Food & Drink

The Differences Between LA and NYC Drinkers, According to Bartenders

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The two coastal kings, New York City and Los Angeles, have a lot to argue about: Who has the best tacos and music scene? Who can complain about their commute to work harder? But one of the biggest battles to emerge in recent years is who can lay claim to the best drinking scene—and the most discerning drinkers. While we’re not about to decide who wins that fight, we will say this: There are major differences between NYC and L.A. drinkers and what they look for in a night out—and no one can speak to that better than the bartenders who serve them. Here, the five biggest differences between New York and Los Angeles drinking culture, according to the pros.

NYC Is All About the Scene; L.A. Focuses on Craft

"The New York crowd tends to be more about the ‘scene’—that is, the vibe, the music, the crowd. Los Angelinos are all about the craft of their cocktails and beer, and pay great attention to the ingredients that go into them. They can't seem to get enough of those hoppy IPAs.” — Russ Neipp, beverage director at Forman’s Whiskey Tavern and Laurel Tavern, Los Angeles

“L.A. nightlife was way ahead of New York in regards to craft cocktails. New York was primarily about speed and efficiency, whereas L.A. was about the craft that went into a cocktail. With that said, New York has caught up quickly, especially with the speakeasy bar concept. Speed and efficiency are still at the top of the list in New York, but you now have bar owners interested in making cocktails that are memorable. L.A. definitely has competition in that department now.” — Axel Jordan, bar manager at Clifton’s Republic, Los Angeles

NYC Loves Local Ingredients—But L.A. Loved Them First

"In New York, bartenders are beginning to follow chefs by diving into the local bounty. Farm to table beverages utilizing seasonal fruits and herbs are a growing trend, and that’s something Los Angeles bartenders have been doing for years. But here in New York, we are not granted the luxury of such pristine local citrus, so we are increasingly looking to options like excellent local cider vinegar and shrubs to highlight our local produce.” — Dan Pucci, beverage director at Gristmill, NYC

L.A. Does Big Bars; NYC Is More Independent

“L.A. still puts an inordinate amount of money into its decor and loves its themed joints. Also, because costs of getting into business are so much higher, well-funded bar groups dominate the scene, which means L.A. often misses out on the scrappy, independent, bartender-owned places that are much more common in NYC and the service culture that provides.” — Michael Neff, principal at Church Bar in Brooklyn, NY, and bar director of The Three Clubs in Hollywood, CA

New Yorkers Are Obsessed With Classics; Angelinos Prefer Innovation  

“New York City drinkers tend to lean more towards the classics. I believe with the hustle and bustle of the city, the bars are the one place where New Yorkers take their time, relax and knock back a couple Manhattans. Los Angeles drinkers seem more willing to go outside their comfort zone and try something new, rather than stick to the classics.” — Danny Natali, bartender at Laurel Point and Public School on Tap, Los Angeles

NYC Is Accessible; L.A. Is Spread Out 

“L.A. is much more spread out, and driving was a major issue until very recently. Cabs are very expensive and much less reliable in L.A., so a night out at a bar—let alone several bars—involved coordinating with a group of people. Ride-sharing apps are totally changing that though, and people’s habits are quickly changing with it. New York has never had the infrastructural challenges that L.A. has, so drop-in bars have been common for much longer, and that culture is more engrained in the population. Plus, entertaining in the home is difficult for your average Manhattanite who lives in a small space, so bars often serve as the backdrops for get-togethers and celebrations more often than they have in L.A.”  — Michael Neff

NYC's Bar Culture Can't Be Beat

“The biggest difference between New York vs. Los Angeles is that there’s simply more of a drinking culture in New York. Bars stay open much later, and it’s less complicated to drink since you don't need to worry about driving. Especially during the dead of winter, people in New York just like to hunker down in a dark bar.” — Marisa Simkin, operations manager at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, Los Angeles