If internet memes and dour spirits are any indication, 2016 was a dubious year at best. As we make our resolutions for 2017, why not consider making your dollar count locally? Here are a collection of LA-owned and -operated businesses -- both newcomers and time-honored favorites -- that we feel are deserving of your hard-earned money. We’ve picked places that help their communities, could use a little recognition, or are unique gems that we’d like to see stick around.
Librarians Orchid Mazurkiewicz and Tim Sturm opened this little beer bar in October of 2015, and it’s the perfect place to catch up with a friend over popcorn, beer, and a board game. The music isn’t too loud, the staff is friendly, and there’s plenty of both communal and bar seating. They only serve beer, with over a dozen or so on a tap list that frequently changes. Unlike a lot of Los Angeles bars, they don’t stick to hoppy IPAs: Expect unique porters, stouts, sours, and ciders, too. It’s also a great place to grab a gift, as they keep a well-stocked cooler full of interesting beers for purchase. The only thing is, this bar is tucked in the back corner of a Koreatown strip mall and can be hard to find. So, if you’re in the mood for a great brew in an uncomplicated and amicable pub, just keep an eye out for Southland Beer, near Little Tart.
MADE by DWC is the name for the Downtown Women’s Center’s retail side, which includes a cafe and a resale boutique where you can buy affordable women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories that are just as good as new. They also sell many hand-made products, including candles and soaps, crafted by the women within DWC’s programs. Every time you buy a coffee and pastry from the cafe or a new bag or sweater from the boutique, your purchases will support the shelter, its programs, and the many women they help.
Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries is dedicated to helping former gang members turn their lives around by employing them at its cafes and other endeavors. Homeboy helps its clients get on their feet by providing tattoo removal (as gang tattoos can often be a barrier to employment), teaching vital job skills, and facilitating access to healthcare, plus mental health, legal, and education services. You can stop by Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Diner, or Homegirl Cafe, or purchase their beloved food products -- including some very tasty tortilla chips and salsa -- at many local grocery stores and cafes. You can even book Homeboy for screen printing services.
You’ve probably never had an experience like the ones LA’s fantastic new immersive theater companies are putting together, and Speakeasy Society is at the forefront of this exciting trend. In case you’re a newbie to the whole idea, immersive theater gets audience members out of their seats and asks them to walk around, talk to actors, complete tasks, and essentially play themselves in an alternative narrative to typical, more static plays. Speakeasy Society has been around for about three years, staging immersive retellings of classic stories including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and A Christmas Carol. They're currently in the midst of a three-part series revolving Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, which explores the personal horrors of war, and a Land of Oz-inspired series in which you join the rebel forces fighting against a despot Scarecrow. Also recommended: Screenshot Productions, Delusion, Capital W, and Unbound Productions.
Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s LocoL serves healthy, affordable, casual food in Watts, and employs local folks, too. LocoL’s location was selected due to the neighborhood’s reputation as a food desert, meaning a lack of options for residents to purchase reasonably priced, nutritious food. At LocoL, everything is made in-house, and not a single items costs more than $6, yet Choi told Thrillist last month that the shop could be busier. “A lot of people have so much disposable income and [they] buy a juice here, they do that there, and it just becomes a part of the clutter of their life but if they'd really take a moment and realize if they spend $2.00 in Watts at LocoL, it actually means something, it actually goes to paying the staff,” he said. So what are you waiting for? Get a $4 burger and add on a cup of joe for only a buck. They’ve got a location in Oakland, as well as a roving food truck, too.
Hollywood is churning out superhero blockbusters at a rapid pace, and Netflix has been bringing Marvel to the small screen with some pretty compelling dramas. However, that doesn’t mean you should forget about the actual comic books themselves. House of Secrets in Burbank is a go-to for any comic aficionado or a just-learning newcomer, boasting a friendly and knowledgeable staff, plenty of both new and older comics, and free parking. The busy decor adds to its charm, with posters on the ceiling and incorporated into the floor, too. Other comic book shops we like include newcomer A Shop Called Quest in the Arts District, Golden Apple near Hollywood, Silver Lake’s Secret Headquarters, Echo Park’s Alternate Universe, and, of course, Meltdown Comics and its NerdMelt Showroom, which hosts some of the best comedy shows in town.
