Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in LA

Published On 07/13/2016 Published On 07/13/2016
Everson Royce Bar
Courtesy of Everson Royce Bar
Courtesy of The Chestnut Club

The Chestnut Club

Santa Monica

Dim lighting, dark wood, leather sofas, and exposed brick make this relaxed and refined westside cocktail haunt feel a world away from the flip-flopped, pier-bound masses just down the road. The team from Black Market Liquor Bar and Scopa Italian Roots extends that distinguished simplicity to the cocktails, which are thoughtful yet unfussy. The menu leans pretty heavily on the brown spirits, with hits like the Poor Man’s Pappy Old Fashioned or the rye and mezcal-fueled El Camino, but if you’re looking to venture into new territory, the helpful bar team will gladly guide you through their massive collection of mostly small-batch spirits and liqueurs.

Katie Hoss/The Walker Inn

The Walker Inn

Koreatown

While you could enjoy a drink at The Normandie Club, do yourself a favor: skip the crowd, hit the buzzer in the back of the bar, and enter The Walker Inn to have your cocktail expectations completely blown away. (Though if you want to go at a busy time, you should make a reservation.) There you’ll find unexpected cocktails based around an elaborate theme and a lineup that changes roughly every four to six weeks. Currently the drinks are inspired by regional climates, so, uh, imagine Japanese rice paddies and Alpine meadows and you’ll kinda sorta have an idea of what to expect. And while you could order your carefully crafted cocktail a la carte, we recommend opting for the unusual omakase-style pairings at the bar.

ETA Highland Park

ETA

Highland Park

This new Highland Park outfit from the guys behind The Greyhound delivers with a sleek hideout for serious cocktail sippers. The drinks are dreamed up by Mauricio Canales, who previously ran the bar show at Mercado, and includes winners like the refreshing Penultimate Word with gin, mezcal, green Chartreuse, and cucumber or the Prettiest Girl of All Time with tequila, purple perilla, and lemon balm.

Big Bar | Eugene Lee

Big Bar

Los Feliz

Venture beyond brunch on the patio of the always-packed Alcove patio and grab a stool at the marble bar of the deceptively named Big Bar. This tiny cocktail oasis turns out huge results with fun, innovative, and cleverly themed drink menus that rotate regularly. The award-winning team frequently hosts guest bartenders with a curated soundtrack (aka “Mixtape Mixology”), costumed parties with sweet giveaways, and movie-themed cocktails for the summer movies on the patio. In other words, they know how to have a good time.

Dylan + Jeni

Everson Royce Bar

Arts District

You’re here for that patio. You’re here for that burger. And now you’re here for that cocktail. And that one, too. And... OK, the tempting range of cocktails at this laid-back Arts District newcomer won’t make a such a singular decision quite so easy. But there are worse problems to have. You could stay On Point with a mix of cactus pear brandy, mezcal, lime and grapefruit, or seek out the Talent Scout with Elijah Craig 12 year and aged Curaçao. Or forego the decision-making all together and put your faith in the Bartender’s Choice. As with the rest of ERB’s offerings, you’ll be in good hands. Now, go play a game of bocce on the patio.

The Corner Door | Acuna Hansen

The Corner Door

Culver City

This out-of-the-way Culver City favorite offers an eclectic range of ace cocktails sure to deliver, whether shaken, stirred, or on-tap. From the smoky Taco Truck with mezcal, pineapple, and cinnamon-infused Campari to the Jesse Pink Gin with gin, bitters, coconut liqueur, and orgeat, you’ll find plenty of reliable regulars, as well as seasonal hits like the totally rad Goonies menu with the whisky-hazelnut-cacao combo of the Truffle Shuffle and the rye-espresso-coconut of the Mama Fratelli. And with the added bonus of a knockout food menu from Birch’s Brendan Collins, plan on sticking around for a few rounds.

Westbound | DYLAN + JENI

Westbound

Arts District

All aboard this new addition to the Arts District’s One Santa Fe building, a slick outfit that pays tribute to the classy days of luxury train travel. Order up refined classics like the French 75 or Sazerac or explore creative, travel-inspired twists that favor unusual and market-fresh ingredients like The Conductor (with bourbon, black sesame, and tamarind) or La Remedia (with gin, watermelon, grapefruit, and pink peppercorns). Grab a seat at the copper-clad bar or opt for the privacy of the leather-clad booths, inspired by vintage train cars and settle in for the ride.

