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The Varnish

Bars, Cocktail bars Downtown
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
 (Photograph: Courtesy Varnish)
1/7
Photograph: Courtesy VarnishNegroni and Mint Julep at Varnish
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2/7
Photograph: Courtesy The VarnishOld Fashioned at The Varnish
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3/7
Photograph: Courtesy The VarnishAviation at The Varnish
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4/7
Photograph: Courtesy The VarnishPisco Sour at The Varnish
 (Photograph: Courtesy The Varnish)
5/7
Photograph: Courtesy The VarnishThe Varnish
The Varnish (Courtesy The Varnish)
6/7
Courtesy The VarnishThe Varnish
 (Photograph: Courtesy The Varnish)
7/7
Photograph: Courtesy The VarnishThe Varnish

You'd never expect to find some of the best 'tails in LA in the back of a place that serves finger-licking garlic fries. Yet, 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. Of course, that's to be expected from nightlife guru Cedd Moses (Seven Grand and Las Perlas). 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. Promise.

Vitals

Good for: A quiet schmooze and a Prohibition-era cocktail. The place has sex appeal, with low lighting, bordello-black wallpaper, and intimate banquettes, which welcomes cozy conversation and the very slow consumption of some boozy libations. A secret tryst, perhaps? Get to The Varnish as close to opening as possible; any later, and good luck.

The scene: It's a tidy, civilized kind of place, where a man in a vest guides you to your seat. The space is small, so there's usually a wait. The good news is that you can bide your time noshing on a Cole's French dip sandwich (the only food allowed inside). Most imbibers—a mix of gents in bow ties and red-lipsticked ladies—will hang out at the bar, enamored by the cocktail performance art.

The playlist: Faint jazz standards play in the background. There's also an old upright piano positioned in the corner of the room, which gets tickled every so often by some well-groomed vaudevillian.

The bartender says: These are bartenders with solid technique—the types to anguish over handcrafted ingredients and chisel blocks of ice into crystal clear cubes. Don't get discouraged by their very straightforward (and a tad pretentious) "Allow us" slogan. Pretty much anything on and off the menu is worth the wait.                                                     

Drink this: On the menu, the Manhattan (the Bobby Burns) is a fan favorite, as is the Rum Old Fashioned—a sweeter blend of Demerara rum, sugar, and bitters, garnished with an orange peel. For off-the-menu libations (the Bartender's Choice), the smokey and sweet Medicina Latina is a must: tequila, ginger, agave, and floating mezcal. The aromatic Paper Plane is also a solid choice, made with good bourbon, two Italian digestifs, lemon juice, and adorned with a lemon twist. Whether on-menu or custom-made, the cocktails are a steep $13 a pop. But boy are they unforgettable.

By: Danielle Jacoby

Posted:

Venue name: The Varnish
Contact:
Address: 118 E 6th St
Los Angeles
90014
Opening hours: Daily 7pm-2am
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Average User Rating

4.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|6
1 person listening
tastemaker

Excellent cocktails with a vintage speakeasy feel (they were doing it before it was cool!  or before it was so cool everyone else was doing it).  Dark and cozy, it's great for a date or for a special occasion.  Certain nights of the week, expect live music.  Especially on popular night, if you really are intent on sipping something special there, make sure to come early.  As it is a small space, it can fill up fast on peak evenings.  Entry is easy enough; go straight through Cole's to a door marked with a drink, and head on in.


Super secret hidden gem of DTLA... Varnish is one of those places you want to keep in your back pocket to show how well you know LA.


They have a great cocktail menu ranging in the $14 range. I had this fantastic Vodka based cocktail that had blueberries and other flavors - it reminded me of something very crisp and delicious.


If you want to be seated make sure you talk to the hostess when you enter the door as she'll find you an area.  There are spots where you can stand and hang out so there's a bit for everyone.

tastemaker

Amongst the best cocktails you can get in LA. Crafted by a team that knows what they are doing and love what they do. Come with a friend or a date and enjoy the old school and cozy vibes. They make one of the best whiskey sours I've had in Los Angeles. Also, after a few drinks if you're feeling hungry, Cole's & their great french dips are only a few steps away. 


Drinks are phenomenal and the place lives up to its “speakeasy” lore. Great spot for drinks to start your DTLA night.

moderator

These guys are doing it right, and have been for many years now. They craft their cocktails with a lot of care and precision. It's an absolute must-visit for any Angeleno or LA newbie.

moderator

I love taking friends who are visiting LA to the Varnish. You kinda feel like a badass walking straight through Cole's to the door in the back of the restaurant, and as far as whiskey drinking goes, this bar knows what's up. You can't go wrong ordering any whiskey cocktail on the menu, and if it's not too crowded, the bartenders will guide you to a drink you love.