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Glitz and gaudiness coexist in the West Side of Los Angeles. It’s the half of the city that’s home to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the “Real Housewives,” and undulating canyons where celebrities and city power players hide away. It’s also the side stocked with storefronts, vendors, and costumed buskers ready to pounce on tourists wishing to catch the glimpse of stars — either people or Walk of Fame versions embedded in Hollywood Boulevard’s sidewalks. It’s a weird dichotomy, but it somehow works. At least you get used to it if you’re a resident.
The West Side’s drinking scene perfectly symbolizes this unique comingling of the Louis Vuitton and Target sets. The best of its bevy of venues tend to plant their feet in both sectors, effortlessly marrying liquid sophistication with unstuffy atmospheres. It’s a duality that daresay gives the watering holes an advantage over the West Side’s more visually alluring components, particularly among locals. Live outside L.A.’s sleek scene long enough, and the West Side’s bright lights and fancy baubles fade in a jaded morass of perceived tackiness. Its bar scene, on the other hand, will never cease to be awesome.
Best Place to Feel Like an Insider: Melrose Umbrella Co.
If you start your night at this Tales of the Cocktail-nominated space, particularly mid-week, you’re likely going to run into a bartender on their night off or a liquor rep chilling after a day of meetings. Even if you don’t, the bartenders squeezing behind the venue’s skinny bar will treat you like an industry vet who’s been swinging by here for years. But this isn’t just an industry joint with friendly folks. It’s a neighborhood bar that achieves the tall order of matching the vibe of the surrounding Melrose shopping district, an area famous for its chic boutiques and funky second-hand shops. It dials into the aesthetic with its own vintage effects, most notably the Prohibition-era apothecary cabinet that’s been reimagined as its retrofitted back bar. Here, bartenders also sling delicious and inventive drinks like Ricky Bobby, a tequila blanco cocktail featuring lime, blackberry, and Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro. These elements create a bar that will leave you smiling, if not a little reluctant to leave.
Tip Jar: Be careful about parking in the West Side. Plenty of bars stand adjacent to residential neighborhoods with time or permit restrictions, and signs posting these restrictions are occasionally covered by tree overgrowth. Find these signs before you belly up, and don’t be shy about asking the bartender how strict the neighborhood is in enforcing mandates.
Address: 7465 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90046
Best Place to Seek Out Whiskey Unicorns: Old Man Bar
You’d be forgiven if you’d classify this joint in the West Side town of Culver City a speakeasy. Tucked behind the rustic Southern-meets-early-American restaurant Hatchet Hall, this compact lodge-like space marked by taxidermy, vinyl records, dim lighting, and zero frills permeates speakeasy vibes. Whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that it’s a place to get serious about whiskey. The spot boasts a deep roster of rare and unicorn spirits that hardcore whiskey aficionados tend to obsess over. It’s also home to several private house barrels from popular labels like Buffalo Trace and Knob Creek, and craft producers of lesser fanfare like Wyoming Whiskey and Traverse City Distillery. While there are plenty of great drams to consider, don’t ignore the cocktail list. Classic drinks are the name of the game here, including seven different Old Fashioned variations.
Address: 12517 W. Washington Blvd. Los Angeles, Calif. 90066
Best Place to For a Date Night: Lost Property Bar
This dark, Gothic Hollywood bar contains the elements needed for an intimate night of imbibing: elegant space, exemplary service, exquisite drinks. It also hits the right balance between cozy and spacious, allowing you and your mate to feel undisturbed without feeling fully isolated. The secret to the bar’s success is the boundless energy owner Rhino Williams puts into creating the best bar experience possible for anyone walking through the door, whether they’re on a date or flying solo. “Rhino is both a master bartender and a master mensch,” says Philip Dobard, president and CEO of the L.A.-based food and drink education group Center for Culinary Culture. “He’s also a master of hospitality, and everything about Lost Property is evidence of that.” The cocktail list emphasizes modern compositions, but it also sprinkles in surprising throwbacks like Harvey Wallbangers into the mix. Its whiskey selection is built to impress, too.
