The best bars in Downtown LA
The Varnish—tucked inside an old storage room at Cole's and marked solely by the etching of a cocktail on the door—has managed to become the bastion of this city's drinking culture. The space is small, so there's usually a wait, but you can bide your time by noshing on a Cole's French dip sandwich (the only food allowed inside). Amidst the hushed jazz ditties and dim lighting, the Varnish's mustachioed bartenders carefully craft vintage tipples with names like Bobby Burns, Paper Plane and Baker's Buck. For off-the-menu libations (the Bartender's Choice), here's hoping your bartender gives you the smokey and sweet Medicina Latina: tequila, ginger, agave and floating mezcal. All cocktails are $13.
Arguably the city’s premiere destination for whiskey lovers, Seven Grand's atmosphere is of another era, one where hard-drinking businessmen escaped the doldrums of suburban existence and hung up their hats to drink, smoke and play pool. From the fox hunt wallpaper to an abundance of taxidermy, Seven Grand’s sultry interior is crammed with all the character of a midcentury gentleman’s club. If you’re thinking an Old Fashioned would complete the experience, you’re correct, but you’ll have to choose one first. The Old Fashioned menu alone runs nine items deep and features only a fraction of Seven Grand’s staggering selection. For Japanese whiskey fans, Bar Jackalope (a hidden cocktail lounge in back of Seven Grand) is equally as impressive—the Tokyo Highball ($14) made with Suntory Hakushu 12-year is a top pick.
Located next to Pizzanista, Tony's Saloon is a favorite for Arts District denizens who come to play a few rounds of pool, down a couple well-crafted drinks and indulge in cheesy slices from the pizzeria next door. For those looking to challenge their drinking buddy to some friendly competition, there's darts and table tennis in addition to pool. And if you're hungry? Pair your Peroni with a piece of pizza (you can either order from the bar or pick it up at Pizzanista to bring into Tony's), then head to the back patio for some fresh air under twinkling lights.
Who says you can't break out your dance moves and enjoy a craft drink at the same time? The nightlife heavy hitters behind Seven Grand and The Varnish have accomplished the near-impossible—a 3,000-square-foot premium cocktail discobar. The space is split between a cozy pool hall boasting an epic drink menu (50 beverages, to be exact) and a very Saturday Night Fever "disco" room, complete with an analog LED dance floor. Inside, a pool table, cushy booths and black walls are bathed in a cool blue glow. For a night you may not remember, try Honeycut's take on an Old Fashioned—the Dumb Luck ($13), made with Old Grand Dad 114 bourbon, orange-flavored Bigallet China-China Amer, sherry, and a whole lot of celery-coconut bitters, all stirred up and served in a Nick and Nora glass.
At the Little Easy, where live jazz plays in a charming indoor courtyard dappled with chandelier light, you just might forget where you are—which, by the way, is inside the basement of Downtown's century-old Alexandria Hotel. The former Gorbals space has been transformed into a scene straight out of NOLA’s Garden District. Authentic Cajun fare and expertly crafted libations give this place some real down-South cred. The Little Easy makes one of the best Sazeracs ($12) in town; if you've never had one, you're in for a treat. Another classic to add to your tab is the Ramos Gin Fizz ($12), a funky blend of gin, orange-flower water, lemon and lime juices, cream and egg whites that goes down all too easy.
The concrete exterior of this Downtown Arts District haunt seems intentionally nondescript. A bold neon sign above the door reads simply “BAR”—the small plaque beside it, “everson royce bar, est. 2015,” verifies the spot’s identity. Inside, E.R.B. 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 ($12), a tequila tipple with lemon, almond, nutmeg and rosewater. The Business ($12) was another favorite that Bee’s Knees fans should enjoy—lime replaces lemon in this delightful mingling of gin, citrus and honey. To eat, Osteria Mozza chef Matt Molina cooks up bites like the steamed buns ($10), made with melt-in-your-mouth roasted pork belly, cucumber pickle and hoisin wrapped in pillowy warm bao.
One of a handful of old-school Mexican watering holes Downtown, La Cita serves as a bar, restaurant and club, complete with a dance floor and an outdoor patio. Edgy dance-punks and celebrated DJs have called the red velvet-adorned venue home in recent times, but you can still find diehard regulars sipping Modelos at happy hour—which happens to be every weekday from 4-9pm. Check their website for daily themed events and music lineup.
If you're sick and tired of waiting 15 minutes for a craft cocktail, get yourself over to Wolf & Crane for a quick, uncomplicated drink. You won't get sneered at for ordering a Johnnie Red and soda ($6) because there are six other drinks on the menu just like it. We're talking highballs on the rocks, like the Cuba Libra ($9) made with Mexican coke, and a gin and tonic gussied up with grapefruit bitters ($10). It's a casual, no frills kind of place with communal tables, comic print wallpaper and classic oldies bellowing from the sound system—perfect for when you've already had ramen from Shin-Sen-Gumi around the corner and are looking for a nightcap.
Tucked at the bottom of a towering condominium just blocks from Staples Center, this cozily modern Argentine bar-café merges Downtown sleek with old-world charm. An easy-going staff, homemade empanadas and Fernet and Coke ($9) on tap succeed in transporting visitors to a corner cafe on a cobblestoned street off the tourist beat. Perfect for a post-work nosh or pre-game tipple, the libations are fairly cheap—there aren’t many places Downtown where you can get three cocktails for around $20. Try the stone fruit sangria ($8), which contains rosé wine and sits for two hours before being served, or the Yerba Brava ($8), a refresher of lemon, honey and Yerba Mate tea-infused vodka made in-house.
Sweet relief for thirsty beer geeks can be found at Melody Lounge, boasting one of the neighborhood's best draft craft beer selection. Great brews abound in a tight room of lacquered walls, glowing lanterns and display tables stuffed with the cans of fallen beer brands. Catch labels such as Chimay, Angel City, Drake's, Bell's, Hangar 24 and Eagle Rock Brewing on the chalkboard tap list, while a fridge holds bottled brews like Ommegang's Rare Vos Amber, Cistamonte's Riesling and Pilsner blend, several Belgian beauties and a swell of super-cool locals. Be sure to take advantage of their extended happy hour from 5-9pm.