New Year’s Eve in LA often means wandering blindly into some random bar, hoping against hope that the party inside will be better than the watered-down drinks. While we can’t promise the most epic party of the year, if you end up at any of these fine establishments, we can guarantee that your New Year’s toast will be better than most — ‘cause these are the best bars in LA.
Magician bar from the Houston brothers
It wasn’t the runaway hit out of the box that Harvard & Stone or Davey Wayne’s was, but the Houston brothers’ Black Rabbit Roses slow-burn is part of its magic. It’s not all of it, though: the bar’s literally attached to a magic theater, with nightly shows from Magic Castle-level magicians and drinks with unique properties — like infusions with activated charcoal or hickory smoke added at the table. They’ve also got the best bar food in town, with the attached Thai restaurant Blind Tiger providing a noodly base to prevent day-after regret.
Tiki-themed masterpiece inside Clifton’s
Let’s be honest. Every bar in Clifton’s — the multi-story food and drink Disney downtown — is pretty great. But Pacific Seas, semi-hidden upstairs and behind another unassuming bar, is its masterpiece, not just for its gorgeous decor (which includes a giant ship and dangling pufferfish) but also its majestic drinks, based on recipes from classic tiki lounges like Trader Vic’s, all of which are perfectly balanced — and totally refreshing.
Cozy art deco cocktail bar transforming Robertson Plaza
This beautiful art deco spot on Robertson is from the son of the Arclight Theaters magnates, which explains his attention to detail: With its stuffed stools and semicircle bar, Bibo Ergo Sum may be the most gorgeous new bar in LA. The drinks aren’t anything to scoff at either, with the Walker Inn team behind a menu based on the Christopher Nolan movie The Prestige; a night here could definitely become magical, quickly.
Rooftop bar with an appropriately spectacular view
This Miami import’s won James Beard and Tales of The Cocktail awards at its home base, and the LA outpost follows in its large footsteps, with beautiful trees, comfy seats, and a rooftop pool. (OK, the pool is only officially available for hotel guests, but c’mon, we all know that game.) The menu includes Cali-influenced drinks like the Pimm’s shrub/vodka/ginger ale Recusal Cup, and fish tostadas and veggie egg rolls if you’ve got the munchies.
The Houston brothers’ ‘70s-themed party spot
In just a couple short years, Davey Wayne’s has become the bar whose quality all others are compared to (and no others can touch): everything about this Houston Hospitality spot feels perfectly themed to their ’70s-throwback vibe, whether it’s the shag carpeting on the inside or the alcoholic sno-cone cart outside. The rollerskating show is a must-see, the bands the bar books are incredible, and you can even beat the line — by coming for a drink in the afternoon, which, let’s face it, is not a bad solution.
A Hollywood haunt loaded with history
A few years ago, The Powerhouse reimagined itself as a cocktail bar — and while that may or may not have been a good business move for that Hollywood stalwart, it was definitely a shining moment for The Frolic Room, which now stands alone in the pantheon of great Hollywood dive bars. It’s of an earlier time, when the vibe and the crowd were both dark and mysterious; when the jukebox could change the entire tone of a room; when the guy across the bar could be a major celebrity (or a Mini Mr T). It’s cheap; it’s ancient; it’s glorious.
One of LA’s most lauded beer bars
It’s funny to think that this no-frills gastropubish bar was once a nothing establishment that existed mainly to serve the clients of the right-next-door Fonda Theater: These days, it seems on some nights like it’s more of a destination than that club is, with tap takeovers, rare brews, and an intense focus on hop-knowledge that’s made it one of the best beer bars in the city (that burger ain’t bad, either).
Strong drinks and incredibly impressive pole dancing
With the possible exception of the Tiki Ti, there is no more beloved shithole in LA than Jumbo’s Clown Room, and for good reason: This dive-with-a-stage-and-a-pole (don’t call it a strip club — there’s no nudity, few lapdances, and very little skeeviness) oozes charisma, and thankfully not much else. Unlike other similar establishments (not-not looking at you, Cheetah’s), the women who dance here clearly want to be dancing here, and as such are treated as athletes as much as they are sex symbols: Once you see a tatted punk-rock princess slide down a pole with one toe against all laws of gravity while singing along to “First of the Gang to Die,” you’ll be totally on board — and if you’re not, we’re not so sure we want to hang out with you, anyways.
