L.A.’s best restaurants might get all the glory, but when it comes to cocktails, the city knows how to shake, stir and infuse alongside the best of them. This year’s tipple newcomers taught us that, and more, whether they were revitalizing an Old Hollywood haunt, dispelling the mysteries of sake, or launching a brand new distillery (where you can always find $10 cocktails, no less). Here’s our guide to the best bars that opened in Los Angeles in 2019, no matter your neighborhood or budget.
Cheers to the year’s best new bars
One of our favorite record stores in L.A. now has a bar and music venue to call its own, carrying on the tradition of loud, fun-as-hell bands in the former Cafe NELA space—now with more drinks. Try to hold on to your money as you rifle through the record bins at the back of the Roadhouse, which become all the more appealing after a drink or two at the long wooden bar that deals in bottles and cans of top-shelf beers like Modern Times and Mikkeller, just as much as it does PBR, Bud Light and White Claw. Permanent Records owner Lance Barresi’s new dive is a perfect David Lynch-meets-punk hideout, with red leather booths, a checkered floor and moody lighting, plus a no-frills patio and a lot to look forward to in 2020: outdoor movie screenings, more shows and, fingers crossed, a full liquor license. Until then, take a seat and lose yourself in whatever music’s playing, a tallboy and maybe even one of their pineapple cider floats.
L.A. proper has its fair share of tiki bars, but it doesn’t have a Bamboo Club. Long Beach’s prime tiki den is casual, cool and full of some of the best vinyl nights in the area, but it doesn’t just rep tiki—it lives it. Select weekends you’ll find the bar’s parking lot packed with vendors hawking ceramic mugs, tropical shirts, home bars and decor, while every day in Bamboo Club means dim lighting, thatched walls, colorful bric-a-brac and some of the strongest drinks in town (most of which cap out at $12). Outside, a rock-walled patio with plenty of seating means mai tais and chartreuse swizzles and banana daiquiris in the sun. While you’re enjoying all that surf punk and those games of pool, you’ll be snacking on Thai-tea–brined fried chicken sandwiches, fresh oysters, mushroom skewers and miso pork belly bowls.
Atrium continues its domination of the Los Feliz nightlife scene with Pinky’s, the restaurant’s adjacent, tucked-away cocktail bar that’s big on fun and flourish. There’s a vague tropical theme at play here, with patterned wallpapers, trees hanging upside-down from the ceiling, and a haute green-tiled interior that keeps the laughter and DJ sets ricocheting into the late hours. The drinks echo the good times with cocktails that are just as pretty and stylish as the setting, and at $12 and under, you’ll probably want to try them all. Where to start? We love the Drunk Committments, made with sour-cherry–infused rye, Caymus wine, madeira, Madagascar-vanilla liqueur, tiki bitters and a showy cinnamon bubble that bursts and unfurls flavorful smoke; pad your stomach with Pinky’s-exclusive tacos from the Atrium kitchen, or better yet, order chef Hunter Pritchett’s phenomenal, dripping-with-cheese off-menu burger. In fact, order one for us too, while you’re at it.
Long Beach’s first distillery made big waves this year with its line of vodkas and gins, and while the product itself is worth a visit, the bar and the gastropub-leaning restaurant are lively new additions to 2019 alone. Schedule a tour and you can learn the ins and outs of Portuguese Bend Distilling, built in ode to the city’s history of bootlegging, then sample the goods for yourself. We’re partial to the hibiscus-steeped Donna Rosa gin, but you can also find the house spirits—and others—mixed into cocktails that arrive in glass goblets, delicate coupes, and tiki mugs topped by gummy sharks, and at $10 apiece, or in $40 cocktail growlers. (Correct, cocktail growlers.) But Portuguese Bend knows it isn’t just about the drinks: There’s also a spacious wraparound patio, a menu sporting hearty fare, boozy milkshakes for dessert, and live jazz every Tuesday night. It’s also constantly evolving: In 2020, keep an eye out for their rum release, not to mention small-batch specials and experimentation.
A bar that just so happens to serve some of the best Peruvian bites in town, Yapa brings a little bit of Nikkei flavor to Little Tokyo. That historic blending of Japanese and Peruvian culture makes its way into the likes of grilled oysters with nori butter, pork-belly sandos, and uni with acorn fry bread—and when it comes to the drinks, bar vet Josh Goldman proves there’s much more to Peru than pisco (though there’s plenty of that on the menu, too). Cocktails get classified by body, from light to full, with each section offering non-alcoholic options, too, including house-made sodas. In fact, much of what you’re drinking is made here: the ice, that Thai-banana falernum, the rose-petal–infused rosé—even the well spirits, which are house blends that infuse and mature for no fewer than three weeks. The program pays special attention to detail and experimentation, especially when it comes to their flagship drink, the Mother, a pisco-and-pineapple concoction that ages through a solera of French oak, Spanish goat skin and glass, with a bit of the original reserved in each vessel so that on each visit to Yapa, that cocktail will taste different than it did on your visits prior. Keep your eyes on the rotating $10 cocktail specials, and on weekends, on the late-night menu.
