It was a big year for the Valley when it came to fantastic new bars. North Hollywood, Studio City and Sherman Oaks all received inventive additions for late-night imbibing, from a wine bar specializing in vintage varietals to a much-anticipated cocktail bar from Julian Cox, one of LA's most renowned mixologists. But there were plenty of other surprises, too: hotel bars in both Koreatown and Hollywood were suddenly the place to be, and the Downtown Arts District received its first swanky cocktail spot. As the year comes to a close, let's raise our glass to these fantastic new Los Angeles bars—and add them all to our to-do list for 2016.
RECOMMENDED: Check out our list of the best drinks in 2015
The best new bar openings in 2015
It felt like we'd been waiting forever for this project from Julian Cox—and when the Fiscal Agent, Cox's first solo venture, finally opened, it was well worth it. For cocktail worshippers, this Studio City spot feels like sacred ground; a hidden temple in which liquid divinity is expertly concocted and salvation is but a few sips away. Lodged above Barrel & Ashes, the bar feels a world away from Ventura Boulevard. Order the Silly Rabbit: one of the most whimsical cocktails we’ve ever had, made with carrot, coconut, banana and a deliciously creamy kaffir lime foam on top that serves as a built-in dessert.
On the ground floor of the Best Western Hollywood Hills Hotel is the aptly named MiniBar. Born of the brains that brought us Dominick’s and Little Dom’s, this 32-seat hideaway offers a sanctuary for the pensive imbiber; a place to get out without the usual chaos that accompanies going “out”—and with parking validation to boot. The moment we entered the bar, we were captivated: every square inch of the space is thoughtfully designed, with accordion-style warm wood paneling, retro brass light fixtures and white leather swivel chairs. Our favorite drink here, the Fuzzy del Navel, is refreshing, colorful and garnished with a cute little cocktail umbrella.
During its 74 years on Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood’s Idle Hour Café has lived multiple lives, but this past year—after an extensive three-year renovation—it transformed into a cocktail bar from the 1933 Group. Step through the door and you’ll find yourself literally at the bottom of the barrel, with long, bowed planks of wood curving upward towards the circular ceiling. The food pays homage to Americana with throwback national dishes like wings and sloppy joes, while each drink on the menu is worth a try—like the Red Dead Revolver, made with mezcal, ancho chili, watermelon juice and a hint of salt.
Dark, sexy and surprisingly unpretentious, Bar Bandini was one of Echo Park's greatest additions this year. A curated selection of natural and organic wines and beers is listed on black letter boards, both legible and imposing in scale. Dark painted walls, suede banquettes and black slate surfaces are balanced with rustic exposed wood, conducive to both date nights and catching up with friends. Bandini’s tap offerings are all produced in California—Zin fans might opt for the Field Recordings Fiction, a robust and brambly blend from Paso Robles, while white wine drinkers should go for the Batterieberg C.A.I. Riesling: dry, crisp, ripe and seriously quaffable. Come here with a friend, a date or, hell, even some one-on-one time with yourself.
Hotel Normandie in Koreatown received two new tenants this year: the Normandie Club and the Walker Inn. The former, a dark and cozy cocktailery, breaths new life into the classics, like a farm-to-bar Bloody Mary or a coconut-almond Old Fashioned. The latter, a reservation-encouraged lounge, hosts a world of curious mixology, where fog rises from a Big Sur-inspired drink made with pine-infused brandy, and hot s’mores are served alongside a smoked chocolate sazerac made with a graham cracker-washed bourbon. See, we told you hotel bars kicked it up a notch this year.
There's been a lot of talk about the influx of breweries in the Arts District, but the nabe also received a fantastic cocktail bar in 2015: Everson Royce Bar. Inside, the bar 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, a tequila tipple with lemon, almond, nutmeg and rosewater. To eat, Osteria Mozza chef Matt Molina cooks up bites like the steamed buns, made with melt-in-your-mouth roasted pork belly, cucumber pickle and hoisin wrapped in pillowy warm bao.
Generous pours, unabashed comfort food and a block from the beach: that’s Ashland Hill, a Santa Monica beer and wine bar that opened in January. At picnic tables blanketed in twinkling lights, patrons graze on pork belly tacos and crispy truffled cheese curds between sips of international vino and serious high-alcohol brews. The 20-tap lineup at this biergarten-wine bar hybrid includes 9 percent Belgian tripels, Mexican lager and Central Coast wines—plus another 14 bottles of red, white and bubbly. Bartenders here gleefully fill glasses to the brim, which double-fisting imbibers shamelessly spill all the way to their seats.
Roosting in the formerly dark and dingy back room of Little Toni's—an old-school Italian joint straight out of The Godfather—the North Hollywood bar is a suburban cocktail oasis. Aidan Demarest, the mastermind behind BarToni’s program, closed his Glendale bar Neat to work on this small and lean watering hole, where you can order thin-crust pizza and inconspicuously strong Grasshoppers. Here, phone numbers are exchanged, plans are made and friendships are cemented. It’s everything you would hope for in a neighborhood bar.
To add to LA's growing New Orleans food and drink scene, the Little Easy popped up in 2015 to glowing reviews. Live jazz plays in a charming French colonial courtyard dappled with chandelier light, and patrons sip Sazerac between bites of catfish po’ boys—authentic Cajun fare by Mississippi-born chef Brian Garrigues paired with expertly crafted libations give the Little Easy some real down-South cred. For Angelenos in need of a little hospitality and deep-fried solace, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
The successful duo behind Bar Covell opened Augustine in Sherman Oaks, a wine bar specializing in some serious vintage varietals. Matthew Kaner and Dustin Lancaster, along with newcomer Dave Gibbs, have carved out a little slice of heaven from a former Brats Brothers along Ventura Boulevard, complete with black truffle cheese plates, $6 tater tots and some of the rarest vino you'll find in the valley, let alone the entire city. There's a rotating list of 75 varieties by the glass, including gems like the spicy reserve Vina Olabarri tempranillo from Spain's Rioja region and an Austrian sparkling rosé. Intimate two-tops and low lighting make this a prime date spot.