The 21 best bars in Downtown L.A.
When the hospitality juggernaut landed in L.A., it had to live up to its world-class New York City counterpart. To our amazement, it did. We’re thinking the awesomeness has something to do with the rigorously trained team, a massive yet expertly curated 40-drink menu and, oh yeah, one of the sexiest, moodiest interiors in all of Downtown. But the cocktails don’t stop in the lobby: There’s also a cheeky beverage program on the roof, where tiki-leaning cocktails and blended drinks arrive in plastic pineapples, and a coffee-cocktail program in the café once the sun sets. No matter the NoMad bar you visit, local, seasonal ingredients and house-made yogurt, tinctures and tonics brighten rare liquors for drinks so good you’ll have to convince yourself to try something new each visit. (Even if they are around $20 a pop, they’re worth the splurge.)
The Varnish—tucked inside Cole’s and marked solely by the etching of a cocktail on the door—has managed to become not only influential in Downtown, but 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. Amidst the hushed jazz ditties and dim lighting, the Varnish’s bartenders carefully craft vintage tipples with names like Bobby Burns, Paper Plane and Baker’s Buck. Drinks are strong but well-balanced, the mood is sultry, and you can almost feel the history in every inch of Cole’s.
The concrete exterior of this Arts District haunt seems intentionally nondescript. A neon sign above the door reads “BAR”—while 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. There’s a lengthy spirits list, but we always prefer E.R.B.’s spirits mixed into concoctions like the Boss Bitch, made with vodka, ginger, lemon, honey, tumeric and cinnamon-coconut foam). If you’re feeling peckish, you’re in luck: E.R.B. whips up some of the city’s best bar bites, such as the legendary, deceptively-simple Single Burger, and the flaky, craveable, perfectly salty buttermilk biscuits that would impress even the most Southern of grandmas.
Think tea time, but for adults: Located in the Freehand Hotel’s gorgeous Arts and Crafts-inspired lobby, Rudolph’s Bar & Tea offers a menu built around tea-infused cocktails—often internationally inspired—plus full tea service, if you’re old-school, and light bites if you’re hungry or simply looking for a way to sample some of the Exchange’s Middle Eastern menu. Go solo with the daily punch or something from the list of for-one cocktails (we love the Tea N’ Biscuits, with rooibos-infused gin, Grand Marnier, Carpano Antica and house-made bitters, served with delicate lemon cookies) or order for your group with large-format cocktails served from ornate teapots.
Stepping off of Spring Street and into this whimsical, ornate cocktail bar is like a trip to Paris—or maybe it’s Victorian England. It’s intentionally hard to pinpoint the exact locale, but regardless, the setting is transportive: Antique lamps, sconces and scultpures dot the space, while the show-stopping arches of stained-glass form the ceiling that hangs over you. Of course the cocktails—made almost entirely with in-house ingredients—are also like nothing else in Los Angeles. Beverage director Kevin Lee hand-batches the bar’s vermouths, tinctures, bitters, amari and iqueurs, often always made with hyper-seasonal ingredients. This means that your new favorite cocktail—maybe the Korean Pear with Apple, made of rum, mezcal, sweet vermouth, apple liqueur, fresh Korean pear, mint, lime, cranberry bitters and bamboo fragrance—will only be around for a few short weeks. Better make the most of it.
There are tiki bars, and then there’s Pacific Seas. Clifton’s Republic’s ode to the original pan-Polynesian extravaganza, which opened around the corner in the 1930s, is one of L.A.’s most over-the-top cocktail destinations. It’s a sight to behold, with hanging canoes, maps, masks, pufferfish lanterns and other ephemera sourced from the original Pacific Seas and other now-shuttered L.A. tiki bars, but the drinks alone are worth crossing, well, the Pacific seas to get there. You can’t go wrong with the classics—some of which use original Trader Vic’s recipes—while showy, multi-person scorpion bowls and punches served in custom-made glassware are sometimes all you’ll see on the scattered tabletops. Look out for DJ nights and hula dancers, which really get the party going.
Bar Clacson is what happens when the team behind 213 Hospitality opens a French- and Italian-classics cocktail hideaway in a city very much having a European moment. The nightlife heavyweight brought in an extensive amari collection, not to mention the bar group’s usual preference for zero pretention, creating a laid-back spot where you’re just as likely to sidle up to the bar and hunch over a strong negroni as you are to show up with a group for spritzes and a round of pétanque (think: bocce). The $5 aperitivo hour is one of DTLA’s best happy hours, and if you change your mind and want a location that’s a little flashier, there’s always the Slipper Clutch, Bar Clacson’s highball-focused hidden pinball bar.
Don’t be alarmed to spot throngs of cool kids standing outside the old auto repair shop on Hewitt. They’re probably here for some of the best live shows in the Arts District, or one of the best patios in the neighborhood. That, or the fantastic, funky drinks. Or maybe the chile verde potatoes served from a cart in the courtyard. Whatever the case, there’s a lot to love about Resident, which feels almost like you’ve been plucked from L.A.’s now-chic warehouse district and into the heart of Austin.