Baroo is an inconspicuous strip mall spots that is utterly amazing. Chef Kwang Uh (Noma) serves beautifully plated Korean fusion food with an emphasis on fermentation. Despite not even having a sign (making it a little hard to find) and fewer than 20 seats, Baroo has been named the fifth best new restaurant in the United States by Bon Appétit and is a long-running Thrillist favorite as well. Uh himself is on sabbatical in South Korea, however, and the kitchen is currently being handled by co-owner Matthew Kim, so it’d be nice to show Uh he’s missed by taking lunch at his truly unique gem of a restaurant. They only have a handful of menu items, but every one is delightful.
2016 may have been a bummer of a year for many, but at least there was one bright spot for vegans and the lactose intolerant: an amazing dairy-free cheese shop. Owner Youssef Fakhouri experimented with vegan cheese, made using seeds and nuts, for five years before finally opening his shop in a strip mall in West Hollywood. Here, he serves a delightful array of plant-based cheeses and sandwiches. The cheeses are liable to trick even the biggest dairy cheese lovers, and come in flavors like feta, cranberry goat cheese, veganzola, truffle Brie, and spicy Cheddar.
Over in the Arts District, you can find a beautiful distillery that produces some of the best gin and vodka you’ve ever imbibed. It was founded in 2012 by Miller Duvall and Morgan McLachlan, and they brew two solid, grain-free spirits. Their Vapid vodka is made with clementines, resulting in a taste that’s remarkably smooth with a hint of citrus. Their Astral Pacific gin is also distilled with clementines, but adds pink peppercorn and pistachio along with gin’s other key components (juniper, coriander, etc.) Each one is beautifully packaged and makes a great gift. On certain days, you can hang out in their bright tasting room, and try a sip or two of either elixir.
Your neighborhood dive
The dive bar is in danger these days, as many are shuttering and being turned into mixology bars that are unaffordable to the blue collar regulars they used to attract. If relaxing in a no-frills environment with neighborhood folks and enjoying a simple cold one is something you value, support the simple watering hole in your neighborhood before it turns into a speakeasy-themed lounge with a dress code. Some of our favorites include Sherman Oaks’ Chimneysweep; Los Feliz’s Drawing Room, Atwater Village’s Club Tee Gee, Glendale’s Dave’s, Silver Lake’s Akbar (a gay bar, but everyone is welcome); Koreatown’s arcade bar Blipsy and Frank ’n Hank (still cheap, despite the long-time owner retiring and handing the reigns over to its neighbor Beer Belly); Santa Monica’s Speak Easy Cocktail (oddly not a speakeasy); and Downtown LA’s Hank’s and Back Door Pub, hidden in the Stillwell Hotel and the Milner Hotel, respectively. And though it’s not quite a dive, Jumbo’s Clown Room (and its talented dancers) is an LA institution that always deserves your hard-earned dollar bills.
Despite not getting the attention it deserves from LA’s food elites, this new restaurant from Chef Charlie Yusta is definitely amazing. Curried mussels! Crispy duck pancakes! Squid ink fries! Dessert wontons! They also have a raw bar, soju cocktails, and pretty good specials, including a $1 oyster happy hour, a $37 four-course tasting menu that comes with a beer, a late-night soup, and the occasional burger & beer special on off-nights; the huge, often empty room makes us a little worried for its future, so make it a part of your Ktown rotation to ensure it can find its groove.
Pizza Buona was in the same space from 1959 until 2015 when rising rent costs (and, uh, a car that crashed through its front door) forced them to move. Show them a little love by ordering a pizza from their new spot, located only blocks away from the old one. They’ve got pizzas, sandwiches, and other hearty Italian dishes. Their signature pizza is the Rustica: olive oil base, topped with green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
If you’ve ever wanted to know a lot about alcohol, including the glassware it comes in, stop on by Silver Lake’s Bar Keeper, where owner Joe Keeper will help you find amazing and unique items for your home liquor cabinet or gifts. He’s got all sorts of bitters, vintage and modern glassware, and unique spirits, too. Shopping here is a bit like going to a museum, because you’ll definitely learn something. Fun fact: Keeper was who consulted to make sure Draper’s extensive drinking habit was period perfect.
