It seems like every other weekend there’s a new place everyone’s drinking at in Los Angeles. Whether it’s an outer space-themed speakeasy Downtown or a three-story dance club hellzone in Hollywood, staying on top of nightlife in this town is a full-time job. But still, nothing beats drinking at a classic.
So we compiled a list of our all-time favorites - those bars we find ourselves returning to again and again. They’re the standbys that make LA what it is. In other words - the Greatest Hits. If you live here, you should be drinking at all of them. If you’re just visiting and already tired of the Santa Monica Pier, get out and try as many as you can. Some are strip-mall dives, some are high-end cocktail bars, and some are somewhere in between. But all of them are essential Los Angeles watering holes.
Perhaps because you can only find it via a tiny neon sign in the courtyard of The Largo theater on La Cienega, The Roger Room isn’t always the first place you think of to grab a cocktail. But it should be, because this little spot has some of the best drinks in West Hollywood, if not all of Los Angeles. The place isn’t big, but the crowd is cool and mostly comprised of people who know how to drink and comedians waiting to go on at The Largo (read: also people who know how to drink). Get the Spiced Mule or the absinthe-infused Green Fairy, sit and talk to bartenders who will actually talk back to you, and realize you’ll probably never go anywhere else again.
Hidden behind Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, Old Lightning might sound like one of those contrived speakeasies you stopped going to years ago. It’s not. Yes, this reservation-only bar is tricky to get into, but once you’re inside, you’ll be treated to one of the largest and rarest collections of liquor in the country. The space looks like a tiki-themed airport lounge from the 1960s, but if you want to take a photo, you won’t be able to - because they take everyone’s phone at the door. You can come here and stick to their excellent cocktail list, but you should really try a tasting. You name your liquor, the amount of money you want to drop (they range from $50 to $5,000), and then spend the rest of the night sipping Oaxacan mezcal from a distillery that closed in the ’70s.
It’s fair to say that the tiki bar is one of our greatest achievements as a civilization, and LA is home to the Mona Lisa of them all. Located in a glorified lean-to in Los Feliz that’s barely larger than your Honda Accord, Tiki Ti is where you go when you want to forget you aren’t in LA for a night. The crowd is almost all regulars who’ve been sitting there since the ’80s, there’s a mechanical toy bull that walks along the bar, and two of those cocktails will have you under the table. Just call before you go - they tend to close down whenever they want.
Drinking and bowling have gone hand-in-hand since before the dinosaurs. But Highland Park Bowl does both better than anybody else. The space has actually been around since the 1920s, but closed for a massive renovation a few years ago, and reopened as a magical steampunk wonderland where bowling, drinking well-made cocktails, and eating very good pizza are required activities. If you do want to bowl, make sure you reserve well in advance.
The stereotype that every LA bar is full of bland, overdressed people standing around talking about their managers is, unfortunately, a well-earned one. But then you spend a night at Oil Can Harry’s and realize you’ve just been going to sh*tty bars. This classic spot in Studio City is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure novel, where any given night could end with you disco-dancing with a drag queen, crowd-surfing in the upstairs karaoke bar, or giving your number to a 65-year-old who gave you an energy reading while waiting for the bathroom. If you walk out of Oil Can Harry’s bored, you only have yourself to blame.
It doesn’t take a nightlife connoisseur to notice that this list is predominantly filled with scene-y destination bars. Located on a quiet stretch of Historic Filipinotown, Crawfords is the antithesis of that. This is the dive-y, beer-and-wine bar that every neighborhood in LA wishes it had. The simple space is consistently filled with a casual crowd that probably listens to better podcasts than you do. Also, the hot fried chicken you can order from the bar rivals that of Howlin’ Ray’s.
The Dresden is equal parts restaurant and bar, but you don’t come to this LA institution to eat. You come here to drink heavily at the bar and watch one of the greatest acts in town - Marty and Elayne. This iconic jazz duo has been performing nightly at 9pm since the ’80s, and watching one of their shows is a quintessential LA nightlife experience. Just get there early, because they bring a massive crowd.
