The 15 Best Bars of Los Angeles [and Their Best Drinks]
A Journey through Los Angeles’ Historic Speakeasies, Favorite Celebrity Dives and Hip Cocktail Culture
In conjunction with our recently launched Virtual Mixology Class, we decided to do a companion piece on some of our favorite drinking establishments in the city of angels. We explore their history and lore that have made them legendary and their cocktail programs that keep them relevant. For a deeper dive on our favorite Los Angeles bars, check out our Virtual Mixology Class!
The Low Down: Cole’s is a genuine Los Angeles classic where you can literally drink in the history. This iconic establishment has thrived through the peaks and valleys of prohibition and urban flight from the Downtown neighborhood to bring you wonderful comfort food and amazing cocktails. Located in the historic Pacific Electric building, Cole’s has been in an ongoing arm wrestling match with Philippe’s across town for who first invented the French Dip Sandwich.
Fun Facts: A favorite haunt of infamous gangster Mickey Cohen, Cole’s received a loving restoration from the bar aficionados at Pouring with Heart – saving the original mahogany bar, glass lighting fixtures, penny tile floors and adding tables and booths made from trolley car wood. We’ll hear from a couple of their other bars later.
What We’re Drinking: They do the classics and they do them well. A proper Whiskey Sour is just what the doctor ordered. And for our friends who prefer clear spirits, we’ll point you toward the iconic French 75. Cheers!
The Low Down: The king of all DTLA dive bars, this historic water hole is known for its prohibition-era speakeasy and tunnels that lay dormant underneath it. The King Eddy got a recent makeover, adding some fresh artwork, minor aesthetic touches, and spot for local bands to jam out. But don’t despair, it’s still as divey as it’s always been. Current owners are working on opening a speakeasy type joint in the basement where prohibition-era murals and relics still exist. That would be awesome!
Fun Facts: The Eddy (as it’s beloving called) was/ is a favorite drinking spot for crime/ noir novelists John Fante and James M Cain, postmodernist luminary William S Burroughs and iconic poet Charles Bukowski. So if you feel the urge to wax poetic, it could be that you are channeling these literary legends. Or perhaps it’s just because The Eddy is known to pour one heck of stiff drink.
What We’re Drinking: It’s a dive, so we are keeping it simple. We’ll go with Bukowski’s drink of choice: a boilermaker. That’s a shot of whiskey and a beer.
The Low Down: This behemoth of a nightlife venue takes themed bars to the next level! The four floors have multiple bars that draw inspiration from Clifford Clinton’s original 8 cafeteria-style restaurants that date back to the great depression. There’s a gothic Victorian steampunk bar, a tiki bar and treetops bar that features a giant sequoia replica and a roaring 2o’s ballroom. They have live music and burlesque shows and are in the process of revamping their culinary offerings. There is so much more fascinating history behind Clifton’s Cafeterias. You’ll just have to take our Cocktail Tour to find out!
Fun Facts: The all out design and decor of Clifton’s depression-era cafeteria’s inspired an up and coming filmmaker to open a theme park one day. Any guesses?
What We’re Drinking: Finding a bar that does tiki drinks right is tough sometimes. So we’re heading to the 4th floor and ordering up a Mai Tai, Zombie or Pina Colada (or 3)
The Low Down: Another one of Pouring with Heart’s passion projects, the Golden Gopher is a fantastic hybrid of low key dive where you can get a bomb craft cocktail. A jukebox with a great selection of tunes and arcade games make this an ideal spot to post up with friends for a few.
Fun Facts: The Golden Gopher holds one of the oldest liquor licenses in the city. And it’s of a rare variety – it allows the Gopher to both sell liquor as a bar and bottles of liquor to go. We should also mention that they have one of the best happy hours in LA everyday of the week. Shameless plug for our Happy Hour Tour right here!
What We’re Drinking: Since we are already celebrating their righteous Happy Hour, let’s go from that menu. A “Make Your Own Mule” with your choice of alcohol is a strong contender. And gotta mention the Bee’s Knees – Gin, Lemon, Honey. Simply delicious!
The Low Down: This Miami transplant is a James Beard award finalist and winner of Tales of the Cocktail’s Best American Hotel Bar. More importantly, they are one of our favorite Rooftop bars in Downtown LA with some of the yummiest drinks!
Fun Facts: They don’t have a happy hour menu…. But, they have something called the cocktail specials of the day which essentially translates to an all day happy hour.