Founded by Bill Shafter in 2005, Burbank’s Hyena Gallery specializes in dark, horror, low-brow, and underground art. Things can get pretty weird out here and it’s not for the faint of heart, but your true-crime junkies and your horror fans will feel right at home. It’s also not far from Bearded Lady Vintage and its accompanying Mystic Museum, where guests can both buy and view oddities and curiosities; the year-round Halloween Town; horror bookstore Dark Delicacies; and fantastical art gallery Creature Features. So if you’re feeling like having a spooky time, but you don’t feel like finding parking near Necromance on Melrose, give Burbank a try.
Want to do something a bit outside of your comfort zone, while feeling good about yourself? Then head on up to Acton and spend a day petting hybrid wolves, monkeys, and kangaroos. You can do this at Animal Tracks, a refuge for exotic animals who, for whatever reason, cannot be released into the wild. Their expert human friends will make sure you know how to engage with each animal, and will tell you plenty of facts about both the species and the particular animal friend you are meeting. A two-hour tour is only $35 a person (private tours and their monkey experience are more), and proceeds go to maintaining the happy, healthy homes these animals enjoy.
Founded by Rachel Berks in 2012, Otherwild is a shop, event space, and studio where one can score all manner of items crafted by local artists and designers, including clothing, home decor, pantry items, and bath products. It’s also an inclusive space for women and LGBTQ (and everyone else, too, if you’re cool). Given our current political climate, now is a good time to lend your support -- both moral and financial -- to those creators who may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Simply Wholesome is an underutilized grocery store and restaurant that is both health-conscious and delicious. It’s veggie-friendly, but there’s plenty for carnivores, too, including some Caribbean and Cajun dishes. It’s also in a very cool building which history buffs may remember as once being the Wich Stand, which was essentially a diner that had its halcyon days in the 1960s when it was a popular hangout spot. The building itself is a historic landmark on account of its Googie architecture -- so you can take in a little education while you eat.
Co-Lab Gallery showcases the work of local artists, but also seeks to connect artists and provide them with relevant professional resources, too. They also do workshops, where you can learn to make all sorts of useful items and art yourself, and books and zines can be purchased via their online store.
GameHäus enables its guests to do one thing we probably don’t do enough of anymore: play board games. What could be more wholesome? For a mere $5 cover fee, you may hang out at GameHäus and play one of their thousands of board games to your heart’s content. GameHäus also serves sandwiches, pizza, desserts, snacks, soft drinks, tea, and coffee (via Groundwork), so you really could make a whole day of it. It’s a cool concept for people who want to be social, but are tired of trying to hear your friends over the din of the bar. If you’re a solo player, check their calendar for their regular events, which are prime opportunities to meet fellow gaming enthusiasts.
Look, Amoeba isn’t exactly under-the-radar in any way -- but the days of brick-and-mortar record stores are clearly numbered (it’s shocking, in fact, that so many -- from Origami to Fingerprints -- still exist), and if you love music, that’s a sad thing, indeed. Amoeba’s the biggest fish in the pond, and still has the magical feeling that you may find something rare and wonderful in its racks, as well as great free shows. Rumors that it was closing last year thankfully were unfounded, but still: It’s time to put your money where your ears are.
Your local taco truck/fruit stand/dirty dog cart
Sometimes, it’s fine to overpay for a tiny gourmet taco or a beautiful fruit plate sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt. And sometimes, maybe you’ll wait in line with your friends from out of town for a well-known dog from a popular stand. But don’t forget your local neighborhood vendors who are cheaper -- and oftentimes more delicious. They need your support, especially as the city attempts to crack down on street vending. And frankly, the loyalty between an Angeleno and their nearest taco truck should be unbreakable.
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1. Southland Beer740 S Western Ave, Los Angeles
2. Homegirl Cafe & Homeboy Bakery130 Bruno St, Los Angeles
3. Homeboy Diner200 N Spring St, Los Angeles
4. LocoL1950 E 103rd St, Los Angeles
5. Baroo5706 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles
6. Vromage Artisan Cheese7988 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
7. The Spirit Guild Distillery586 Mateo St, Los Angeles
8. The Chimneysweep Lounge4354 Woodman Ave, Sherman Oaks
9. The Drawing Room1800 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles
10. Club Tee Gee3210 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles
11. Dave's On Broadway708 E Broadway, Glendale
12. Akbar4356 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles,
13. Blipsy369 N Western Ave, Los Angeles
14. Frank 'n Hank518 S Western Ave, Los Angeles
15. Speak Easy Cocktail1326 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
16. Hank's Bar840 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles
17. Back Door Pub at the Milner Hotel813 S Flower St, Los Angeles
18. Jumbo's Clown Room5153 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
19. Horse's Mouth528 S Western Ave, Los Angeles
20. Pizza Buona922 N Alvarado St Ste C, Los Angeles
21. Simply Wholesome4508 W Slauson Ave, Los Angeles
Southland Beer is a craft beer bar and bottle shop in a strip mall on Koreatown’s Western Ave., with 20 rotating taps (nitro and cask-condition included) pouring craft beers and a sizable selection of bottles to take home, or to pop at the bar. While the craft selection is global, the focus of Southland is to highlight the Southern California craft beer movement, with local brews at the forefront. Enjoy your beers with rotating cheese and charcuterie boards and other beer-friendly snacks like smoked nuts, spiced popcorn, and the like, as well as desserts sourced from local Pasta Sisters.
