Los Angeles has a storied history filled with larger-than-life celebrities. Luckily, this city does a great job of preserving its local landmarks, some of the most important of which happen to be the watering holes where L.A.'s biggest names went to unwind. From dark dive bars to a steakhouse with killer martinis, these classic haunts housed celluloid stars such as Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe, along with literary luminaries, sports icons, famous musicians and more. So pull up a stool at one of these spots—you could be sitting in the very same seat as one of countless L.A. legends.
L.A.'s classic celebrity bar haunts
Open since 1919, the Musso & Frank Grill is Hollywood's oldest restaurant, a steak-and-cocktails joint formerly favored by innumerable celebrities, beginning with silent movie stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, as well as Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Elizabeth Taylor, on-and-offscreen lovebirds Humphry Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio. A staggering list of great writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler and Kurt Vonnegut also graced the bar here, where you can still order a perfectly-concocted dry martini, by far the spot's biggest claim to fame.
In business since 1934 and with one of the finest neon signs in all of L.A., 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 an area without many of those, and a bar not for dilettantes but drinkers. Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were known to imbibe here, Charles Bukowski favored the place and it's rumored to have been the last place Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) was seen before her death. Look out for the beautiful Al Hirschfeld cartoon mural on the back wall, which caricatures more of L.A.'s most well-known celebs.
Even if you're not a Hollywood VIP trying to score a deal over your eggs Benedict, you'll probably find your Sunday brunch at the Polo Lounge pretty glamorous anyway. It is a little on the cheesy side (spotless white tablecloths and live jazz music), but the history alone is worth a visit. The hotel housed many a star, but the lounge, opened in 1941, was where celebs like Warren Beaty, Walt Disney and studio exec Darryl Zanuck held court. For late-night libations, the bar serves up a hefty cocktail list to a dressed-up crowd—you'll be sure to spot some more modern famous faces here—listening to the live piano.
Open since 1936, Tom Bergin's Public House has been gracing us with their exceptional Irish coffee and all around excellence for nearly 80 years, serving as a gathering place for the neighborhood—even back when stars like Bing Crosby and Cary Grant would frequent the bar. Next time you're feeling nostalgic, head over for a pint and read the names of regulars on shamrocks plastered to the walls and ceiling; Cary Grant's shamrock sits in a frame above one of the booths.
Pre-dating the Santa Monica Pier itself, this now-kitschy sports bar has been a beachfront institution since 1902 (the place didn’t even get its first icebox until 1913). It’s not necessarily a spot you’ll seek out for the mixology, but enjoy the sunshine, ocean breeze and sense that you’re hanging out in a spot that has hosted 115 years’ worth of Angelenos before you, including Cary Grant, Natalie Wood, basketball player Wilt Chamberlain and stunt driver Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel.
This beloved institution has been a landmark of Downtown's bustling Broadway since 1931. Five floors with intricate detail, from vignettes of famous L.A. sites to taxidermy to a massive tree that shoots up through the building. The first floor cafeteria offers plates of comfort food and that famous Jell-O, while the floors above include multiple bars (including a tiki bar!) and dining nooks. Some of L.A.'s most noted celebs spent time here, from the surly Bukowski to the beloved Walt Disney, as well as famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who took advantage of the "pay what you can" policy when he was a struggling writer, and later attended meetings of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society which took place in the cafeteria.
Tam O’Shanter is one of those pubs that has been around forever (more than 90 years, in fact; it opened in 1922), and with good reason. Representing the Scottish tier of L.A.’s British pub scene, the Tam is the real deal, from the red phone booth outside to the grumpy old men drinking at the bar. Along with celebs like Fatty Arbuckle and Mary Pickford, Walt Disney and his animators used to frequent the place due to its proximity to his studio on Hyperion Avenue—and its simple, tasty fare (apparently Walt was a meat-and-potatoes type). Even after his studio moved to the Valley, he remained a regular, and his favorite booth (#31, near the fireplace) is still designated in his honor.
King Eddy Saloon is noteworthy not only for being one of the city’s oldest bars—it opened in 1933—but also because for decades it has served as one of Skid Row’s great neighborhood watering holes; an unfussy spot for Downtown locals serving cheap, strong drinks and standard brews (though you can now find craft brews alongside the Bud). It was long known as a favored spot of literary luminaries such as Charles Bukowski and L.A. noir writer John Fante, who used the bar as a model for the dive in his novel Ask the Dust.
The 1927 West Hollywood location is the original L.A. outpost of this mini-chain (which first opened in Berkeley in 1920), giving it a history that adds to the boisterous atmosphere, one that has defined this spot from the very beginning. In its early days, the Beanery was frequeneted by stars like Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, John Barrymore and Clark Gable. Then in the '60s, it became a hangout for L.A.'s slew of famed and ill-fated musicians like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin (whose favorite booth was #34).
Looking for more storied L.A. bars?
Stop by a few of the oldest bars in L.A., which have been around long enough that they’re practically essential museums of local culture. From Downtown Los Angeles bars to bars in Hollywood and beyond, these places will let you step back in time just a bit.