Arguably the city’s premier 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 eight 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 made with Suntory Hakushu 12-year is a top pick.
This European-inspired bar is casual, cute and, most importantly, full of great cocktails. Plants hang over shelves of imported amari, ingredients like salted-peach Campari make their way into drinks, and the service is always stellar. The space is soft—light pink walls, fresh flowers in vases, line sketches of women—and the drinks are some of the most complex in the neighborhood, flipping the bird to anyone who thinks femininity is boring.
Walk through the nondescript door to the right after entering Lupetti Pizzeria and you’ll find yourself in one of the coolest bars in the Arts District. Modeled after Japanese kissaten, audio-focused lounges and coffee shops, Lupetti’s hidden gem In Sheep’s Clothing is part listening lounge, part cocktail bar and part coffee concept. During the daytime, stop by for local pastries, single-origin pour overs and light, ambient records on rotation; in the evening, the all-vinyl playlist incorporates more active-listening albums to liven the space—and all music is curated by Zach Cowie, the music supervisor behind Master of None. Don’t overlook the thoughtful cocktails, sakes, mescals and natural wines as you listen.
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. Like in 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 Ssazeracs 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—here, that classic goes down all too easy.
Bernadette’s is the party bar Downtown needed. With palm-frond wallpaper, vintage kitsch and brightly-hued boozie slushies brimming to the top of branded glasses, it’s a retro-inspired near-dive that’s just plain fun. Bernadette’s doesn’t get snobby—it’s all about beer and wine here, even when it comes to the cocktails, which are creative and wine- and beer-based—nor does it judge. Signs and practices around the bar make it known that this is an inclusive space for genderqueer and non-conforming guests, which is A-OK in our book.
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, but you can still find diehard regulars sipping Modelos at happy hour—which happens to be every weekday from 4 to 9pm with themes like punk, cumbia, and yacht rock. 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 tucked into Little Tokyo. You won’t get sneered at for ordering a Johnnie Red and soda because there are other highballs on the menu just like it, not to mention inventive-but-comforting cocktails like the Mt. Fuji, made with rye, cognac, rosemary and apple and lemon. It’s a casual, no-frills kind of place with communal tables, comic-book 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.
No, you’re not at a poolside retreat in the Spanish Riviera—you’re in the heart of Downtown, sitting just a block from the Staples Center, but you’d never know it at Rick’s. Hotel Figueroa is home to a handful of bars, all with their own unique menus, but it’s the stylish poolside bar that we always gravitate toward. With frozen cocktails, plus micheladas, tiki-leaning concoctions and Cuban-style beers—perfect for sipping on the tiled patio overlooking the whole pool scene—it’s like a mini getaway right under your nose.
We almost hate to put this spot on our list, for fear of blowing up the best DTLA dive there is. The streets around Hank’s are constantly being rebuilt, but the old residential hotel that houses this dark saloon remains unchanged. The same can be said Hanks: divey yet approachable, unpredictable and charismatic, it’s a little piece of the past in a neighborhood that’s mostly anxious to press on towards the future. Old-timey photographs of black-and-white L.A. hang on the walls, while large leather booths in dark corners provide perfect cover when you want a quiet or more private night. Like we said, we hate that we’re blowing up our spot right now.
Copenhagen’s Mikkeller garnered a reputation as one of the best craft brewers in the world, and here in L.A., it easily and quickly carved out a space as one of the best spots to grab one of said best beers in the world. Mikkeller’s DTLA taphouse is bright, spacious and offers some of the company’s wildest, funkiest and most experimental brews in a space decorated with wall paintings by artist Keith Shore, massive skylights and a wall of windows for an almost-outdoor feel to the experience.
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, house-made empanadas and sangria on tap succeed in transporting visitors to a corner café on a cobblestone street off the tourist beat. Perfect for a post-work nosh or pre-game tipple, the libations are fairly cheap—drinks run $6 to $14. Try the stone fruit sangria, which contains rosé wine and sits for two hours before being served, or the Yerba Brava, a refresher of lemon, honey and yerba-mate–infused vodka.
This 11,000-square-foot power-plant-turned-Downtown hot spot deftly melds industrial architecture and Art Deco chic. Restored artifacts are casually displayed; silent video montages, projected on the wall, revisit the early work of film legends; bartenders handcraft classic cocktails. But nothing’s stuffy here—it’s a scene almost every night of the week, with party lounges, costumed events, and cocktails like the Mistress, made with amaro, prosecco, vodka, pomegranate and lemon. There’s even regular programming—burlesque, famously, as well as DJs—in case you ever get bored with the space or the drinks (not that that’ll happen).
Located next to Pizzanista, Tony’s Saloon is a no-frills 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 are darts and table tennis in addition to pool. And if you’re hungry? Pair your Peroni with a piece of pizza—there’s no food served in the bar, but you can order Pizzanista and bring into Tony’s, then head to the back patio for some fresh air under twinkling lights.