Part of Homeboy Industries -- the nonprofit organization dedicated to providing jobs and opportunities to former gang members and incarcerated individuals -- Homegirl Cafe in Chinatown is home to a Tex Mex-style menu, desserts from Homeboy Bakery, and a staff in the process of turning their lives around. Homeboy Industries is the parent company to Homeboy Diner, Homegirl Cafe, and Homeboy Bakery: a meal, snack, or pastry from any of which is a contribution to a larger, community-oriented goal, and to each individual participating in the program.
Part of Homeboy Industries -- the nonprofit organization dedicated to providing jobs and opportunities to former gang members and incarcerated individuals -- Homeboy Diner on the second floor of City Hall is home to soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts from Homegirl Cafe and Homeboy Bakery, and is run by a staff in the process of turning their lives around. Homeboy Industries is the parent company to Homeboy Diner, Homegirl Cafe, and Homeboy Bakery: a meal, snack, or pastry from any of which is a contribution to a larger, community-oriented goal, and to each individual participating in the program.
This fast food concept spot by Chego!/Pot/Kogi superstar chef Ray Choi promises delicious, high quality foodie fare at an affordable price. Opened in collaboration Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson, Locol serves a healthy-leaning menu that includes burgers, noodle and rice bowls, and egg-in-a-hole breakfasts.
This tiny, nondescript spot in an East Hollywood strip mall is helmed by chefs who've worked the kitchens of the world's best restaurants, Noma and Daniel. The restaurant's name comes from the bowl that Buddhist monks use for their meals, and the Asian-influenced menu features fitting grain bowls for no more than $15. You probably won't recognize much on the menu, but the out-of-this-world flavor combinations and unique ingredients will leave you beyond satisfied.
Vromage is a vegan and dairy-free cheese shop in West Hollywood (like fromage, but vegan, get it?). Before you stop reading, know that the Sunset Blvd. spot is ride-or-die cheese-lover tested and approved. While not indistinguishable from the real, cheesy deal, Vromage is turning out a high-quality alternative that can and should be enjoyed by the masses. The “cheese” is made from nut milks and seeds, with natural additives like truffles, fruit, herbs, and spices to enhance flavor. Also on offer are salads, faux cheese caprese and grilled cheese sandwiches (gluten free bread is available, of course), and crunchy pizzas. Vegans, vegetarians, and lactose-intolerants, rejoice!
Located on a site that used to house vineyards and orange groves near the Los Angeles River, the Spirit Guild is a craft distillery and tasting room in the Arts District. The head distiller has a penchant for gin, thus Astral Pacific Gin is the flagship product from the Guild, followed by Vapid Vodka. Production -- fermentation, distillation, and blending -- is done entirely in house; this is the Guild’s manifesto. Take a 45 minute tour of the distillery, taste the spirits, and leave with a bottle of your choice.
The Valley may be home to an influx of great dive bars, but not much beats The Chimneysweep Lounge, a beat-up classic with a game room, free popcorn, and cheap drinks by the roaring fire. The Sherman Oaks watering hole may be small, but its bar is full, its game room stacked, and its TVs powered on with round-the-clock sports coverage. Stop in for a beer and a game, stick around for the billiards (and karaoke, depending on the night).
There are only a handful of bars actually open right when it's legal to serve at 6am, and most of them are dives, but none of them are as gloriously divey as this Los Feliz institution, where you're guaranteed to get super-strong drinks and ultra-charming characters.