Fancy-pants lounge with bowling as an added bonus
If you were a betting man, it’d have been a safe bet against The Spare Room when it opened in 2011: It was on the top floor of a hotel and hard to find; the crowd it initially appealed to was more red-velvet than loyal-fan; it had a dual bowling alley and charged to rent games like Jenga. But here’s the thing: Once you were in, you realized there were secrets to The Spare Room, from hidden photo booths to occasional band nights, and that bowling here was far more fun than at the tourist-haven Lucky Strike right down the street. And then you had a drink and realized they were among the best in the city. And then you kept coming back for more. And here we are, nearly six years later.
Exclusive bar with major interior vibe
Everything about No Name should be hateable, from the fedora on the doorman to the you-need-to-know-someone-to-get-in-or-do-you door policy to their no-cameras rule to, uh, the fact that the bar DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A NAME. But here’s the thing: Once you’re inside, it’s one of the most easygoing, comfortable bars in LA, with surprise performances and amazing fried chicken, as well as the friendliest staff in LA. Yes, even that guy in the fedora.
Whiskey bar flagship for one of LA’s best bar groups
Cedd Moses deserves props for knowing a good thing when he saw it: The barman behind just about all of the bars that made the Downtown scene happen (Golden Gopher! Broadway Bar!) was the first to see the potential in reviving a part of the city many had left for dead. Seven Grand is his masterpiece, a whiskey bar that seems both serious and inviting at once, with game tables and macrobrews for people who just want a good time, and a hundreds-deep menu of the brown stuff for anyone looking to take their drinking to the next level.
A Long Beach punk rock institution
In a town known for punk rock, this legendary red box-of-a-bar in an industrial-ish section of town is known for being the punkest bar of them all. That doesn’t just mean Buds and bashing, though: booker/owner Alex Hernandez, who has been a local legend for the nearly 20-year history of the bar, got into craft cocktails a few years ago — so this dive bar has great drinks, now, as well as great music. Boom.
A mainstay full of Irish charm (and lots of shamrocks)
This iconic Irish pub has been pulling perfect pints and winning legions of fans with its Gaelic charm since 1936 (some loyal patrons even carried the horseshoe bar up Fairfax from the original location in 1949). You’ll find the names of many of those longtime regulars written on paper shamrocks that cover the ceiling and rafters — which includes everyone from Cary Grant to Kiefer Sutherland — and you’ll find the warm hospitality is extended to newcomers as well. If you can get in, also consider a drink at the Vestry, the members-only whiskey bar upstairs that they may give you a peek at if you ask nicely.
The most colorful tiki bar in LA
While LA has plenty of solid Tiki offerings both old and new, Tiki-Ti is the long-reigning champ (with a mug raise to Tonga Hut in NoHo, which is a few years older but doesn’t quite pour on the charm as heavily). The unbelievably tiny, family-run joint packs in the party with tchotchkies galore, a ceiling with names of decades-long regulars, and, of course, a lengthy list of potent Tiki cocktails, many of which were concocted by founder Ray Buhen who previously worked at the original Don the Beachcomber (if you’re here on a Wednesday at 8:30pm, you can join in a toast to Ray). Take a spin on the Wheel of Tiki Drinks if you’re feeling indecisive, and if you order the rum-loaded Uga Booga, prepare for an “uga booga” chant from the whole bar as they pour your drink.
Strong drinks and great steaks, steps from the beach
A nautically themed Westside institution, Chez Jay has been a reliable ocean-adjacent escape from crowds of tourists since 1959. Inside you’ll find heavy pours, big steaks and shrimp cocktails, and plenty of salty characters (some more charming than others). Oh yes, and peanut shells covering the floor. There’s a patio out back, but if you can snag a booth — or rarer still a stool at the bar — you’ll begin to understand just why this place can never go away.
