In order to help you figure out which new restaurants are actually worth a visit, we created the Hit List, our guide to LA’s recently opened (and really good) restaurants.
And now, we’re doing the same for bars. LA isn’t exactly known for cranking out good new bars at a consistent pace, so more often than not, we end up drinking at some pretty lousy spots. But occasionally, we also find some great ones. From a speakeasy above a pizza chain to a bar where you can draw in coloring books, these are the best new bars in Los Angeles.
New to the Bar Hist List as of 12/13: Angeleno Wine Co., Pinky’s, Thunderbolt
There are a whole lot of places to drink good wine in Los Angeles - but Angeleno Wine is the first new winery to open in LA since Prohibition, and one of only two currently in operation. This spot in Chinatown sources all their grapes locally, and a trip there is like a lesson in the history of LA winemaking (like, for starters, there is a history of LA winemaking). The owners will tell you all about varietals, vineyards, and vintners as they pour you glass after glass of their house-made grenache, tannat, and graciano rosé. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of history class we want to be a part of.
Pinky’s is a bar in an old theater-rehearsal space in Los Feliz, and it’s so full of attractive people that it still has the same energy. It’s a place to get drunk, then leave your phone on the sidewalk somewhere between your Uber and your front door, but unlike most rowdy bars, the cocktails are all really good here. They generally involve a lot of ingredients - pineapple gomme syrup, cinnamon bubbles, brown butter-washed Scotch - but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Our favorite is the Bath House: Coconut and tequila in a Capri Sun pouch, a combination you never knew you needed.
Even though Thunderbolt only opened this past fall, it already feels like the kind of lived-in, neighborhood institution that’s perfect for everything from a first date to the monthly book club you’ve tried to start no less than four times. Although there are a few of their Southern-ish bar snacks that we like (the buttermilk biscuits and the pork belly burnt ends, in particular), our move is to start the night with the barbecue from Park’s Finest next door, then head to Thunderbolt for drinks. Our favorites include the La Frutera, which is made with tequila, mango, and tamarind, and can be made spicy (do it), and the Tropipop, which is sweet and tropical like a piña colada, but filled with so much rum you’ll forget that you’re not actually on vacation.
Casual, beautiful, and fragrant, Bar Flores is one of the best new places to drink on the Eastside. Located above the recently opened Lowboy and Adamae, this Latin cocktail bar is like a portal into a different, much better world. There’s a gorgeous patio in the back, the drinks are strong and taste great (the sangria should win some international award), and we have no clue what’s in the air, but it smells better than an Aesop showroom in here. Sure, you’re dealing with the usual Echo Park crowd of NPR shirts, but all things considered, this is a truly excellent bar.
New bars open in LA all the time, but new distilleries are much less common. That’s why you should check out Portuguese Bend, the new spot in Long Beach that makes all their own gin and vodka. House cocktails like the Moonlighter - with their Breakwater vodka, falernum, and ancho chili - are great, but we usually just get a martini with their Smoke Bay gin (a traditional, juniper-heavy London dry gin). If you’re looking for something unique, the Donna Rosa gin is also great - its botanicals are locally sourced, and include California bay leaves, cardamom, and grapefruit. They’ve also got a great patio right on 4th St. to drink them all on.
Ototo is a new Japanese restaurant/bar in Echo Park and easily the best place to drink sake in the city. It’s from the same people as Tsubaki next door, but Ototo is more laid-back, the kind of place where you can post up with friends, work your way through an encyclopedic sake menu, and order tremendous bar snacks along the way (the chicken katsu sando and fried oysters are both must-orders). Even to a trained sake drinker, Ototo’s drinks menu is a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry, the waitstaff will happily answer any and all questions you have. They don’t take reservations, so we recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid the line.
The Little Friend is the Westside iteration of The Friend in Silver Lake, and unlike most sequels that get made in this town, this one is actually worth checking out. Located directly behind Sunny Spot in Venice, like the name implies, this place is tiny (there’s just a row of seats and a small bar in the back), but if you’re into dancing the night away beneath the glimmer of a disco ball, Little Friend will fast become your new favorite spot. The DJs change nightly, but expect a mix of ’90s hip hop, Top 40, and plenty of ABBA.
Located on the grounds of Yamashiro, the classic Asian restaurant overlooking Hollywood, Kensho is one of the most unique places to drink in the city right now. The casual sake/wine bar certainly isn’t where you go for a rowdy, late-night throwdown, but if you’re looking to grab some pre-dinner drinks and watch the sunset with friends or a date, Kensho can’t be beat. You’ll sip natural sake distilled in rural Japan, try skin-contact wine from the Balkans, and stare out at the Hollywood sign and all the surrounding mansions. Also, if you get hungry, there’s a small food menu full of things that taste incredible while you drink. Get the caviar toast and crab rice.