Address: 1704 Vine St., Hollywood, Calif. 90028
Best Place for a Nosh and a Tipple: Jones Hollywood Cafe
This West Hollywood Italian spot composed of dark leather, exposed brick, and inky dimness captures the essence of a Hollywood that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s your imagination’s Tinseltown — one where studio bigwigs banter about bankrolling blockbusters over olive-festooned Martinis and heaping pasta dishes set atop gingham-draped tables. These scenarios don’t happen today, but that hardly matters. The vibe of these phantom encounters is present, and that’s good enough to make it essential. “The Jones is one of the last true heartbeats of Hollywood,” explains Will Cutting, L.A. trade development manager for Empirical Spirits. “Nestled firmly between the bosoms of rock ‘n’ roll and fine Italian food, it still gives back to the people with late-night happy hour and an authentic embrace.” Cutting’s endorsement holds strong on the bar menu, whose music-themed drink menu stars tricked-out versions of popular drinks like the Manhattan, Penicillin, and Paloma. There’s also room on the menu for the classic Boilermaker featuring Coors Banquet and a shot of Jack, lovingly named The Keef after Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
Tip Jar: West Hollywood is the nexus of Southern California’s LGBTQ+ community and carries a rich and important history — the country’s first legally permitted Pride parade was held here in 1970. While the city boasts an abundance of intense, high-energy gay bars, including legendary spots like The Abbey Food & Bar, it is still woefully lacking in lesbian bars.
Address: 7205 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif. 90046
Best Excuse to Visit the Valley: Augustine Wine Bar
The clump of West Los Angeles tucked away on the north side of the Hollywood Hills known as “the Valley” has spent decades being picked on for its lack of polish and refinement. True, it’s not glamorous, but that doesn’t mean it’s bereft of gems. This Sherman Oaks wine bar, recommended by Dobard, shines rather brightly. Housed in a former radio repair shop built right before World War II, the rustic space succinctly captures the Valley’s blue-collar ethos. It also effectively removes the pretense that could otherwise emerge from its rotating European-centric list of by-the-glass and by-the-bottle offerings. Indeed, there are some serious “pinkies-out” experiences to be had, including the potential to indulge in the 50-plus-year reserve labels that occasionally pop up on the bar’s daily specials chalkboard. The regularly changing menu provides several small bites and a few proper main course options, along with an option to create your own cheese and charcuterie board to pair with whatever wine you choose.
Address: 13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, Calif. 91423
Best Rooftop Bar: Grandmaster Recorders
Imbibing while enjoying a rooftop view of the city is the West Side’s ultimate power move. This Hollywood venue stands a few stories above the others because of its impressive history. Its bones were the former home of the namesake recording studio where acts from David Bowie and Stevie Wonder to Foo Fighters and Kanye West laid down tracks. The rooftop menu specializes in cocktails on tap, but don’t assume that they’re afterthoughts. “They’re making next-level cocktails that aren’t afraid to set trends instead of cowing to the mainstream,” explains Cutting, who also endorses this pick. An example of this creativity is Midnight Vultures, a mezcal-based Margarita riff spiked with Campari, prickly pear, and cilantro (and named after an album by L.A. native Beck to boot). When you’re done gazing at the scenery, head inside to the building’s other drinking establishment, 71 Studio Bar, which serves up more unique drinks within the confines of the original recording studio.
