The Downtown Los Angeles Guide
Bordered by Chinatown on one side and the Arts District on the other, what used to be a mostly industrial—and somewhat sketchy—expanse just a few years ago has blossomed into an exceedingly cool and covetable destination for some of the most inventive food in the city, under-the-radar shopping, and general good times.
The Golden Gopher417 W. 8th St., Downtown | 213.614.8001
It's a little bit off the beaten path, but that's part of the charm of this old-school, urban bar with a great craft beer selection, reasonably priced cocktails, a photo booth, pacman, jukebox, and more. There's also a great happy hour and a takeaway liquor license, which is pretty clutch in this town. P.S. Check out the ladies bathroom. Here's a hint: It smells oddly of bubblegum.
Library Bar630 W. 6th St., Downtown | 213.624.0053
Delicious literary-themed libations (think 'Tequila Mockingbird') are served alongside a tasty gastropub menu (try the decandent three cheese fries) in this aptly-named bar. The theme doesn't end there, either, as the library area is outfitted with leather-bound books and a fireplace. They do a great happy hour here when it tends to get crowded.
The Varnish118 E. 6th St., Downtown | 213.265.7089
Located in the back room of Cole’s French Dip (LA’s oldest restaurant, birthplace of the French Dip sandwich and an undisputed institution), this place makes serious, thoughtfully prepared cocktails in a relaxed, attractive atmosphere.
Angel City Brewery216 S. Alameda St., Downtown | 213.622.1261
There are now a number of quality craft beer spots and breweries in LA, but Angel City Brewery remains a favorite. Located in the historic John A. Roebling Building in the Arts District, Angel City is a great casual spot to gather with friends for day-into-night beers. The brewery hosts a number of regular events, like Tacos & Trivia Tuesday, and is a popular host to a range of fun food trucks, although you can bring your own food with you, too. You can go on a public tour of the brewery Thursday through Sunday, and there are also a few different options for private events, including a large beer hall (capacity: 200) that is perpendicular to the brew house. The brewery always has several Angel City styles on tap, some of which you can find in other bars and shops around California and Nevada.
Wolf & Crane366 E. 2nd St., Little Tokyo | 213.935.8249
A truly good bar speaks to our purist hearts: great music, solid drinks, and excellent service are what we crave. So when we discovered Wolf & Crane, which triple-checks all these boxes, we were amped. This drinks-only establishment (an anomaly in its food-driven Little Tokyo neighborhood) serves up an inventive cocktail list with a rare bent toward Japanese whisky. The staff is incredibly knowledgable about every bottle on the shelf (some holding very rare whiskies) and willing to explain the history and notes of each, sommelier-style, which makes a trip here even more enjoyable. Head here after ramen for a perfect nightcap.
Little Bear1855 Industrial St., Arts District
The authenticity of this Belgium beer bar runs so thick it makes us feel as though we're grabbing a pint in Brussels rather than DTLA. There's an excellent selection of imported and domestic beers, many from the LA metro region, as well as a stellar, albeit rich, menu. It's a quiet, cozy spot for a drink after dinner Church & State, conveniently located right across the way.
The Walker Inn3612 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.263.2709
This teensy cocktail bar is accessed through the regular bar at Hotel Normandie in Koreatown, and when you walk through the door, the dim lights and lounge seating make you feel as though you've been transported to a different city. They specialize in wild, perfectly crafted cocktails, best experienced through their omakase program, which delivers whatever the super-talented lead bartender Katie Emmerson is making that evening. With a larger group, you can sit in the lounge and order cocktails a la carte (the menu changes every 6-8 weeks).
Break Room 86630 S. Ardmore Ave., Koreatown | 213.368.3056
This ’80s-themed club behind the Line Hotel is entered through an alleyway on Ardmore, on the west side of the building. Once you pass the bouncer, you'll be taken through the back halls of the hotel and through a false refrigerator door into the actual bar. The private rooms play karaoke, and there's a burlesque show every hour where dancers do a Michael Jackson routine in their Calvin Kleins; it's the kind of place you go for a long night of dancing.
Apotheke1746 N Spring St., Chinatown | 323.844.0717
Apotheke is nearly impossible to find—though not for long, given that David Chang’s Majordomo is next door. It’s on a slip of Spring Street that’s…not quite Chinatown…not quite DTLA. The interior of the bar, with its low rosy lighting, blush banquettes, leather armchairs, and pretty tile, is reminiscent of a French boudoir; that is to say that while so many bars feel inherently masculine, this one skews feminine. The outdoor patio is just as comfortable, with Turkish rugs scattered over the deck, big sofas to sink into, and plenty of space heaters. The beauty of the off-the-grid location is its size: You can sit outside and stargaze, never experiencing the claustrophobia so prevalent in other LA bars. The drinks are more like elixirs spiked with alcohol and divided into “aphrodisiacs,” “health & beauty,” and “painkillers.”