Bar hopping in LA has seemingly always been a bountiful (and booze-filled) endeavor. And while many of the city’s most legendary drinking spots are now gone, thanks to fickle Angeleno tastes and nightlife trends, their influence -- and our memories of being under the influence inside of them -- live on. Which is why we’re flashing back to the last 20 years of the buzziest bars and nightclubs that offered woozy and wondrous spells that allowed us to take shots, hook up, and get down... until they were infiltrated or shuttered, and we all moved on to something else. Here then, is one of the most challenging lists we’ve ever compiled: a brief history of the last 20 years of the hottest bars in LA.
1995-2000: Conspicuous Consumption
Hottest years: 1995-1997
Back in ‘93 when it opened, and before Hollywood got “cleaned up,” Bar Deluxe was on a street many considered crack central -- Las Palmas Ave just above Hollywood Blvd. But Janice DeSoto (formerly a promoter for rockin' joints called White Trash and English Acid) knew her hell-raisin’ crowd wouldn’t be scared away. The red and black, two-level hotspot was a magnet for the lewd and tattooed crowd, with live rockabilly, punk, and metal bands, and regulars nightly.
Currently: Premiere Supper Club
Hottest years: 1995-1998
For many in LA, it all begins with Smalls. Jon Sidel and Sean MacPherson’s dark, subtly divey drinking hub was a hipster hive before “hipster” was even a thing. Located on Melrose at Gower, the bar (which opened in 1990) made for a poppin’ pit stop before shows and clubs, but for many, Smalls was all about scoring a seat early and soaking up the lively LA scene -- and liquoring your liver -- all night. By the middle to late '90s, it started featuring live bands, which meant there was no reason to go elsewhere, ever.
Later became: Forty Deuce. Currently: Pour Vous
Hottest years: 1997-1999
OK, The Garage was technically more of a rock club than a bar, but we can’t talk about drinking holes in the '90s without mentioning Steve Edelson’s flame-covered Silver Lake space. Local live bands rocked the tiny stage, usually for free, but $5 max. Plus, there was a bar next door and upstairs (with DJs) if you didn’t like the racket in the main room. The Garage was a neighborhood hangout with grit, something a lot of the current Silver Lake music spots sadly lack today.
Currently: The Virgil
Hottest years: 1998-2000
This unassuming little restaurant and bar hosted some of the best parties of the '90s, all with decidedly retro flavors. Club Undergound (still going strong in Chinatown) got its start here, while the '60s/Brit-pop fave Café Bleu saw scooters lined out front every week soon after. And the revamp of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco brought glitter litters to Weho’s Eastside, too.
Hottest years: 1998-2000
The Den’s former guise, The Gaslight, was a dump, but a beloved one. So when a bunch of club folk including celebrity party dude Brent Bolthouse opened up the Opium Den, there was some resistance. Thankfully, the dark room and spacious Ivar Ave room stayed pretty rock 'n’ roll, with a pool table, cool tunes on the juke, and jam-like live music. Ozomatli got their start here.
Currently: The Ivar Theatre
Hottest years: 2000-2005
Though the Burgundy Room, The Room, and The Spotlight served boozers and cruisers on busy Cahuenga for years, it wasn’t until Beauty Bar (which also had outlets in SF, NYC, and Vegas) brought its glitter-covered walls, hair-dryer seats, “martinis and manicures,” and rockstar DJ sets to the area that the scene really started to lather, even earning the block a new name via the LA Times: “the Cahuenga Corridor.”
Currently: Grandpa Johnson’s
2000-2005: Hollywood Swingin’
Hottest years: 2005-2007
In many ways the sister venue to Beauty Bar (proprietor John Nixon was involved with both bars), Star Shoes was another themed drinking hole that relied on eye candy for décor (this one was footwear, natch) and ear candy on the decks for dancing. When Shoes and Beauty were on top, the term “Hollywood Hipster” was not a misnomer.
Currently: Cosmo Ultra Lounge
Hottest years: 2000-2004
Rock 'n’ roll ruled at this gilded grotto at one of Hollywood’s druggiest corners: Yucca and Wilcox. Known as Hell’s Gate before going glam and capitalizing on the area’s popularity with the chain belt brigades, Goldfinger’s was a wild one, with DJs, bands, go-go dancers stomping table tops, and a hot, smoky mess of an outdoor patio.
Currently: Parlour Room
Hottest years: 2000-2007
Attracting a decidedly more dapper crowd than the above, The Lava Lounge did Tiki-chic before it was a phenom like today. The mini-mall hovel served tropical drinks and had swingin’ bands, most famously The Blue Hawaiians rockin’ surf and exotica, who played both the grand opening in ’94 and the closing party in 2007; current Thrillist senior editor Jeff Miller also spent many, many, many Sundays rocking “The Humpty Dance” at karaoke -- and later, hosting LL's karaoke nights.