What We’re Drinking: Broken Shaker has a whole part of their menu called “DTLA Inspired” that reads like a sardonic love letter to it’s loving patrons with names like Woke AF, Electro Lit and L.A. Bae. Hahaha. We’ll be sitting poolside drinking the Neon Lights – Vida Mezcal mixed with ancho verde, aperol, burnt citrus and togarashi cordial, wood sorrel tincture and fresh lime juice. I mean, when a cocktail menu has tinctures and ingredients you’ve never heard of on it, you know the mixologist is a total Walter White genius type. Indulge!
The Low Down: If we could dream up the perfect after work bar, Seven Grand would be it. It’s steeped in the history of its original building but so laid back. It’s one of those places you immediately take your tie off as you walk through the door. They have pool tables, live music every night and, did we mention, they have one of the largest selections of premium whiskeys in the western US.
Fun Facts: They display some of those rare whiskeys in vintage jewelry cases from the building’s original owners. Surprise surprise – Seven Grand is another Pouring with Heart establishment. They opened up an 18 seat Japanese Whiskey bar in the back of Seven Grand. They do it right!
What We’re Drinking: This is all about the whiskey. We’ll do a Sazerac or a Mint Julep. Or both.
The Low Down: Upon entering the Nomad Hotel, you’ll feel like you walked into a James Bond film. The decor is so so tasteful it hurts, somewhere between a royal palace and a Wes Anderson film. After you’ve stopped gawking, you’ll take the elevator to the rooftop so you can continue gawking at one of our favorite vantage points in the city. Drink in hand, you can look down at the throng of the city simultaneously feeling it’s vibrant energy all the while floating cooly above it.
Fun Facts: The Nomad’s historic building was built in 1904 as the regional headquarters for the Bank of Italy. Never heard of it? That’s because it goes by a different name today. We’ll give you a hint: it starts with a B and ends with an ank of America. The more you know.
What We’re Drinking: They have a smattering of incredible poolside cocktails and wine menu. If you are going to make us choose, we’ll have the best of both worlds with the Pretty & Basic: Rose, Aperol, Genepy, Strawberry, Black Pepper and Lime!
The Low Down: This is one of those bars that is more about what it represents than quality of drink. It’s about a genuine neighborhood bar in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a ton of those. And it’s about who sat in that bar stool before you. Frolic Room is another celebrity dive favorite with good vibes!
Fun Facts: The Rat Pack used to stroll over here for breaks during recording sessions from Capital Records around the corner. That lovely back beat, crooner sound? You can thank the booze from Frolic Room
What We’re Drinking: They even say it on their website: don’t expect any bells and whistles. This is another shot and beer type place. But they also do an Old Fashioned and Martini pretty well too.
The Low Down: At the front of Good Time Davey Waynes, you walk through an old refrigerator door and are transported back to a 70’s house party. It’s a gimmick that could play as cheesy if the bar wasn’t so well executed and hanging out here wasn’t so much fun. And it’s done perfectly. They have live music, a tasty and approachable drink menu and an indoor/outdoor space that lets you take advantage of that great LA weather while grabbing some grub from their food truck.
Fun Facts: Davey Waynes is a Houston Brothers property, a group that really knows how to nail a bar concept. They have 14 other spots around Los Angeles and they are all gems in their own unique way. Harvard and Stone, La Descarga and No Vacancy could have easily made this list. And in a way, they just did 🙂 All the Houston Brothers’ spots we just listed are a quick uber ride from each other. Hit ‘em all!
What We’re Drinking: First of all, you’ve gotta try one of their boozy snow cones! It completes the experience. If you’re looking to pony up to the bar, you can’t go wrong with any of their specialty cocktails but we are partial to the Village People – Chai infused Gin, Amaro Nonino, Orgeat, Fresh Lemon Juice, Celery Bitters
The Low Down: For old timey charm with cutting edge cocktail flair, look no further than Melrose Umbrella Company. At nights they’ll have a dj spinning fresh tunes that get people dancing and a cocktail list that will capture your curiosity. Zach Patterson, owner/ proprietor/ head bar man is a real mad scientist without the pretentiousness that usually goes along with it.
Fun Facts: Umbrella Company also has an amazing coffee, breakfast and lunch service. We are suckers for coffee cocktails! Oh, and by the way, they recently opened a Tiki Bar on Hollywood Blvd. We’d send you there with zero hesitation as well.