With a bar that practically glows red and blue and slings some of the most colorful and over-the-top cocktails we’ve had the pleasure of sipping all year, this Old Hollywood haunt is back with a stylish vengeance. Thanks to a revamp from 1933 Group, the historic WeHo watering hole that sat the likes of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean underwent a complete renovation and a massive menu overhaul. Now, Little Fatty’s David Kuo provides a menu of Taiwanese dumplings, noodles and sizzling platters, while Chinatown’s gem of an ornate antique wooden bar—formerly of gone-but-not-forgotten Yee Mee Loo—sits as a centerpiece for fun, fruity and strong cocktails. The Formosa was a hangout of the Hollywood aristocracy during the ’40s and ’50s, many of whom watch over the bar via black-and-white headshots hung around the space—think of them as your new (old) drinking buddies.
Karla Flores-Mercado built the gathering place of our dreams, the kind of one-and-done catch-all bar that pleases everyone in the group text. Certainly, her Latin-tinged indoor-outdoor bar perched above Sunset is nice, what with the colorful lanterns and umbrellas and palm fronds, but the secret ingredient to her hang-out-all-day haven is family. Her father, a restaurant-industry vet, can even be found serving hefty tamales out back, and Flores-Mercado treats guests as though they were long lost cousins as she and the team shake up sassafrass-infused pisco, terragon tequila, and sangria with lychee. These vibes only further the casual, breezy, welcoming atmosphere, while the cocktails—by far some of the best in the neighborhood—keep a focus on mescal and fresh produce.
While the Venice Boardwalk stays packed with tourists, metal sculptures of Optimus Prime, and the occasional dance troupe, this year, a new bar bringing a bit of class to the beachy vibes took up right under the iconic VENICE sign. The team behind beloved Aussie café Great White took a bite out of an even bigger space with Gran Blanco, their new bar just across the street, where you can find Mediterranean bites and some of our favorite drinks on the Westside. The mood here is vinyl playlists, white walls, ceramics and wood, a casual but cultured spot to grab a glass of Australian chardonnay or sip breezy-but-considered cocktails from one of our favorite bar leads in town. Mitch Ono Bushell plays the hits for the neighborhood crowd—old-fashioneds, skinny margaritas, espresso martinis—but uses so many hidden bar tricks and no-waste kitchen hacks that you’ll find yourself downing frosé after frosé and marveling at the watermelon-jerky garnish all the while: It’s high-quality cocktailing that never takes itself too seriously.
It’s tempting to look up at the leather sofas, the killer speaker system and the wrap-around bar, but look down when you walk through the door and you’ll see a tile mosaic spelling out “BLESS YOUR HEART”: The team at Thunderbolt really is all about Southern hospitality—and they also happen to understand Southern attitude. That blend of comfort, care and edginess is all over the cocktail menu, where playful cocktails such as the Blame It on the Juice, the Tropipop and the signature Thunderbolt put fruit and Southern flavor at the forefront. Elsewhere, the bar team pays homage to Historic Filipinotown with sleek, creative and so-good-you-can’t-put-them-down options like the P-Town Boxing Club, made with pandan and coconut-washed rye. The food walks that perfect line of HiFi culture and Southern comfort, too, with plates of succulent, smoky beef brisket; fluffy buttermilk biscuits; and pickled shrimp with grits and boiled peanuts coming fresh from the kitchen of Filipino BBQ mecca the Park’s Finest next door.
Leave it to one of Echo Park’s top restaurants and our favorite izakayas to launch L.A.’s best new bar. Designated sake dens are few and far between in L.A. but Tsubaki’s buzzing and modern Japanese sibling concept, OTOTO—and we do mean sibling as the name translates to “little brother”—doesn’t just offer a menu of rice wines. It makes the Japanese classic as accessible as wine at a wine bar, and it makes it clear that sake is much more versatile than you’ve ever imagined. Organized primarily by tasting notes of Fruit & Flowers, Earth & Umami, Rice & Minerals, and Delicious Weirdos, OTOTO’s pours are approachable and varied, and pair with the bar’s limited menu of Japanese drinking food (karaage, okonomiyaki) and less traditional items (truffle cheese, chili burger). Those tasting notes make sake a joy to explore, but you’d best begin your journey with some guidance from co-owner and operator Courtney Kaplan, who lovingly scrawls the flavor profiles onto wooden planks behind the bar. She’s happy to talk shop, fermentation and common misconceptions with first-timers and sake aficionados alike, so you’ll be walking out of every visit with a full stomach and mind.