Opened originally in 1946, Club Tee Gee -- also known to some as Tee Yee -- is a dark dive in Atwater Village where cocktails are cheap and Betty Boop and Frank Sinatra make numerous appearances throughout the windowless space. The interior is reminiscent of a classic, 1970s-style dive, with a sparkled ceiling, juke box, and dim lamps for lighting. The bottom line of the plaque mounted on the bar’s exterior reads, “The “Cheers” of Atwater Village,” a clear indication of Tee Gee’s style and charm.
One of Glendale’s oldest bars, Dave’s on Broadway is a dark dive in an unassuming, cement building -- the oversized neon sign above its entrance the sole indicator of any activity inside. On any given night, Dave’s features karaoke, cheap drinks, and TVs for the sports-loving patrons. The bar is dim, illuminated only by small, vintage light fixtures and a string of Christmas lights, year round.
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.
Blipsy Bar is a dive bar and arcade hybrid in Koreatown. It’s the place to escape reality (and the bright, breezy beach) and revert to your childhood favorites in a dark watering hole with a DJ and a dance floor. The retro arcade games include Ms. Pacman and Paperboy, the drinks are cheap, and the walls are lined with vintage toys and oversized stuffed animals. Blipsy is like a cash (and quarter) only carnival in K-Town… but for grown ups.
It’s rumored to have been Charles Bukowski’s (he’s famous, look him up) local watering hole, it’s pictured in the opening credits of the 80s hit movie Barfly (it was a hit), and it features slightly provocative artwork on its dimly lit walls. Frank ’n Hank is a historic Koreatown dive bar on Western Ave. with cheap drinks, a pool table and dart board, and no pretension.
A rare dive with a kitchen, Speak Easy Cocktail on Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica offers down-home pub fare like grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, wings, veggie chili, and even Cajun meatloaf sliders. But the food isn’t the draw (surprise!), Speak Easy has been a neighborhood watering hole since the 70s, where regulars and bartenders are still on a first name basis, the pool tables are well kept, and the pints of beer come cheap. You’re here because Speak Easy is not actually speakeasy, and because you cherish nothing more than a night at a dark and dingy dive.
Hidden in the lobby of the Stilwell Hotel on Grand St., Hank’s is a Downtown dive that’s been a neighborhood favorite for over half a century. The dark, narrow bar is home to a jukebox, cheap drinks, and cheaper popcorn (it’s free). The sign outside reads “Hank’s Delightful Dining & Drinking.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
DTLA’s Back Door Pub is a hard to find, hole-in-the-wall dive bar in the alley behind The Milner Hotel. Back Door boasts all of the the dive bar requisites -- billiards, beer, cocktails, and a juke box. The walls are lined with vintage photographs of the surrounding neighborhood, the food on offer is scattered but somehow makes sense, with items like personal pizzas and ham and cheese sandwiches, empanadas and egg rolls, and hummus and quesadillas. At Back Door Pub, you’re always in good company. Plus, the popcorn is free.
In the former Iota space on Western, Horse’s Mouth brings globally-influenced American cuisine -- with a focus on seafood -- craft beer, and unexpected flavor combinations to Koreatown. Aside from the sizable selection of raw bar items on offer, the lobster roll is served with sesame and cabbage for an Asian inflection, duck is served in pancake form with mustard and hoisin, the burger is served with squid ink fries, green beans are topped with togarashi and XO sauce, the craft beers are primarily imports, and Japanese tea service is available. For modern seafood innovation in Koreatown, Horse’s Mouth is your answer.
Pizza Buona calls itself the “Original Pizzeria of Echo Park” and for good reason: it’s been around since 1959. Here, pizza is a thoughtful affair; every pie here is artfully constructed using house-made dough, then hand-tossed and smothered in cheese, sauce, and toppings before it’s baked in the oven. Most tables order the signature Rustica pie topped with green peppers, marinated tomatoes, mushrooms, and mozzarella, and while the Pizza Buona team is very much an advocate of this and other sauce-less pies, you can still find your classic marinara pizza, plus pasta, seafood, and chicken dishes.
In a historic building that used to house the 1960s hangout Wich Stand, Simply Wholesome is an underutilized health food store and restaurant in Windsor Hills. It’s health-conscious and vegan-friendly, yes, but there’s an entire section of the menu titled “Meat Eaters” to expand its audience to the carnivores of Southern California, as well. Look good, feel good, eat well at LA’s Simply Wholesome.