California Bars & Nightlife
1412 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park
By day, this Echo Park hangout is a café where patrons curl up on leather sofas with books and laptops, sipping coffee and ordering salads packed with veggies and grains or comforting bowls of tomato soup with toasted sourdough. Once early evening hits, though, it transforms into a jam-packed bar and restaurant, where locals stop in for the popular happy hour and huge cocktail list.
Chaplin’s Martini Bar
1295 Coast Village Rd., Montecito
Montecito needed Chaplin’s. The martini bar fills the lonely space left by the closure of Frankland’s Crab and Co. in the storied Montecito Inn. Owners Phillip and Margarita Lee wanted a place that was elegant, moody, and evocative of old Hollywood as much for themselves as for the locals. Chaplin’s evokes a bygone era with its dark walls, red drapes, and plush leather booths. It’s a moody, glamorous spot for a martini (or whatever you’re drinking). The menu is, of course, inspired by what Charlie Chaplin himself might have ordered in the ’20s and ’30s when he was knocking around Santa Barbara. Gin abounds in old-timey cocktails like the corpse reviver with lemon and dry curaçao or the French 75, which we’re especially keen on (the sparkling wine and lemon keep it light). That’s not to suggest that whiskey lovers should get panicky. The Sazerac-style Vieux Carré cocktail—a muddle of Old Overhold rye whiskey, Angostura bitters, and vermouth—is all you need with a dish of olives before dinner.
High Bar at the Rowan
100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Midtown
Refreshing drinks like the frozen Aperol spritz and a passionfruit makeover of the gin fizz—plus light bites like ceviche and a minty melon-arugula salad—make swimsuit-clad, poolside dining comfortable in a destination as searing hot as Palm Springs. The rooftop bar is the perfect spot to people watch as the scene shifts from lively in the afternoon to peaceful at sunset.
233 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Twin Palms
This speakeasy-style cocktail den occupies a hidden space inside the steakhouse, Mr. Lyons (ask the host to point you in the right direction). Once inside, it’s easy for forget what decade it is. There are vintage photographs lining the walls, antique velvet seating, and even a black-and-white tv to set the retro mood. The whole thing is wonderfully old school, and a quiet place for a nightcap—try the Oaxacan Brunch, made with Gem & Bolt mezcal, lime juice, sage-infused simple syrup, and egg white.
3465 W. 6th St., Koretown
This lively, dive-y K-town bar is a popular spot when you’re waiting for a table at a nearby restaurant, like Quarters or Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. But it’s also a worthy destination in itself for its soju-based cocktails (we’re partial to the mango and lychee flavors), the fun hip-hop playlist, and bar snacks like kimchi pancakes, bulgogi cabbage wraps, and scallop skewers. Sports fans can watch Lakers and Dodgers games on the big-screen TVs.
4070 W. 3rd St., Koreatown
Since 1986, Soopsok has been the place to belt out Top 40 hits, classic rock ballads, and current K-pop favorites in one of its twenty karaoke rooms (some of which can accommodate up to thirty people). Order a couple bottles of soju (Korea’s national drink) and some plates of spicy chicken wings and nachos, and it’ll be impossible to not have a fun night.
3002 W. 7th St., Koreatown
Crispy, spicy, and slathered in gojuchang (a red chili paste), the fried chicken wings at this dive-y pub are considered the real deal among the Korean fried chicken experts in the city. Its name comes from the Korean beer brand OB, and naturally, an ice-cold pint is the typical pairing with an order.
The Normandie Club
3612 W. 6th St., Koreatown
If you're looking for a bar to impress visiting friends, you have now found it. The space is as classy and refined as it is cool—dark leather chairs, painted brick, and low lighting. The drinks are, in a word: impressive. The mixologists at the Normandie Club have invented house specialties that all put a unique spin on a classic: a daiquiri with a salted-grapefruit cordial, an old-fashioned with coconut bourbon. Our favorite is the shandy: a crisp lager elevated with Suze, blueberry mint syrup, and a squeeze of lemon. The drink is crisp, refreshing, and sweet without being cloying. There's also a generous selection of global liquors, including brandy, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, mezcal, tequila, and cider on tap. Given there's no food, this is a perfect spot for a nightcap after dinner.
3357 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown
Everything about this place speaks of comfort: the friendly, loyal servers; the kitschy, nautical vibe; the jazz jukebox in the corner; and the complete lack of pretense. The Bounty is a classic, dark, dive-y LA landmark that's endured despite K-town’s hipster invasion—and the prices have stayed relatively low. We don't come here for the food (although the fish and chips is solid); we come for the generous, consistent drinks. There's comfort in knowing that it's always the same every time we come. But you know what else is consistent? How far away the bathrooms are (which is: in the adjacent historic hotel, past the lobby desk, down the dark basement stairs, and next to the laundry room).
3932 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
There are many reasons to live on the East Side, and easy access to Bar Stella is at the top that list. This is (arguably) the best bar in the city. Sitting outside on a slow summer afternoon, sheltered by a canopy of bougainvillea, an Aperol Spritz (easy on the Aperol, heavy on the Spritz) on the table, is quickly becoming a quintessential LA activity. Inside, the scent of just-peeled citrus hits you hard, the white-jacketed mixologists are pros, almost-nonexistent lighting sets a seductive tone, and the walls are painted a pretty, mottled blush. Lounge on the low leather sofas drinking cocktails all afternoon. When evening hits, the volume turns up and the lights go even further down. The terrace outside—all wicker furniture and terra-cotta cushions—is straight off the French Riviera.
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