As much as you love your coworkers, there’s just something deeply unsatisfying about Zoom Happy Hours. Maybe it’s because you still have other windows running in the background full of unfinished projects and deadline reminders. Perhaps it’s because you forgot to buy wine (again), and are therefore sipping from a glass of homemade kombucha from your upstairs neighbor. Or maybe, just maybe - after a year of ceaseless meetings, family events, and celebrations on the almighty video calling app, you’re just exhausted from all the time spent on Zoom. We know we are.
We’ve gathered these LA restaurants and bars that will make meeting up with coworkers just a tad bit easier. You’ll want somewhere that makes you look like a Sophisticated Working Person with Taste (SWPWT, for short), but at a space that’s unstuffy, and not too romantic. That includes cozy natural wine bars in Echo Park, late-night AYCE KBBQ restaurants, and massive Greek grocers/restaurants where you can let all of your 9-5 worries fade faster than your memories of that viral lawyer cat video back in March.
And remember, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, everyone still has to follow the protocols laid out by the County health department. So go forth, wear a mask, sanitize, generously tip your servers, and have fun being social this spring.
Bulgogi Hut is maybe the perfect AYCE KBBQ spot of the moment - somehow, it's able to maintain a party-like atmosphere without anyone getting too close to one another. All of the tables at this Ktown spot are sectioned off by giant fiberglass partitions, the air is properly smoky, plates of meat arrive almost overflowing, and the waitstaff is kind, and eager to help you make your next selection. If you’re not in the mood for grilling, they have some excellent pre-made options, like golden-brown chicken wings (which come with a medley of sauces), Spam fried rice, and galbi bento boxes filled to the brim with tender, glazed meats alongside rice, japchae, and banchan. From the AYCE KBBQ part of the menu, you pretty much can’t go wrong - the deluxe option is only $26, and you and your coworker will have your choice of rib fingers, marinated chicken, black angus beef brisket, and of course, the titular bulgogi - all of which pair really well with a tall glass of beer and discussing theories about whether or not you’ll ever return to the office.
You and your coworker haven’t seen each other in over a year, and you’re desperate to go somewhere fun, casual, and as far from online as possible - a place where you can forget the time you left your microphone on during the company All Hands and accidentally coughed, like, really, really loudly. Papa Cristo’s is all of that. Located in Koreatown, this massive Greek restaurant/grocer on Pico is where you go to eat Greek staples in an environment that feels like a neighborhood potluck. Everyone orders what they want individually from the counter and eats in either a lovely patio they’ve set up in their parking lot or their indoor dining room. It can get a little chaotic here, but the long(ish) waits are always worth the trouble - you’ll get massive platters of sizzling saganaki, feta and spinach pizza, plates of greasy Greek sausage, a house-made yogurt that puts that Fage variety-pack sitting in your refrigerator to shame.
From their menu packed with funky, natural wines to a sprawling sidewalk patio, Tilda is a wine bar in Echo Park where you go to impress a coworker who’s probably cooler than you. As with their to-go counter service, a patient person on the waitstaff will walk you through their long list of natural wines, ranging from subtle and floral sparklers, to cloudy Gamays. And although you could just sip the wine and have a fine time, you’ll have the option of ordering some small plates, either to share or enjoy solo. They have an excellent rotation of cheeses, charcuterie, and tins of fish that are served with a baguette, butter, and salsa verde. It may seem a touch bit simple at first, but the crusty French loaf serves as the perfect vehicle for huge swathes of butter and oily sardines, and tearing into it will immediately erase any sort of imposter syndrome you’ve been feeling at a bar where every person looks like they could be an extra on a CW show.
If your “coworker” is actually your boss, it’s time to make like Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010 and start incepting their brain with the idea to head to Damian. The Arts District restaurant (located right across the pathway from Bestia) isn’t casual by any means - you’ll definitely need to get a reservation, like, now, and be prepared to drop a few dollar signs. But the planning is well worth it - the outdoor patio they’ve got set up is beautiful and serene, a modern mix of concrete walls and jungle-like plant arrangements that’ll make you feel like you’re in a less stressful, non-dystopian version of Maze Runner. The menu is filled with Mexican dishes, many of which are borrowed from the chef’s other restaurants, Cosme in NYC and Mexico City’s Pujol, including smoked clams with cucumbers, fish tempura tacos, and an extra-smoky pescado a la brasa served with tortillas. All in all, this is a great place to show your coworker that you’re still the nice and normal person they remember from a year ago, and definitely didn’t spend all of 2020 becoming one with your bed.
