With such a booming restaurant scene, it can sometimes feel like Los Angeles bars take second place. Of course, we know that isn’t the case, and 2018’s openings certainly beg to differ. This year alone we’ve sampled some of the city’s most exciting cocktail programs, been awed by historic renovations and sipped with sweeping views from new rooftop bars—and there’s no sign of our cocktail scene slowing down. L.A. is a city that knows a good drink when it gets one, whether it’s enjoyed in a train station, a speakeasy or a listening lounge attached to a pizza parlor. Here are the best bars that opened in 2018, for your drinking pleasure. Who says restaurants should get all the shine?
Drink it all in at 2018’s best new bars
It’s hard to beat the hilltop view—and if you’re into this sort of thing, the exclusivity. Sure, there’s already a bar program in Burbank’s freshly-renovated Castaway, but the restaurant’s new reservation-only cocktail bar is a next-level experience, and it’s only available on Friday and Saturday nights. Housed at the corner of the restaurant, the Green Room offers its own private, elegant space and section of the patio, complete with a firepit, its own cocktail menu and upscale bar bites such as caviar frites and salt-block–seared steak. If you’re thirsty, large-format cocktails in hand-blown glass vessels should do the trick, especially if you’re looking to wow a date: Loosely inspired by movies, the drinks here are just as theatrical as their film counterparts. Don’t believe us? Just look to the Flying Dutchman, served in a ship-in-a-bottle in ode to the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Just as 2018 was a big year for New York City chefs heading to Los Angeles, so it was with bars. NYC’s Employees Only—one of the country’s first contemporary speakeasies—is now a WeHo hot spot complete with its own fake storefront that leads to a drinking den. Enter through the psychic’s business (there’s one on hand, in case you do want a reading) and find yourself in this Deco-inspired, wood-paneled dining room with a gently curving bar. This is where you can find moody cocktails filled with-house-made syrups, hand-squeezed juices, freshly-puréed seasonal fruits and full pours of rare liquors—not to mention a dinner menu that’s inspired by early-20th-century cuisine. In the also-hidden Henry’s Room—think of it as a speakeasy within a speakeasy—you’ll sip New Orleans-inspired drinks with tableside service. Speaking of service, if you make it to the end of the night at Employees Only, just before closing, you’ll receive a free cup of chicken soup to help sober you up. Talk about hospitality.
This apothecary-themed bar is the sibling to New York City’s original Apothéke, but L.A.’s has more than managed to carve out an identity of its own. You’ll still find the detail-driven, botanical-toned drinks you can expect in the originator, but here on the outskirts of L.A.’s Chinatown, you’ll find a charming hidden patio with a separate, marble-topped outdoor bar; near-nightly live music; a few unique concoctions; and its own run of private cocktail classes. Quench your thirst as though you’re looking for remedies and potions; cocktails are divided into categories such as “aphrodesiacs,” “euphoric enhancers,” “health & beauty” and “stimulants.” And if you’re looking for a gorgeous setting, it doesn’t get much better: With its exposed wood beams, marble, tile, custom tufted wallpaper, glowing glass bottles, and the dream-garden topiary around the patio, Apothéke unsurprisingly took home our 2018 Most Stylish Bar award earlier this year.
It’s one thing to get a new pizza place, but it’s another thing entirely to get a new pizza place that’s outfitted with a secret vinyl bar. Walk through the nondescript door to the right after entering Lupetti Pizzeria and you’ll find yourself in one of the coolest bars in the Arts District—and quite possibly the best hi-fi bar in the whole city. Modeled after Japanese kissaten, audio-focused lounges and coffee shops, Lupetti’s hidden gem In Sheep’s Clothing opened this fall as part listening lounge, part cocktail bar and part coffee concept. During the daytime, stop by for local pastries, single-origin pour overs and light, ambient records on rotation; in the evening, the all-vinyl playlist incorporates more active-listening albums to liven the space—and all music is curated by Zach Cowie, the music supervisor behind Master of None. The cocktails are surprising, thoughtful reinventions of classics, where sakes, mescals and Japanese whiskeys do the heavy lifting as you sit back and listen.
Echo Park, meet your dream date spot. The team behind Ostrich Farm brought the neighborhood a charming taste of Mexico this year, and it’s a perfect, intimate space for meeting up for sips made by independently-owned mescal producers, glasses of Mexican wines and bites of some of the best new bar food of the year—seriously, we dream of those Oaxacan fried chicken wings in mole negro. Cocktails with hibiscus, Chamoy, cumin and farmers’ market ingredients are bright and intriguing, while the lengthy, exciting bottle list of mescals and tequilas will have you and your date plotting your next trip to Mexico. The patio is nice, but there’s nowhere we’d rather be than plunked down in a red velvet booth inside or perched at the candlelit bar in the evening.
This is the piano bar L.A. never knew it needed. Glittery tabletops, cheekily-named cocktails and the frequent Queer Cabaret showcase easily make this the most fun bar opening of 2018, and holy hell, is it fun. The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Glee star Darren Criss and his fiancée, Mia Swier, bring nightly singalongs, debaughery and mirrored walls to the heart of Hollywood with help from their friend (and fellow musician) Danny Massare. Cocktails like the Matcha-Cha-Cha-Cha—with matcha-infused tequila—or the signature Tramp (made with Campari and rosemary-infused gin) are sheer party fuel, which is perfect for Tramp Stamp Granny’s, a party incarnate.
Blink and you’ll miss this near-hidden bar, which sits along a humdrum stretch of Historic Filipinotown and is marked only by a lit-up coupe-glass sign out front. And you don’t want to miss Genever. This women-owned and -run cocktail bar is intimate, sleek and focused on gin, though that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find other, darker spirits. 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 and Deco-inspired decor, but it’s an inclusive and intimate space for all—but especially for gin lovers.
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 scene-stealing ceiling. Of course, the cocktails—made almost entirely with in-house ingredients—are also like nothing else in Los Angeles. We can all thank beverage director Kevin Lee for that. He 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. Our advice? Get to the Wolves and order the funky, fermented Banana Cream with Some Herbs soon, because once the seasons change, so do the ingredients. To really impress a date, make a reservation at the new omakase-inspired cocktail experience, Le Néant, housed at the back of the space.
Leave it to 213 Hospitality to reimagine one of Downtown’s most historic spaces with such panache. This year, the team behind the revamps of Cole’s (with its speakeasy, the Varnish), Casey’s Irish Pub and others brought us Imperial Western Beer Co., an 18-barrel brewery and beer bar housed in a show-stopping wing of Union Station. There are more than 20 beers on tap, some for as little as $5, with a focus on sours, IPAs and lagers—with a few stouts thrown in, for good measure. There are beer collabs with other local breweries. There are game tables galore. There are even solid bar bites, such as fish tacos, grilled oysters, burgers and fried mushrooms. Its sibling cocktail bar, the Streamliner, slings efficiency-oriented classic cocktails in a moody, adjacent space that harkens back to the Golden Age of Travel—with all drinks under $10, so you can save that money for more jet-setting.
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.)