1886 Bar | Acuna Hansen

1886 Bar

Pasadena

To speak of great cocktail bars and not raise a glass to this Pasadena institution would be blasphemous. And while the virtuoso team behind 1886 Bar could easily sit on their laurels and run through the classics blindfolded, they’re constantly experimenting like boozy mad scientists with house-made infusions, tinctures, and atypical ingredients. And to ensure quality with their creativity, each drink must be approved by five of the bartenders before making its way across the bar. Their latest seasonal creations take cues from international fashion trends through the ages, like the King Tut-inspired Blood In Heaven with mezcal, passion fruit and honey syrup, pineapple and lime juice, and bitters or The Blue Steel, a Zoolander-inspired concoction with gin, violet liqueur, green Chartreuse, yuzu bitters, and a “Mugato Umbrella” garnish, which is so hot right now.

Hatchet Hall

Old Man Bar at Hatchet Hall

Culver City

Tucked in the back of Hatchet Hall, this hunting lodge of a cocktail bar is what your grandpa’s favorite bar probably dreams of becoming. From the taxidermied animals and classic vinyl to the well-worn arm chairs and vintage barware, Old Man Bar has all the touches of a thoughtfully crafted bar without feeling like somebody thought too much about it. The obvious drink of choice here is an Old Fashioned, and lucky for you they have an entire menu devoted to the old-timey favorite, with plenty of variations to keep things interesting (if you prefer something on the lighter-side, you’ll find plenty of well-crafted options as well). Just don’t tell grandpa.

The Lincoln LA

The Lincoln

Venice

From the team behind Power House, The Wallace, and other stylish watering holes around town, this new vintage car-themed cocktail spot is definitely worth a pit-stop. With barstools made from car jacks to a complete 1927 Model T Roadster, The Lincoln makes you feel like you’re in the coolest garage in tow -- which also happens to have exceptional cocktails. With a carefully curated selection of 100 spirits and a finely tuned list of cocktails like the whiskey-and-Earl-Grey-fueled Grandpa Cal’s Old Tyme Cure-All or the Menthylamine with gin and atomized-fernet, you’re bound to happily spend some quality time on the spacious patio.

Sassafras | Danielle Bernabe/Courtesy of Sassafras

Sassafras

Hollywood

This little corner of New Orleans in Hollywood lays on plenty of Southern charm, especially when it comes to their cocktails. From their barrel-aged renditions of classic French Quarter cocktails like the Vieux Carré or Sazerac, to playful originals like Sex on the Bayou, the bar team turns out solid hits that are easily approachable. You’ll also find that many of the key ingredients have been housemade from amaro to gingerbeer. Come early if you’re looking for a quiet drink on a wicker chair on the front porch, and stick around late for rambunctious live music.

The Varnish

Downtown

One of the standouts from the early wave of back-to-craft, speakeasy-style cocktail bars, The Varnish still manages to impress. Once you’ve devoured a French Dip (or two!) at Cole’s, make your way through the unmarked door in the back -- assuming they haven’t reached their purposefully limited capacity -- and find yourself transported to an intimate, Prohibition-era hideaway. There you’ll find cozy wooden booths, jazz playing softly in the background, and expertly crafted classic cocktails with subtle innovations and top-shelf spirits. Order a Gibson or the Improved Whiskey Cocktail from the concise menu or turn yourself over to the bartender’s choice for an unexpected twist, literally, and figuratively.

Harvard & Stone

Harvard & Stone

East Hollywood

While this East Hollywood spot can become a packed scene most weekend nights, those in the know come early or on off-nights for quality and creative pours like the Tamarind Tiki with rum, Campari, lemongrass, and tamarind shrub, or the Kiwi Paloma with mezcal, kiwi, grapefruit, pineapple, and jalapeño. Those really in the know will head to the small “R&D” bar in the back to order from rotating special menus and frequent guest bartenders. You’ll find a well-timed happy hour from 8pm to 9:30pm nightly and a reverse one Mon-Thurs 12:30 to 1:30am with $5 Old Fashioneds. And should you happen to linger while a band takes the stage and the burlesque performers take to the rafters, well, you might just want to order another round.

Melrose Umbrella Co.