Even during the pandemic, Izakaya Hachi maintained its title as a premiere party spot. The South Bay izakaya has set up a decently sized tent out front where you’ll find the full spectrum of the human experience, from 21-year-olds celebrating birthdays to groups of Japanese men who will ultimately outdrink everyone around them. And yet, it’s hard to nail down what exactly makes Izakaya Hachi so special. The food’s a huge part of it - all of the grilled meats are excellent and worth your attention, like medium-rare beef tongue that tastes buttery and tender, or salty, chopped pork cheek accompanied by a biting yuzu sauce. But it’s also the celebratory atmosphere, and the fact that most dishes are made to share, like the pork shabu shabu, or family-style omakase that requires four people seated at the table (house rules) and involves a parade of over 13 different dishes. Either way, if you’re looking to party like it’s 1999, or whatever year, this is the place to do it.
Hanging out with coworkers after a year of staying at home can feel daunting - What will we even talk about? Have they been using the quarantine to do something to brag about, like consistently working out or drinking juices from Erewhon? Will they think my new haircut makes me look like a 12-year-old? If you’re being plagued by the forces of social anxiety, take it easy on yourself and grab a table at Santa Monica Brew Works. Open since 2014, SM Brew Works is the Westside’s only craft brewery, and it’s a good one too. They’ve reopened their massive outdoor space complete with picnic tables, string lights, and of course, an abundance of cute local dogs. They’re only operating Thursday through Sunday right now, but keep an eye on their Instagram for their most updated hours, food truck schedules, and can releases.
As the undisputed king of the Westside, it should come as a surprise to no one that Gjusta is a fantastic place to meet with a coworker. Come any day of the week, and you’ll find deli cases stocked with delicious meats and cheeses, like citrus-flavored goat cheese and pâté de Campagne, plus a menu that includes burrata and tomato sandwiches and open-faced bagels with an entire farmers market’s worth of produce and gravlax made in-house stacked on top. The Venice cafe/bakery has luckily ditched their chaotic order-at-the-counter-only system during the pandemic, now opting for an easier, breezier mix of takeout, delivery, and patio dining. Their beautiful outdoor patio is the perfect place to either grab a coffee with a friend, sneak off for an “official” working lunch in the middle of the day, or head to after the day is done so you can melt the last eight hours of looking at a screen away with their tuna conserva, filled with roasted peppers, aioli, and olive tapenade.
If you live within a half mile of Beverly Blvd. and Crescent Heights, you don’t just know what Marvito is, chances are, you’ve already been there twice this week and are coming with a date on Saturday. This is your Cheers. Marvito is the laid back, slightly cheaper, and most likely Gen Z sibling of Marvin, an upscale(ish), French(ish) restaurant packed with a great wine selection and lots of excellent finger foods. One of our favorite things on the menu here is a recent addition - a cheeseburger consisting of two smashed patties topped with red onion, avocado, mayo, lettuce, and Jack cheese. It’s a clean-tasting, crisp masterpiece, worthy of a solo meal, or catching up on a years-worth of gossip with a coworker.
Over in Historic Filipinotown, one of our favorite neighborhood bars, Thunderbolt, has reopened for outdoor seating. That means you’ll get old Jay-Z tracks playing over the speakers, plus a mix of Southern-ish snacks, like flaky, buttery buttermilk biscuits and crispy pork belly ends - but what you’re really here for are the drinks. They all exist in that dangerous, highly coveted Venn diagram of “Very Strong” but still “Genuinely Tasty,” like the fun and flirty La Frutera, (For anyone asking, “Can alcohol be flirty?”, This drink certainly makes the case for “yes.”) a potent mix of tequila, mango, and tamarind that can be ordered spicy (do it), or the Tropipop, which is sweet and tropical, but filled with so much rum you’ll forget that it’s the middle of the workweek and you’re not actually on vacation.