonable across the board. With a crowded pool table in the back, classic tunes from a jukebox and a diverse crowd evenly split between salty old-timers and bro-y surfers, there is no lack of character. It’s cash-only, but there’s an ATM inside and several banks within walking distance.
While the neighborhood around it gentrifies, this mostly-locals bar keeps things honest with top-shelf tequilas and Mexican League futbol. Sure, there’s now a section of the menu devoted to “specialty cocktails,” but this family-run bar is still the same dingey dive to the core. The jukebox has amazing Mexican hits mixed with hilarious stateside hammers (think Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love”), and the strip of ceiling above the booth seats has tiny lights stuck in it, making for a kitschy indoor night sky. The Gold Room is great, but not the place to flaunt a weird haircut or bust out a lofty attitude: locals and staff have zero tolerance for posers.
What this bar lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in heavy-handed pours and a gorgeous shuffleboard table—plus enough Christmas lights to last a lifetime. There’s also pool and darts, though for any of these bar games, you’ll have to wait your turn behind the regulars, whom, it must be noted, are usually a little buzzed and a little territorial. There’s no food on offer, but you’re welcome to bring anything in or even order delivery. There’s also a sizeable parking lot, which is great if you’re only there for a drink or two—any more and you might want to get a ride with someone else.