Currently: The Woods
Hottest years: 2002-2005
Amid WeHo circuit bars and thumping dance clubs, the Parlour was an odd bird of a bar, showcasing underground entertainment such as the pansexual '20s speakeasy-themed Bricktops and the punk writers wrangler called The Unhappy Hour. It’s now a Sean MacPherson spot, and one of the most popular straight bars on Santa Monica Blvd.
Currently: Bar Lubitsch
2005-2010: Dives Thrive
Hottest years: 2005-2008
Theme bars are huge these days, but we’ll give Bigfoot (which also has a Westside location) props for being one of the first and most successful at kitschy environs. Bobby Green’s woodsy log cabin style venue established his company 1933’s cozy old-timey aesthetic, which he’s gone on to apply to faves such Thirsty Crow, Sassafras, and Idle Hour, and it continues to smoke the competition in Los Feliz.
Hottest years: 2005-2009
The millennium marked an increase in Los Angeles’ bar bounty thanks to a very small circle of impresarios, namely, Green and partners at The 1933 Group and Cedd Moses and partners at 213 Nightlife. (The Houston Brothers have only been on their heels in more recent years.) Moses has been involved with a bevy of great bars, some of which would be on our Top 30 list for sure: Good Luck Bar, 4100, Seven Grand, Golden Gopher, etc. Forced to pick Moses’ most influential locale, we’re going with Broadway, his most audacious attempt to transform Downtown Los Angeles’ nightlife. Gopher came first, but Broadway was, and is, hard to ignore with its massive neon and snazzy two-level layout. With a roster that now also includes Seven Grand, Casey's Irish Pub, Tony’s Saloon, Cole’s, Las Perlas, and Cana Rum Bar, Broadway begat all that Moses intended for Downtown, and then some.
The Short Stop
Hottest years: 2005-2010, present
If Hollywood in the late '90s became about bottle service and velvet ropes for the club scene and rock 'n' roll bars for those seeking alternatives, then Silver Lake became about something more laid back. The scruffy rock scenes at Spaceland and the Echo could be complemented by a visit to the area’s dives, which blew up in popularity at the time. The dimly lit former cop bar The Short Stop, co-owned by Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, reigned for dancing and prancing in your skinny jeans, and along with Little Joy next door, it pretty much still does.
Hottest years: 2005-2010, present
This Sunset Junction gay bar has been a lively guy grind since it opened in the mid-'90s, but it did benefit from attention and subsequent onslaught of fatter pockets into the 'hood the past decade, attracting more straights and GBFs than ever before. Though the looky-loo quotient peaked mid-2000, it remains to this day a great mixed bar thanks to arty and tarty promos and parties on weekends and cheap, strong drinks all week.
Hottest years: 2008-2010
A dive in the truest sense, Smog Cutter was the bar we all went to when we wanted to avoid “the scene” at the above in Silver Lake. The austere environment, batshit crazy wait staff, and tragic karaoke were part of its charm and they still are for regulars who live in the area. Scenesters have moved on, though the gentrification of the area could see a new generation of smog-hogs infiltrate soon.
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.
1. Premiere Supper Club1710 N Las Palmas Ave, Los Angeles
2. Pour Vous5574 Melrose, Los Angeles
3. The Virgil4519 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles
4. Harlowe7321 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood
5. Grandpa Johnson's1638 N Cahuenga, Los Angeles
6. The Cosmo6364 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
7. The Parlour Room Of Hollywood6423 Yucca St, Hollywood
8. The Woods1533 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles
9. Bar Lubitsch7702 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood
10. Bigfoot Lodge3172 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles
11. Broadway Bar830 S Broadway, Los Angeles
12. The Short Stop1455 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
13. Akbar4356 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles,
14. Smog Cutter864 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles
15. Loaded6377 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
16. Edison Depression Soup Kitchen108 W 2nd St, Los Angeles
17. The 3 Clubs1123 Vine St, Los Angeles
18. Good Times at Davey Wayne's1611 N El Centro Ave, Hollywood
Slide past the velvet rope to get into this swanky dance club and DJ spot. Set up in the style of a Spanish villa, the club features elegant rounded stone arches and balconies overlooking the main floor. Playing a variety of music from hip hop to EDM, there's sure to be something for everyone here despite the exclusive vibes at the front door.
Pour Vous is a swanky, velvet couch-laden cocktail bar reminiscent of old Hollywood.
The Virgil is a Silver Lake speakeasy-style bar that’s equal parts cocktail bar and live entertainment space. It’s divided into two sides, with a full bar in each: “Stage Side” features live music, dancing, and comedy shows, and “B Side,” is the no-cover, juke box-bearing space, with innovative craft cocktails and beer. You’ll find ingredients like Gifford Creme de Banan, Manzano peppers, lavender-infused rye, and coconut cream across the cocktail menu (you can get a vodka soda if you cower in the face of adventure). Go for the happy hour, stay for the show, drink constantly.