If you were a celebrity in the ’40s, there’s a good chance you would have spent a lot of time at Formosa Cafe. Reopened after a few years of renovation, Formosa is bringing Old Hollywood back to Weho. There are three different bars inside, but we recommend heading straight to the back room - it’s usually the least crowded, and feels the most like the kind of place you would’ve seen Frank Sinatra fall off his barstool back in the day. The tiki drinks are fantastic, so get whatever catches your eye. We’re partial to the Duke’s All Nighter, with tequila, rum, and goji liquor, but the martini is also great... and so big it might as well be served in a pint glass.
In Los Angeles, just because a bar is crowded, it doesn’t mean you want to be spending time there (in fact, the opposite is often true). But Lowboy is an exception. This spot on Sunset in Echo Park has been crowded since the day it opened, and it’s a great place to meet people - they’ve got fun music, a mellow crowd, and a good beer list. They even have a surprisingly solid smashburger. The real reason you’re here, though, are the cocktails - like the particularly lethal Viva Sandia with vodka, coconut milk, and watermelon.
Gran Blanco is a bar by the Venice Boardwalk. So, yes, it’s just as busy as you’d expect it to be - but fortunately, the crowd is less tourists, and more low-key locals who definitely held a surfboard at some point within the past 24 hours. The cocktails are great (get the Celery Southside, with gin and celery) and the burger is more than capable of standing bun-to-bun with any of its beachside peers.
For years, Gold Digger’s was a dive-y strip club in East Hollywood, but after a recent (and thorough) renovation, it’s been completely transformed into one of our favorite new places to drink and dance. This dimly lit bar is the kind of place you go to for a couple cocktails, but end up partying all night with complete strangers, covered in sweat and lying about how long you’ve known the DJ.
Located in between Little Tokyo and the Arts District, High Tide is where you’ll find us drinking every day this summer. The indoor/outdoor space has a full restaurant component with a solid brunch menu (get the lobster mac and cheese), but everyone is really here to sit on the large patio and drink frosé all afternoon. The all-pink/flamingo aesthetic is definitely a bit much, but the crowd is cool and low-key (for now), so you don’t care. Also, there’s a guy in the corner doing live glass blowing.
Bar Henry is a casual cocktail bar in Echo Park, a neighborhood where low-key places with good drinks are pretty rare. Even though the small bar can get crowded on weekends, the crowd is much calmer than you’ll find at nearby places like Bar Calo. People are here less to party, and more to drink a couple cocktails and catch up with friends. It’s also a good spot for a weeknight, early-in-the-game date - the drinks are strong, and there are plenty of places to sit.
Gold Line is a Tokyo-style record bar in Highland Park that’s the hardest place to get into in the neighborhood. Lines form around 9:30pm with a music-inclined crowd ready to drink whiskey highballs and listen to some of the 7,500 in-stock records that play all night. The dimly-lit space is cramped, but if you can snag a seat in the more lounge-y back area, you’ll be able to spread out a little bit more.
If you’ve driven down Santa Monica Blvd. in Weho lately, you’ve probably noticed a massive new restaurant surrounded by a swarm of people. That’s Conservatory, a complete mess of a place that we hope you’ll never have to eat at. That said, there’s a hidden speakeasy in the back called Society Room that’s actually great. The well-made cocktails are completely different than the terrible ones served at Conservatory, and the tiny room looks like a membership-only hotel bar from the 1940s. If you stick around long enough (but not too long because they close at midnight on weekends), one of the bartenders might even give you a tarot card reading.
Imperial Western Beer Company is a unique new bar in Downtown LA’s Union Station. It’s nice to come here, drink great beer that’s brewed in-house, and appreciate the beautiful building without worrying about catching a train. The space itself is absolutely massive and might just be the biggest bar in LA - so you won’t feel claustrophobic, even though you’ll be surrounded by a fun crowd playing shuffleboard, pool, and chess every night of the week. If you want a snack, the raw bar has way better oysters and aguachiles than you’d expect from a brewery in a train station. There’s also a bar off to the side that serves fantastic $8 martinis.
In Sheep’s Clothing is a hidden bar inside Lupetti Pizzeria in the Arts District. And by hidden, we don’t mean you need a password or have to slide down a laundry shoot to find it. You just need to know where the door is (it’s the first one on your right when you walk inside the pizza place) and you’ll find yourself in a large, wooden record bar that feels like a thermal spa in Tokyo. Most of the house cocktails are made with some sort of Japanese whiskey, and the casual crowd is composed of friends sitting around at tables, talking about culturally important podcasts and how good the music is here.
In a strip mall surrounded by great sushi, noodle shops, and izakayas, the mermaid is a new neighborhood dive bar in Little Tokyo. It’s a cool, crowded spot with fantastic cocktails (get the Drink Your Vegetables), and there’s a sno-cone machine. If you head to the back by the bathrooms, you’ll probably find yourself peeking into a ship portal to watch mermaids swim by. It’s just a video on loop, but it never really gets old. The bar is also just a few blocks from the Arts District, so it’s a good option for when you realize you can’t spend another minute at a mediocre brewery.