Pasadena’s beer-nerd paradise
The drinking options in Pasadena have noticeably improved in recent years, but long before The Blind Donkey was pouring craft selections or Der Wolfskopf was filing liters with German pilsners, Lucky Baldwin’s was the destination for beer nerds in the area (and it still holds the torch high). Prepare to examine a lengthy menu heavy on Belgian and SoCal brews, and you’re probably going to want to order their famous fish ‘n’ chips or bangers & mash to keep you well-fueled. The two other locations — in Sierra Madre and on Colorado Boulevard — might be roomier, but it’s tough to beat the weathered and improvised feel of the original spot in Old Town.
An emerging neighborhood’s historic drinking-and-gaming centerpiece
If throwing strikes in a stunningly restored circa-1929 bowling alley, while sipping excellent cocktails and chowing down wood-fired pizzas sounds like a perfect Friday night for you, then step this way. The 1933 Group — known for top-notch, vintage-inspired watering holes like Harlowe, Sassafras, and Idle Hour — really outdid themselves with this latest venture with an attention to detail that provides so much eye candy, while still leaving room for plenty of fun. You’re going to want to invite the whole crew.
Dive bar where you come for the history, but stay for the cheeseburger
One of the oldest bars in LA, Ercoles has thankfully retained much of its true grit over the decades without anything “craft” or “refurbished” interfering. What you will find is cheap booze, worn wooden booths, and a cast of regulars at the bar that greet each other like they were on “Cheers.” And you definitely don’t want to leave without ordering this dive bar’s wonderfully simple griddle-cooked cheeseburger loaded with toppings. Just don’t forget to bring cash.
The Valley’s booze-and-BBQ mainstay
So, let us get this straight: you’ve got 42 rotating taps of craft beer, a massive whiskey selection, and fantastic hickory-smoked BBQ? Do you really need more reasons to drink at Boneyard Bistro? OK, how about the low-key vibe and friendly staff that make it an equally great option for watching the game with buddies and taking your special someone to brunch? Or maybe the special events like tap takeovers and fried chicken Mondays? Sold? Great, we’ll see you there.
Jazzy speak-easy with award-winning drinks
One of the first bars in the speak-easy-bandwagon, The Varnish — a tiny little spot hidden in the back of Cole’s — has also become one of the best free live-music bars in the city, with exceptional jazz nearly all the time, and the best cocktails in the city, all the time.
Neighborhood classic with one of the best burgers on the west side
Complain all you want about the homogenization of Venice over the years, but you can always hang on to the Whaler — a funky, unpredictable dive bar that’s literally a part of the fabric of the city: Where else can you find the friends you lost earlier in the night as it ticks down to last call, grab a burger by the beach, and reminisce about the one who got away? Nowhere else — which is as it should be.
High-end drinks with an unbeatable view
Surely one of LA’s best sunset views is sitting at the bar at 71 Above; the restaurant’s bar literally faces the mountains the sun sets into, with high-tech windows that self-tint so you can look right at the hint of light as it makes its way down while sipping a delicious Old Fashioned. Added bonus: it’s the only place in the restaurant you can order a la carte, which means if you’re hungry but don’t want to commit to the $75 prix fixe (or can’t get a table), you’re in luck.
Serious ‘80s punk rock vibes with seriously good drinks
This Downtown bar’s become a quick favorite thanks to an all-star team that includes Cedd Moses and Eric Alperin, who’ve imbued the spot (hidden behind the also-notable Bar Clacson) with an old-school, punky vibe and a highball-inspired drink list. Bring some quarters for the retro video games, too.
A beer-lover’s classic finally lands in LA
The Downtown outpost of the beloved SF craft beer bar is a massive (like, really, really, really massive) ode to hops, with one of the most meticulous beer lists in town. There’s also a great bar food menu, which means your session doesn’t need to stop until last call.
The leader of the new-tiki revival
There will be a great tiki revival at some point — and when it happens, this new bar from the Melrose Umbrella Company people will be at the forefront of it. Lono’s a spot with a Polynesian aesthetic that comes off as classy rather than hokey, with punch bowls, classic cocktails, and (on weekends) an island-themed food menu, as well.
A neighborhood fave worth travelling for
Instead of ruining the legacy of the local fave Big Fish, The San Fernando’s taken over the Glendale spot and ensured it remains neighborhoody, with an interior that’s an ode to the nearby railway and an interesting-but-not-snooty fresh drinks list that utilizes house-made syrups, as well as local-songwriter nights in a ‘hood without much live music.
Article by Thrillist.