The 13 best bars in Koreatown, ranked
There’s no bar in Koreatown that led the neighborhood’s cocktail revolution like the Normandie Club. This dark and sexy saloon collab from booze giants Proprietors and 213 Hospitality, nestled on the ground floor of the rehabbed Hotel Normandie, is a testament to K-town’s growing beverage scene. The drinks are beautifully built, but it’s the Carrie Rand Heller–led team that makes this spot a shaken, stirred and straight-up temple to hospitality and versatility. You could order from the brief list of classics-inspired cocktails, but don’t let the bartenders’ skill go to waste: Give them a few parameters, then let them run wild. For the best time, make sure to get in early and keep an eye out for open banquettes; booths take up most of the room, but if you don’t snag one, you’re stuck huddled in a stiff crowd around the bar. Best to plant your flag at the start of the night.
In speakeasy form, this cocktail destination is unnamed out front—just look for the stylish keyhole-shaped neon near a red door, which leads to a theatrically disorienting wall of doorknobs and keyholes. Once you find your way in, the bar’s cocktail program is front and center. Fresh herbs, fruits, simple syrups and torches set the stage for well-made craft drinks prepared by attentive and friendly bartenders. Weeknights are low-key and perfect for a date, while weekends offer a wildly different experience with a strong showing from K-town’s contingent of the young, attractive and well-dressed (Note: an upscale-casual dress code is enforced). When the bar gets slammed, DJs turn up the music—lending more of a club feel to the place.
Dan Sung Sa, named after an old theater in Korea, serves quality, inexpensive bar food in a dimly-lit, lively atmosphere that’s perfect for small groups and solo drinkers. Soju cocktails and herb wine are our move, but there’s also a handful of imported and domestic beers on draft and in-bottle. The kitchen, located in the center of the bar (and where you should try to sit), whips up kimchi hand rolls, noodle soups, fried chicken wings and other great Korean drinking food, including a lengthy rundown of grilled, skewered meats and vegetables like scallops, shumai, egg cakes, mushrooms, chicken gizzards, beef intestines and even frog legs.
Funnily enough, 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 Apartments directly above the taproom. Sidle up to the bar or stake out a red leather booth where well-seasoned waitresses serve up apps and “ship entrées”—don’t miss the famous baseball steak—from a traditional American menu.
Want to eat octopus tentacles while sitting on naugahyde? The oak paneling, oil paintings and moody red lighting of this historic haunt will make you feel like you’re conducting some dirty business in a secret spy restaurant. (No wonder Nicholson and Dunaway filmed a scene from Chinatown here.) The restaurant and bar, first founded in 1927, flipped to a late-night Korean-food mecca in its modern age, and now you can feast on sea snails, rice cakes and squid, or try the famous Korean fried chicken while slurping down soju. The drinks menu is generous, with cocktails separated into categories for the different eras the space has seen. We’re partial to the fun and frosty banana daiquiris here, but who’s to stop you from ordering a classic gin martini or a sazerac? Certainly not us.
Grab your proton packs, your best Heathers pleated skirt and a whole lot of hair spray because you’re about to time travel back to the 1980s—of course to find your wormhole, you’ll have to find it. The entrance to Break Room 86 is actually around the corner of K-town’s Line Hotel, near the loading dock in the back alley; what more would you expect from the Houston Brothers, whose other L.A. bars (hello, No Vacancy and Black Rabbit Rose) peddle in speakeasies and immersive experiences? Once you’re in, it’s all neon and VHS tapes and old-school arcade consoles, which you can play in between boozy push pops and sips of Ecto Cooler-inspired cocktails. There’s also karaoke (with live-band accompaniment on Tuesdays) plus regular DJ nights and the occasional stage show—the ’80s were a busy time for patterns and wild hair, but Break Room 86 is busy with everything.
You want opulence? You’ve got it at Mama Lion, the swank, sleek bar and lounge near the Wiltern. Sip cardamom-vodka cocktails under dangling chandeliers while you dive into seafood towers toppling with Maine lobster and oysters on the half shell. The best part? This spot is just as flashy as it is perfect for balling on a budget: Most cocktails top out around $12, while dishes such as lobster mac and cheese, truffled hummus, and dry-aged steak run below $20. Of course if you really want to ball, stay late for DJ sets and bottle service.
Brass Monkey is arguably the most notorious karaoke dive in the city. Located in the ground floor of a nondescript office building, this ski lodge-styled room has one of the most comprehensive karaoke songbooks in the city. Waiting times on weekends routinely hit 45 minutes, so you’ll have time to down plenty of liquid courage before you get your shot at the stage. The joint is super small and cozy, and if you want to sing, we suggest submitting your song choices early on.
The first thing you need to know about Beer Belly is that this spot offers an entirely made-in-California craft beer list, with limited-run (read: always rotating) brews and a lot of new labels—meaning there’s always something exciting to try. The second thing you need to know is this: buttermilk fried chicken. Everything else is just background noise. Although, pretty much everything is highly enjoyable: the eclectic clientele, the rock playlists, the French fries slathered with duck confit, the sloppy, grease-dripping grilled cheese and the range of California-focused ciders. Order at the counter, then try to find a table—they’re first come, first served, so be prepared to circle like vultures, especially when there’s a big game on.
Paper Tiger is a K-town keeper, and not just because we can stop by for a quiet drink or an all-vinyl DJ set and not run into everyone we know. (The minimal signage—a tiny “Paper Tiger” in neon cursive, might have something to do with its low-key status. We’re not complaining.) But if you came to party, just stick around long enough on a Friday or Saturday night and make your way to the dance floor, which fills up fast. The bar slings solid cocktails equally perfect for a quiet night or a dance party (whiskey with chocolate bitters, perhaps, or the tiki-leaning Red Bull-and-rum drink with pineapple and orgeat). They’re all complemented by the platonic ideal of drinking-night bar food: Korean fried chicken sliders, garlic chicken wings, egg rolls, gourmet corndogs and other snacks.
L.A.-raised Neil Kwon took a cue from the biergartens of Berlin and Munich in bringing craft beer to K-town in 2010. His beer hall, Biergarten, views Germany through a Korean prism: Platters of brats are dished up alongside Korean fried chicken, kimchi fried rice and burgers both American and international. The beer list combines Old World ales with West Coast IPAs, so you get the best of it all. The space also touts flat screens that draw UFC and sports fans, so if you’re looking for a low-key spot to grab a drink, beware game days or fight nights.
Standing strong since 1954, the bowling alley boasts—surprise—39 lanes, complete with a roundabout bar, a coffee shop, an arcade and a billiards room. Pre-game at the bar with some of the neighborhood’s cheapest cocktails, then graduate to a round of straightforward house cocktails that are heavy on the pours. In between celebratory strikes, refuel with salty snacks like heat lamp–ready (and heartburn-guaranteed) nachos, chili cheese fries, quesadillas, pizzas, tuna melts and even carne asada tacos. (But let’s be real: You came here to drink and bowl.)
It’s kind of a dive with kind of a limited drink list, but R Bar is a gathering spot at the nexus of great programming and inexpensive craft beer. Grab a $5 beer and maybe a cheekily-named cocktail, then settle into the saloon-y all-wood booths, at the bar or at one of the little tables angled toward the stage setup: This is where you can catch Wednesday and Thursday karaoke; Monday trivia; ’80s nights; yacht rock parties; monthly comedy shows; DJ sets and more.