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Chestnut Cup at The Chestnut Club
Photograph: Alicia Cho Chestnut Cup at The Chestnut Club

The best bars in Santa Monica

For drinks with an ocean breeze, these Santa Monica bars are a necessary pit stop during your next night out

By Erin Kuschner and Time Out contributors
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Santa Monica may be known for its beach scene, but the denizens of this seaside town don’t just work hard—they play hard, too. Some of the best, hikes and shopping can be found here, along with stellar drinking and dining. And speaking of drinking: We’ve rounded up our favorite bars to frequent in Santa Monica, whether you’re heading out for happy hour or clinking glasses well into the night.

Best bars in Santa Monica

Bar Chloe in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Bar Chloe

1. Bar Chloe

Bars Lounges Downtown Santa Monica

Inside an elegant, wallpapered parlor, choose from a row of vintage bar stools or settle into the maroon upholstered banquette as you sip expertly crafted takes on classic cocktails, like the coffee negroni made with gin, coffee liqueur, sweet vermouth and Cynar. Ideal for small groups, the kitchen also serves cheese boards, small plates and burgers, while backgammon boards provide a bit of postprandial diversion.

Esters Wine Shop & Bar in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Esters Wine Shop & Bar

2. Esters Wine Shop & Bar

Bars Wine bars Santa Monica

Part wine shop, part wine bar, Esters is a place where you can take your time with a glass of your favorite vino (or discover something new) while contemplating what bottle to pick up for your next dinner party. Inside, you’ll find comfortable bar seating, where your bartender will gently guide you through an impressive wine list featuring sparkling, white, red and dessert options (glasses range from $13 to $25). Outdoors, a small patio area lets you sip while people watching. There are small plates, too, courtesy of Rustic Canyon’s Jeremy Fox—the bar is, in fact, part of the Rustic Canyon restaurant family. The menu includes plates of burrata, grilled cheese, and smoked trout—you can also customize your own cheese and charcuterie board. We recommend the Humboldt Fog, a classic mix of soft, ripe goat cheese and ash from Cypress Grove in California.

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3. The Chestnut Club

Bars Cocktail bars Santa Monica

Exposed brick, sexy lighting and plenty of studded leather sofas: This is the Chestnut Club, from the same crew behind Black Market Liquor Bar and Scopa Italian Roots. When it comes to cocktails, a favorite is the Stay Smokin’ Johnny, made with Johnny Smoking Gun tea-infused whiskey, Meletti amaro, Averna Amaro and agostura. It’s boozy as hell, but balanced to a T. Grab a spot near the large window facing 14th Street for some fresh air and solid people-watching.

4. The Misfit

Bars Gastropubs Santa Monica

With its high, tinned ceilings, vintage tiled floors and columns, and ambient globe lighting, you could almost mistake The Misfit’s interior for 20th century Paris. While an obvious shoe-in for date night, it’s also the perfect spot for classy day drinking, with one of the best happy hours in town. From noon (anbd 11am on Saturdays) to 7pm daily, most of the bar’s specialty cocktails are half price, so you can easily lose yourself in a Saturday (or Sunday) stupor if you’re otherwise engaged throughout the week. Don’t forget to snag one of their complimentary house-made chocolate chip and French sea salt cookies after you pay the bill.

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5. Chez Jay

Restaurants Steakhouse Downtown Santa Monica

Chez Jay is something different to eveyone: an institution, a dive, a time warp, a wormhole to a totally bizarre experience. To us, it’s all of the above, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths, its taxidermied fish mounted on the wall, its bit-of-everything clientele. It’s the diviest dive, but comfortable, and just as ready to serve you a heavy pour of well rum as it is some steamed clams or steak at cutthroat prices.

Photograph: Courtesy Bodega Wine Bar

6. Bodega Wine Bar

Bars Wine bars Santa Monica

Fans of chardonnay and merlot alike flock to this wine bar, where vino is the star no matter your grape preference. Choose from a hefty list of light, medium and full-bodied reds and whites to clink glasses on a casual first date, or order pizza and apps along with your wine for a longer night out. Stop by on Taco Tuesdays ($2 tacos and half-off all beers) or Wino Wednesdays, where select bottles of wine are just $25.

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Brick + Mortar in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Brick + Mortar

7. Brick + Mortar

Restaurants Gastropubs Santa Monica

Inventive pizza toppings—we’re talking green curry chicken or short ribs—make the pies here a novelty to look at as much as a joy to devour, along with dishes like tempura tacos, burgers, and fried chicken and waffles. But if you’re here to drink, there’s a lengthy list of cocktails, beer and wine to quench your thirst. A lively happy hour (3–7pm weekdays) packs the place well before dinnertime, while ample outdoor seating continues the laid-back vibe.

Photograph: Courtesy Library Alehouse

8. Library Alehouse

Restaurants American Santa Monica

This carefully curated gastropub is a beer lover’s heaven, featuring roughly 30 craft beers to enjoy alongside American pub fare—burgers, fried and beer-braised mussels, anyone? You’re stumbling distance—two blocks, to be exact—from the beach, so you can always sober up with a long walk on the sand.

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The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen

9. The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen

Bars Gastropubs Downtown Santa Monica

A lengthy happy hour (every day, from open until 8pm) where the wine and cocktails are only $6, plus shuffleboard and live music every night—what more could you ask for in a bar? The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen is a cozy hangout close to the beach, where you can get both outstanding cocktails and decadent burgers.

Charles Bukowski cocktail bar dive in Santa Monica Barkowski
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/M M.

10. Barkowski

Bars Santa Monica

Whether you revere or revile famed author and poet Charles Bukowski, you’ll probably love this bar: The setting is sleek—all black and red with a pool table up front—and the drinks include an all-California beer list and craft, soju-based cocktails. There’s even free parking, which is almost unheard of in Santa Monica.

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11. The Daily Pint

Bars Beer bars Santa Monica

At first glance, this might look like your standard dive, but step inside and take a closer look because there are hundreds of bottles of whiskey cluttering the shelves and an impressive, ever-changing lineup of craft brews on tap, from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Cocoa Mole to Firestone Double DBA. Because it’s not just a dive: It’s a British dive, and they take those seriously. Grab a bottle or glass, then stick around for a game of pool.

Lamb burger at West 4th and Jane
Photograph: Courtesy West 4th and Jane

12. West 4th and Jane

Bars Gastropubs Downtown Santa Monica

The Westside likes to keep things casual, and West 4th and Jane is as laid back as they come. Comfortable, communal tables fill up throughout the week with small plates (they have a bomb lamb burger) and pints of well curated beer. If you’re having problems picking a brew, try the beer flight sampler, with four 5-ounce pours of their best beer on tap. The biggest draw of all might be the daily specials, though: On Sundays catch $5 mimosas and sangria, plus $5 off all pitchers; Mondays you get a free pint of beer with any burger; Wednesday’s chicken wings are happy-hour–priced all night—you get the idea. See you there?

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