Address: 1518 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. 90028
Best Place to Post-Game Beverly Hills: The Roger Room
Beverly Hills is the playground for the wealthy, and it’s worth traipsing around to window shop and people watch. It’s also an area that begs for a spot to decompress if you exist outside its scene. This dark, intimate West Hollywood speakeasy with an old-timey circus motif provides a refreshingly moody counterpunch to Beverly Hills’ gaudy flash, not unlike how a proper craft cocktail bar in New York’s Lower East Side can be an antidote for Upper East Side poshness. “The Roger Room is definitely not as glitzy or glamorous as a lot of other places in the surrounding area. It just feels familiar and comfortable,” says the Roger Room bartender Jason Yu. “The general low-light aesthetic, the old wood, the antiqued presence of the bar, and the conversational staff help set the pace.” The exquisite drinks also provide perfect conduits for groups of friends to break down whatever haute and eccentric stuff they may have witnessed during their excursion. Then again, creations like the lemon-kissed absinthe and egg white creation Green Fairy — one of three absinthe drinks on the menu — are great enough to spark their own conversations.
Tip Jar: There’s no signage for the Roger Room, so look for a black door marked “370.” Also, your best bet is to swing by after 8 p.m. — the Largo comedy club is next door, and the bar does get crowded with pre-show imbibers.
Address: 370 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif. 90048
Best Place to Explore Agave: Gracias Madre
Agave spirits are inescapable and ubiquitous these days. Not all of them are good. The same can be said for the L.A. venues highlighting tequila, mezcal, and lesser-known siblings like raicilla. To truly explore agave and its associated categories, it’s important to find a spot that treats the category with respect and not like it’s a conduit for a frat party. Yu recommends this WeHo spot to help you properly dig into things. “The agave selection is phenomenal and really well curated,” Yu notes. It’s also noteworthy: Its creator, beverage director, and VinePair 50 winner, Maxwell Reis, deliberately eschews well-known brands in favor of smaller, obscure labels that uphold Mexican traditions and support the families directly attached to making the juice. Stop here, and you may leave with a new favorite brand — one that you can feel great about enjoying in more ways than one. This deep integrity effortlessly extends into the cocktail menu, which is loaded with classics and agave-based riffs on standards like Negronis and Cosmopolitans. If you’re feeling hungry and earth-conscious, take note: The spot also doubles as a vegan Mexican restaurant.
Address: 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, Calif. 90069
Best Homage to L.A.’s Unique Vintage Style: All Season Brewing Company
Los Angeles is the epicenter of “Googie,” the mid-century modern architectural style marked by streamlined curves and exaggerated angles. This establishment celebrates the iconic style in all its atomic-age glory. The brewery, also recommended by Dobard, sets up shop in a historic Firestone tire shop along the city’s storied Miracle Mile. While it honors the past — the original signage still stands — head brewer and L.A. beer scene vet Erick Garcia brings things into the 21st century by producing no-nonsense American-style brews from the venue’s 15-barrel brewhouse. Hoppy IPAs and easy-drinking lagers anchor the menu, while other choices like the Rocket Bunny Chocolate Porter and the tart fruited Berliner Weisse Pom/Berry On Das Acid showcase Garcia’s versatility. Not in a beer mood? All Season delivers a full-service approach to imbibing by additionally offering classic cocktails, including several concoctions on tap.
Address: 800 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90036
Best Place to Close a Big Night: Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
This spot at the eastern edge of Hollywood feels like a vortex. You walk through a refrigerator door and instantly step into Los Angeles circa 1974, during the height of John Lennon’s legendary “Lost Weekend” escapades. Owners Mark and Jonnie Houston created the bar as a homage to their father (Davey Wayne Houston), and this endearing intention results in a far-out atmosphere generated through stone walls, corduroy sofas, throwback beer and soda can displays, and tech gadgets that were state of the art during the Watergate hearings. The drinks’ names drop old-school references that spread throughout the ‘70s, but their construction is decidedly modern. Dig, for example, the Fat Elvis, a groovy concoction that joins peanut-infused rye whiskey with blackberry shrub, crème de cacao, lemon juice, and cayenne. There are also grown-up snow cones available to lighten the mood even further. Add it all up, and you have a venue equally driven by cool and kitsch, just like L.A.’s West Side itself.
Address: 1611 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90028
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