This rowdy piano bar on Cahuenga is one of our favorite bars to open in LA in several years. Come here almost any night of the week and you’ll be treated to Wicked sing-alongs, drag queen cabarets, and waitresses belting Celine Dion while pouring tequila shots. This is the kind of bar you stumble into with your friends because you heard singing from the sidewalk, and leave three hours later wishing you had stuck with musical theater in high school.
We say this with unwavering confidence - there is no place in Los Angeles like The Old Place. Located in the tiny unincorporated town of Cornell up in the Santa Monica Mountains, walking into this dusty old saloon feels like you’ve stepped into the first phase of Westworld, except instead of killer robots, you have big plates of grilled meat, top-notch people watching, and a wine selection that has no business being as good as it is (the Cornell Winery tasting room next door certainly has something to do with that). While eating a full meal here is an experience we fully endorse, stopping in for a drink as you lazily wander the countryside on a Saturday will be an afternoon you won’t ever forget.
Harvard & Stone comes from a long line of bars with aggressive themes that get old quickly (Davey Wayne’s, No Vacancy, Breakroom 86). Consider Harvard & Stone the black sheep of the family. There’s definitely an industrial aesthetic to this Thai Town spot, but not in the way that makes you feel like you’re on a never-ending ride at Universal Studios. There’s live music during the week, an actually fun dance floor, and a cocktail list that changes weekly.
Koreatown has the best nightlife in all of Los Angeles, and if you’re looking for an ideal jumping-off point in the neighborhood, head to Ddong Ggo. The giant beer garden on Western Ave. is hidden behind a row of commercial buildings, making the whole thing feel like a bit of a secret. But once you stumble onto the patio chock full of chain-smokers and beer towers, with Korean pop videos blasting on the TVs, you’ll realize you’re in the middle of one of the biggest and best parties in town. Stock your table with a couple of kimchi pancakes and all the soju bottles that’ll fit, and your night is set.
This somewhat-hidden Arts District spot is one of those places that makes getting everything right look easy - great cocktails, excellent bar food, a fun atmosphere, and the kind of back patio we could spend every Saturday night on for the rest of our lives. Get the burger - it’s our favorite in the whole city.
LA has no shortage of great dive bars, but Joe Jost’s is our favorite. This iconic spot on the eastside of Long Beach has been in operation since 1924. It’s where you go to drink giant steins of beer on Sunday afternoons, play billiards with some random people who just came from their weekly bowling league, and eat pickled eggs and pretzels out of a basket. Joe’s Jost’s is a weird, wonderful place that no one should miss.
Whether you’re just visiting and want to see some celebs drinking martinis, or you’ve been in LA for years and aren’t one to ever turn down a build-your-own-sundae situation, the Tower Bar is a must-visit. In the heart of The Strip, Tower Bar is an old Hollywood classic where young Hollywood types still want to hang out. The outdoor patio is a certifiable scene, so bring your best pair of sunglasses and sharpen up that side-eye, you’ve got some eavesdropping to do.
For whatever queer nightlife in LA represents to you, Akbar is the antithesis. Located on the Los Feliz/Silver Lake border, this is a true neighborhood bar and the kind of place West Hollywood could never have: Zero lines, cheap drinks, a welcoming dance floor, and a waitstaff that didn’t bring a stack of commercial headshots with them to work tonight. The crowd is always mixed and everyone is there to have a lot of fun. If the Weho thing isn’t happening for you anymore, Akbar is your remedy.
Let’s call it like it is - Santa Monica doesn’t have many good bars. Or should we say, bars you actually care about. Save for Chez Jay. The 60-year-old nautical-themed landmark is a one-of-a-kind watering hole where you can get a dangerously stiff drink and a buttered steak all in the same place. There are peanut shells on the floor, the jukebox probably doesn’t play anything newer than music from 1983, and you’re almost positive that weird giant fish on the wall is staring at you. If you want one of the last remaining authentic experiences in Santa Monica, this is where you find it.