What We’re Drinking: Ugh! If you’re gonna twist our arm and make us choose, we are going with the Romance Without Pressure. Described on their website as: “A romance as sweet as PASSION FRUIT gone as sour as GRAPEFRUIT with a subtle twist of CUCUMBER and the freedom to choose GIN, VODKA, RYE or PISCO”. They also do a mean White Old Fashioned. Literally everything here is good. Be adventurous!
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
The Low Down: The Pink Palace, as it’s lovingly known, may feel a bit cheesy, out-dated and, well, over priced but it’s still fun to go and play like your Hollywood royalty for a bit. The setting is posh but the vibes are chill. The Beverly Hills Hotel is also a great place to get a poolside drink.
Fun Facts: In 2019, the Polo Lounge put an $800 cocktail on the menu that contained premium cognacs that retail for a few grand a bottle. It was all in the name of honoring a previous owner… we’ll choose to honor him another way.
What We’re Drinking: Good News: not all their cocktails are the same cost as a new iPhone. They have a cocktail that pays homage to Howard Hughes (who occupied one of their bungalows for over 2 decades) that tickles our fancy. It’s a hybrid between an Aviation and a Corpse Reviver. Cheeky
Neighborhood: Sunset Strip
The Low Down: Sunset Tower is steeped in all kinds of Hollywood lore. If the walls could talk, they’d whisper stories about people ranging from John Wayne to Iggy Pop and Marilyn Monroe to Jennifer Anniston. The Tower Bar itself is in a penthouse that one of LA’s most famous gangsters used to occupy.
Fun Facts: The owner of Sunset Tower says of his establishment’s discretion, “…you can bring your family to dinner one night and your mistress to dinner the next”. And while we find this statement slightly repulsive, we also find it very intoxicating.
What We’re Drinking: Speaking of intoxicating, they’ve got some spirit forward cocktails on their list that are mouthwatering. Here’s our personal favorite, the Raymond Gimlet: Blackberry Jalapeno infused Mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse, Grapefruit & Lime Juice, Agave.
Neighborhood: Sunset Strip
The Low Down: If you are a fan of rock music, coming to the Whisky is somewhat of a pilgrimage. Obviously, The music isn’t what it once was, when the Doors were the house band and you could find a schwasted Janis Joplin chatting it up with Jimi Hendrix. That being said, it’s still a great spot to go check out a fun, talented (albeit gimmicky) cover band or two.
Fun Facts: They have “secret shows” pretty frequently and they tend to be worth it. Groups like the Foo Fighters have showed up on more than a few occasions!
What We’re Drinking: Grab a beer and drink in the legendary atmosphere!
The Low Down: Del Monte Speakeasy is definitely one of our favorite spots to catch some great live music. This was a legit speakeasy during the prohibition era and it still carries that charm! The drinks have graduated from “radiator juice” into a highly respectable cocktail program.
Fun Facts: During prohibition, patrons of the speakeasy would enter through the grocery store upstairs and take a rope-operated elevator down to the party. What people used to do for a drink!
What We’re Drinking: You can’t go wrong with one of their classics and if you want to try a highly unique concoction, there are drinks like the Hapsburg: Cinnamon infused Absinthe, Genever, Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice and house made honey syrup. Now start cutting a rug!
The Low Down: We’ll end our cocktail journey through Los Angeles by taking you to one of our favorite places to watch an epic sunset over the Pacific. Steps away from the wonderfully weird Venice Beach, take the elevator at the Hotel Erwin to the rooftop, grab a libation and soak it all in.
Fun Facts: If you’re eating or having a drink at the Erwin Rooftop, valet parking is free for 90 minutes. That’s better than gold in Los Angeles.
What We’re Drinking: They have a seasonal cocktail menu and Froze that are all worth mentioning, but we love one of their menu staples: the Spicy Mango Tree! Angelisco Blanco Tequila, Mango Puree, Jalapenos and Lime Juice
About the Author
Derek Krantz is a guide and works in tour and content creation for Sidewalk Food Tours. He loves working for Sidewalk because he gets to share his love of travel, history and his Hospitality Industry background with guests. Before working with Sidewalk, Derek worked as a Bartender and Mixologist at some of the most prestigious bars in Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. He is the host of Sidewalk’s Mixology Class which can be experienced both in person and virtually. Check it out!