This WeHo haunt sports a sophisticated interior with antique decor, brown banquettes, and an intricate, handmade tile floor, plus a killer cocktail program designed by beloved NY bartender Dushan Zaric. Sip on innovative cocktails like the Aye Poppy (Uncle Val's Botanical Gin, Grand Poppy, house-made strawberry basil syrup, lemon, and egg white), alongside a cheese & charcuterie board, while you salute Hollywood's Golden Age -- the theme of this classy spot.
Opened by nightlife legend Johnny Zander, this retro-feeling, art-deco cocktail lounge has a gigantic marble-topped bar and unusual cocktails, like the bourbon-and-apple-cider-based T-Bizz.
Get fancy at this premiere nightclub and lounge on Hollywood Boulevard that hosts hip hop and R&B, as well as Top 40 and EDM.
This booth-filled, marble tinged classic-cocktail lounge from the El Bar and The Fifth also features a patio with its own fireplace, as well as eclectic brews (Old Speckled Hen; Allagash Curieux) and specialty drinks like the Blood & Sand (scotch, sweet v
Escape the urban atmosphere of the strip mall and step into The Woods, a cocktail bar with wood block-lined walls, tree trunk tables, and antlered chandeliers. The drinks are cheap (especially during happy hour) and the ambiance is reminiscent of summer camp -- but instead of guitar by campfire, there’s a DJ and a dress code. The Woods is your ticket out of the city and back to nature… cocktails included.
Remember college? Me neither. But the Red Room at Bar Lubitsch is eerily reminiscent of those basement frat parties, and their Molotov Cocktail (Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, fresh-pressed apple juice, and fire) is just a higher-quality, flame-engulfed version of jungle juice... in the best way. It's a Russian-themed vodka bar with 200-some-odd vodkas (served chilled or in cocktail form), a DJ-fueled dance floor, a quieter barroom for the dance floor-averse (or if you want to like, talk), and a brick- and ivy-enclosed patio. Go for the drinks, stay for the dancing; the DJs are some of the best in the area.
Step into the log cabin-like interior of Bigfoot Lodge and escape into the wilderness of... Atwater Village. The roaring fireplace, tree stump tables, and hunting lodge decor will have you certain you’ve left Los Angeles (don’t worry, you haven’t). Bigfoot’s got live music, tallboys, and rustic-style cocktails that adhere to the campfire theme, like the Roasted Marshmallow with actual burnt marshmallow, and the Scout’s Honor with Irish cream liqueur. Once you've got your drink, cozy up to the fireplace and forget that you’re actually nowhere near the woods.
Broadway, located right next to the Orpheum, brings the deco charm with enough multi-tiered cocktail lounges and mezzanine bars to make a flapper blush. But stop doing the charleston and start doing the samba during Fiesta Broadway on April 27th, a celebration of Latin culture on a grande scale.
Equal parts dive bar and dance club, The Short Stop is an Echo Park hot spot located down the street from Dodger Stadium (get it?). The red-lit dance floor is fueled by a juke box or a late-night DJ, the pool tables and arcade games are there to break you when the dance floor tires you out, and the drink specials are made for pre- and post-Dodger game goers. Go early to beat the line, load up on $1 PBR tall boys, and don't miss the cheap (but delicious) street food vendors on your way out -- you just spent the whole night dancing, you deserve it.
A child of the 90s, Akbar is a punk rock-style gay bar in Silver Lake with decades of drinking and dancing under its belt. Upon its inception, the founders carefully curated their own analog jukebox, which still plays those same rock ’n roll and punk tunes to this day. And despite the influx of craft cocktail clubs and mixology-centric lounges, Akbar remains today what it set out to be when it first opened on Sunset Blvd.: a bar, not a club or a lounge, boasting cheap well drinks, and condemning velvet ropes.
Smog Cutter is a Hollywood dive/karaoke bar that's got awesome music, lively bartenders, and an even-livelier crowd.
Finally open now after a couple weeks of stops and starts, Loaded's a new rock bar from the Big Wangs guys that completely embraces the ol' school rocker ethos, from pics of Keith Richards and Sid Vicious on the wall, to a reasonably priced booze menu composed mainly of hard-drinking whiskies, to a wall made up of Marshall stacks, which're worth digging through if you're in the market for a pair of irregular Mossimo boardshorts at 92% off.
This 1920s-style speakeasy's offering a timely Depression-era deal: cheekily named 35c drinks (the ginny 401k and the bourbon-laced Bail Out), plus free grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Originally a straight-up martini lounge, The 3 Clubs eventually evolved into a quality late-night hangout with live entertainment such as comedy and burlesque shows.
Straight out of The Brady Bunch set, this 70's living room-themed Hollywood bar is decked out with hammocks, an Airstream Trailer, and a DJ spinning Bee Gees-esque beats. It's hard to tell what's cooler: the epic secret entrance through a refrigerator door or the no-cover. Weekend nights usually draw the biggest lines, but Good Times is open on weekend afternoons, aka the perfect time to kick back on the patio and order up some Tex-Mex street food and craft cocktails.