2010-2015: Retro Vibes
Hottest years: 2010-present
Though punker-than-thou types like to remember its precursor bar called Tiny’s K.O. (the initials in tribute to Smalls), that one was quite frankly, a mess when it came to management (you never knew when it would actually be open). When Loaded took over, the owners may have went a little too “Hard Rock Cafe” with the décor, but with a little wear and tear, it ended up just the rock 'n’ roll bar Hollywood needed. These days, black-clad, spikey-haired slews pack the place and catch live bands in the adjacent room (sadly, closing -- for the time being at least -- in Feb), and Loaded has lasted longer than Tiny’s, Angels & Kings, and RokBar (which all worked the same formula).
Formerly: Tiny’s K.O.
Hottest years: 2008-2012
One of the most stunning bars on the list, as The Edison -- housed in a former electric plant -- grew in popularity, so did the overall idea of drinking Downtown. While DTLA was mostly known for old dives, The Edison upped the ante, melding mixology and old-timey atmosphere into a destination to dress up for. Of course, the long lines and the dress code continue to be a deterrent for some, but overall, Andrew Meieran (of Clifton's revamp fame) created an ornate steampunky palace that everyone had to check out at least once. It changed cocktail culture not just in Downtown, but for all of LA.
The Three Clubs
Hottest years: debatable, but we’ll say 2010-present
The Three Clubs opened back in ’91, but it didn’t hit its stride until a decade in, and we think it’s better than ever right about now. Marc Smith’s old-school hangout, famously seen in Mad Men, has had its popularity come and go over the years, but we always make our way back, thanks to promotions like its long-running Monday Night Tease (burlesque), random rock band showcases (added later in its lifespan), and bombastic DJs on weekends. The dark front bar area alone is worth braving traffic on Vine and Santa Monica no matter what’s happening in the next room. Three Clubs is a classic, and classics not only never go out of style, they deserve appreciation the older they get.
Hottest years: 2005, 2015
A beacon for bad behavior, 107’s overloaded kitsch décor and irreverent party promos made it a favorite alternative to Downtown’s swanky new bars for the past five years. It would’ve been remembered for this punky zeal regardless, but when the proprietors decided to fight their landlord last year and stay open 'til they were kicked out, with the “#OccupyBar107” movement, they immortalized the brave little bar for eternity.
Good Times at Davey Wayne's
Hottest years: 2014-2015
Though relatively new to the bar game when compared with many of the proprietors on this list, the Houston Brothers have in many ways ruled the past five years in LA nightlife, at least when it comes to word of mouth for their watering holes. Houston Hospitality currently runs a host of themed bars including La Descarga, Harvard & Stone, Bronson Bar, No Vacancy, Dirty Laundry, and Butchers & Barbers and most recently the K-Town hotspot Break Room 86, but we’ll give top honors to the epic '70s-themed Davey Wayne’s for perfect repro of a Brady Bunch-style domicile.
Formerly: Crane’s Hollywood Tavern
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Lina Lecaro is the author of Los Angeles’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking & Diving in the City of Angeles, and LA Weekly’s lead nightlife reporter at large. She also freelances for pubs including Playboy, Yahoo, LAist, and recently, Noisey/Vice and Tales of the Cocktail’s new blog. Though she’s a lightweight when it comes to cocktail consumption, she’s a heavyweight when it comes to barhopping, having hit half a dozen drinking spots in one night (on a few occasions) in the name of “investigative” journalism. Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @linalecaro.