Can someone tell us why there aren’t more outdoor beer gardens in LA? Actually don’t, because we’d still only go to Red Lion. The old-school German restaurant in Silver Lake doesn’t look like much from the outside, but go up that dark staircase in the piano lounge and you’ll find yourself outside on one of the best patios in town. The Bavarian theme isn’t exactly subtle, but it feels genuine. And everyone’s having too good of a time to care about anything else.
There’s no part of town that knows karaoke better than Koreatown, and Brass Monkey is its epicenter. If you’re looking for a private-room karaoke joint to sing off-key with a few friends, this isn’t your place. Brass Monkey is a crowded, one-room tavern where things get rowdy fast and whole bar sing-alongs are commonplace. Drinks are cheap and strong, and if you stick around long enough the chances of you seeing a blacked-out B-lister singing Meatloaf are high.
If you’re uncomfortable with a strip club making this list, please stop reading. If you aren’t, get yourself to Jumbo’s Clown Room at your earliest convenience. Because this Burlesque club in East Hollywood is one of the best nights out in this city. Get there early, as lines get long, and they’ll absolutely let the regulars in before you. Once inside, it’ll all make sense: Cheap drinks, a lively crowd, and performers who actually care about what they’re doing.
Not all that long ago, Idle Hour was nothing more than a local North Hollywood eyesore, and a constant reminder of probably how fun and weird that place was in its heyday. Good news - after a big renovation, the gigantic wooden barrel is back in business as one of the best bars in The Valley. Weekends can definitely get a little rowdy here, but the crowd is fun and that back patio is there when you need some fresh air. Welcome to the new heyday.
El Cid wins the award for that place you always forget about, but then go to one night and judge yourself for not coming more. The Silver Lake bar isn’t much more than a doorframe along Sunset, but walk down the stairs and you’ll pop out into a hidden drinking oasis. The cocktails are cheap, the crowd is cool, and the two-tiered patio (with old movies projected on the wall) is the ideal casual hangout spot. There’s also a fantastic little theater attached with nightly events ranging from live music to flamenco lessons.
There’s no shortage of tacky British pubs and pricey hotel rooftops or places with a TV so-we-guess-it-can-be-considered-a-sports-bar on the Westside. But a spot solely commemorating the life of Charles Bukowski, the American poet, novelist, and world-class drinker? Not so much. But Santa Monica has one, and it’s excellent. The dimly lit dive has a no-frills 1960’s vibe with lots of tall boy cans, a few pool tables, and plenty of Bukowski writings hanging around on the walls for you and your drunk friends to argue over.
If you’re roaming around Downtown looking for cocktails, The Varnish is where you go. Yes, it’s a speakeasy and no, you’re not going to hate it. There’s no over-the-top theme or gimmicky decor, just a good space with great drinks, and a surprisingly low-key atmosphere. Getting hungry? Cole’s French Dip sandwiches are right next door and you can order as many as you want.
If you’ve never had a night you’ll never forget (and many more you’ll never remember) at Saddle Ranch, you actually haven’t lived in this city. This ridiculous, country-themed bar on The Strip is the definition of a hot mess, but they fully embrace it, and so will you. You’re definitely going to make out with someone with a Warped Tour tattoo and they’re going to ask you for a ride back to Yorba Linda in the morning. But you aren’t even mad, because this is exactly what you signed up for. Rage on, lovers.
One of the most impressive bars in town based on sheer size, Imperial Western Beer Company is a brewery/bar inside of an old train terminal at Union Station. The beer here is good - our favorites are the stout and the gose - but it’s their tremendous oysters that made us reconsider our rule about never eating raw seafood inside a train station. There are huge tables and tons of games to keep your visitors entertained, and if you get sick of beer, there’s also a much smaller bar called Streamliner that serves excellent (and affordable) cocktails. If you’re looking for a big group spot where everyone can find something they like, Imperial Western is the first place to go.