Where to drink great cocktails in Los Angeles

It’s hard to believe that just over four years ago, Los Angeles was a (relative) cocktail wasteland.

The city had yet to recover from the near-death of bartending and mixology, the nadir of which gave us the once-ubiquitous artificially-colored and -flavored green “apple-tinis,” and more often than not the best you could do (other than drink beer, wine or straight spirits) was an overly-sweet (and equally ubiquitous) Cosmopolitan.

Things began to look up for us in the early ’00s, when Wes and I became regulars at a wonderful (and now-closed) restaurant in Glendale called Cinnabar. Our friend Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh worked with them to put together an amazing menu of classic cocktails, and on our first visit we were thrilled to see it. Finally, a place where we could go out and get a really good classic cocktail! We also quickly became thrilled with the food, and drank and dined there regularly until they closed in 2005.

For me, the moment when the switch got flipped was at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2007. I had just finished participating in a seminar on homemade and defunct cocktail ingredients in which I did a presentation on my homemade allspice liqueur when a young bartender approached and introduced himself. “I just helped open a bar in Los Angeles — we’ve been open for three months now, and I really want you to come.” I had actually heard about this bar, although being God Emperor of Procrastination I hadn’t made it over there yet. The bartender was Marcos Tello, the bar was Seven Grand, and the rest is history. Los Angeles’ cocktail renaissance — for me, at least — had begun.

Now … we have such a mindbogglingly large number of truly wonderful cocktail bars (many of them world-class) in this city that I cannot keep up with them all. I thought it was about time I made a list of them, and I’ll make it sticky somewhere on the site so that it’ll be easy to find.

These are bars in which bartenders (and their trusty barbacks) squeeze their own juices (which is now de rigueur in a bar in which I’ll drink cocktails, as far as I’m concerned). These are bars in which you won’t have to ask if they have rye whiskey, unless you want to know how many different ones they stock. You won’t have to remind the bartender that a Manhattan contains bitters, and you’re unlikely to get a muddled Old Fashioned in which the orange slice and fake neon red artificially flavored cherry are mashed into a nasty pulp. They’ll have menus of classic and creative new cocktails. Many if not most of them use large, clear ice cubes and crack their own ice for stirring or shaking; some actually make their own ice. Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are used. Housemade syrups and bitters are not uncommon.

This is where to drink in L.A. (and environs). Most are free-standing bars, some are restaurants, all of them will serve you a really good drink. Many of them will serve you an amazing one.

View Where to Drink in Los Angeles (and thereabouts) in a larger map

320 Main, 320 Main St., Seal Beach, CA 90740. (562) 799-6246. Jason Schiffer, co-proprietor. Erik Trickett, Matt Robold et al., bartenders.

A-Frame Restaurant, 12565 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90066. (310) 398-7700. Bar program by Brian Butler.

Areal, 2820 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 392-1661. Rich Andreoli.

Bar 1886 at the Raymond, 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105. (626) 441-3136. Cocktail menu by Marcos Tello & Aidan Demarest, and the crew of 1886: Head bartender Garrett McKechnie and bartenders Danny Cymbal, Brady Weise, Greg Gertmenian, Lacey Murillo, et al.

Bar | Kitchen, O Hotel, 819 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 623-9904 x105. Bar program by Alex Day and David Kaplan.

Bar Bouchon, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 281-5698. