Your favorite neighborhood watering hole might be great, but sometimes you're in the mood for a more intimate experience—and sometimes the bartenders want a chance to craft cocktails that take time and effort beyond what they can pull off at a larger bar. Thus the rise of bars within bars, more intimate spaces tucked away behind, above and below some of the best bars in L.A. The originals, including one that's among the oldest bars in Los Angeles, started their lives as actual Prohibition-era speakeasies, but most are newer spots that put their own spins on the idea with hidden doors and unmarked passages. We're letting you in on all their secrets here so you can look in-the-know (making these some pretty impressive bars in Los Angeles for a first date, if you ask us).
Our favorite bars within bars
The Varnish—tucked inside an old storage room at French Dip-serving stalwart Cole's and marked solely by the etching of a cocktail on the door—has become a bastion of this city's drinking culture. Amidst the hushed jazz ditties and dim lighting, mustachioed bartenders carefully craft vintage tipples with names like Bobby Burns, Paper Plane and Baker's Buck, though the real reason to come is for the Bartender's Choice. You'll get exactly what you're craving every time.
Beyond a "secret door" in the back of the Normandie Club, a world of curious mixology awaits. Inside a room just large enough to seat 27 adventurous imbibers, Proprietors LLC and 213 Nightlife operate what might be their most ambitious project, featuring seasonal menus served tasting-menu style or a la carte. The Walker Inn is an experience worth checking off your booze bucket list.
For most, the phrase “old man bar” conjures a specific image of worn upholstery, bowls of peanuts on a laminate bar top and crotchety curmudgeons. This is not the Old Man Bar you’ll find at Hatchet Hall. Tucked away in the rear of the elegantly eclectic Culver City restaurant, Old Man Bar offers an imposing, elaborately carved wooden bar, a grand selection of bourbon and other spirits, and bartenders who know how to treat them right.
Curious imbibers will find this drinkery inside a converted garage off an alleyway behind Cafe Birdie. Stop right there if you are getting even the teeniest inclination that this is a speakeasy; instead, the twinkle-lit courtyard and homey interior combo conveys a downright neighborly feel. There's plenty of eccentricity too, in the form of an inspired playlist, a hip, bordering-on-quirky clientele, and some real funky swills. We mean that in the best way, like a charcoal-filtered Manhattan or a Boulevardier made with strawberry-infused Campari.
The entrance to this taxidermy-peppered, Japanese-inspired salon is tucked inside a converted back room of Cedd Moses' Seven Grand Downtown. Press the call button and an unmarked door inches open just wide enough to allow an impeccably dressed host to signal patrons inside. What awaits is a whiskey lover's dream. Sip from a collection of 120 Scotch and Japanese whiskies, American ryes and bourbons—many extremely rare, like cult-favorite Pappy Van Winkle 15-year. Try one of three cocktails stirred to perfection, including the Tokyo Highball ($14) made with Suntory Hakushu 12-year. There is no room for standing (it's also not allowed) in this 18-seat cloak-and-dagger barroom. A well-informed staff is eager to talk both connoisseur and novice through the carefully curated menu; the service alone is well worth the effort of securing a seat.
A small, wonderful operation is hidden on the third floor of a North Hollywood building, two floors above the Federal Bar on Lankershim Boulevard. Salon looks right out of a Fitzgerald novel: plush leather sofas, cast iron side tables, velvet drapes. Bartenders serve classic drinks and innovative, original concoctions. You won’t need a password to get into the unmarked room, but you will get an escorted walk up a back stairway.
Located in the basement of Townhouse in Venice, the Del Monte Speakeasy has been a hidden hideout since 1915. During Prohibition, Townhouse secretly operated the space located underneath a grocery store that served illegal hooch smuggled from the former Abbot Kinney Pier through underground tunnels. Today, moonshine has been replaced with handcrafted cocktails, as well as live entertainment including local bands, comedy, jazz and vaudeville acts.
Located in the back of Raymond Restaurant is a low-ceilinged room plastered in Victorian wallpaper and bathed in Old West mood lighting. The pinnacle of this pocket-sized bar is undoubtedly the stellar drink program helmed by Aidan Demarest and Marcus Tello (you may know them from Neat, the Varnish and Seven Grand). Behind the frosted glass door marked 1886, you'll find a menu that changes each season and thrives on originality.
Inside Der Wolfskopf, an elaborate German-style beer hall in Old Pasadena, brought to you by the same folks behind the Surly Goat, Little Bear and the neighboring Blind Donkey, you'll find an inner bar so secret it doesn't even have an official name. It's located underground, entered by going down what looks like a dark, closed-off stairway to a cellar. You can't just saunter your way in, though. You'll need an invite from the Der Wolfsopf staff, so be nice to your bartender.
The Federal Bar's Long Beach location is housed in a beautiful old bank building, where visitors can sip on cocktails and nosh on decadent brunch, lunch and dinner items. Head to the Parlour Lounge located downstairs, and the vintage theme continues at a speakeasy-easy style drinking den with elegant surroundings, a strict dress code and sweet jams.