Fairfax

If you’re looking for where an off-duty bartender from elsewhere on this list is hanging, there’s a good chance you may find them unwinding at this post-Prohibition cocktail haven. A lofty and light space with plenty of rough wood and exposed walls, the spacious bar offers a laid-back neighborhood vibe perfect for exploring their extensive and adventurous drink menu. From reworked classics and long-forgotten recipes, to inspired innovations and seasonal specials, there’s a little something for everyone here, and the bartenders are happy to guide you through.

Faith & Flower | Danny Jensen/Thrillist

Faith & Flower

Downtown

While this elegant Downtown favorite has been impressing dates/parents/in-laws for a while now with their signature English Milk Punch and other staple cocktails, they also manage to keep things fresh with new seasonal additions. From the punny Shiso Easy with tequila blanco, vermouth, cucumber, and shiso leaf to the boozy and citrus-twist of the Tradewinds Collins, the team at Faith & Flower deliver strong on refreshing seasonal twists without overcomplicating matters. And their huge food menu is no joke.

The Spare Room

The Spare Room

Hollywood

Tucked inside the Roosevelt Hotel, this sleek cocktail lounge/bowling alley recently stepped up their drink game with the addition of award-winning beverage director Yael Vengroff. While making a reservation on a busy night can still be a hassle and the bowling is a bit pricey, you’ll be well-rewarded with a thoughtful blend of booze. From a Salt & Vinegar Martini served with dill potato chips to the pandan leaf-adorned Lucky Smoke with Japanese whiskey, rum, banana liqueur, and vanilla, the menu is full of welcome surprises. And should you decide to bring the crew, the punch bowls are waaaaay more refined than that awful Jungle Juice you threw together in college.

Break Room 86 | Jakob Layman

Break Room 86

Koreatown

While you likely made your way through the secret entrance of this Line Hotel speakeasy for the radical '80s decor, breakdancing Michael Jackson-impersonator, and tricked out karaoke rooms, you’re also going to want to explore the drink menu. You’ll find a playful new lineup of Mood Ring-inspired cocktails that even have corresponding scratch-and-sniff stickers on the menu. From the glowing ice cubes of the purple Contemplative with mezcal and chartreuse or the Passionate combination of rum, pisco, passionfruit and banana, they’re as fun to look at as they are to drink. You’re also going to want to hit the boozy ice cream truck out back to cap off your night.

General Lee’s

General Lee’s

Chinatown

This stylish tiki-inspired cocktail den took over a former Chinatown institution about a year and a half back and has been steadily turning out excellent, Asian-inflected concoctions since. The menu changes frequently, but you can count on unusual twists like wasabi-infused vermouth or black sesame syrup to catch you off guard. The friendly team behind the bar is also happy to go off script to find what you’re looking for. As the night wears on and the DJ takes over, the place tends to get a bit packed, so if you’re looking for a peaceful sip, get there early.

The Roger Room

Beverly Grove

Another stalwart from the early days of LA’s obsession with all-things-speakeasy, The Roger Room retains all of the class and charm that first made it a welcome respite in the neighborhood. With an easy-to-navigate menu divided by base spirits, you’ll find farm-to-glass ingredients, but not too much fuss. Order up the Four Aces, a house favorite with vodka, basil, green grapes, and ginger liqueur, or the Japanese Maple with whiskey, egg whites, and maple syrup, then settle into a booth beneath the hand-painted carnival mural and be prepared to stay awhile.

Alexander's Steakhouse Pasadena

Bull & Barrel

Pasadena

The bar at Alexander’s Steakhouse just got a sharp makeover complete with patio, firepits, a weekday happy hour from 5pm to 6:30pm and a solid lineup of quality cocktails to pair with decadent bar bites like wagyu gyoza and hamachi shooters. Bar manager Erik Lund has thoughtfully devised a collection of cocktails dedicated to each of his bartenders. There’s the Family Tree with tequila, Taiwanese whiskey, and cocoa nib salt rim as a tribute to Suzy’s ancestry or the Grumpy Pants with rye, beer, ginger, bitters, and citrus for Ben’s disposition. And then there’s the Fifty Dollar Rob Roy for Chef Matt Bata, which includes a 25-year-old single-malt Scotch, fancy vermouth, sherry, and a gold-leafed rim, and does, in fact, cost $50. Sometimes you have to go big.

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