California Bars & Nightlife

Establishment neighborhood
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.
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.
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.
HMS Bounty
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).
Bar Stella
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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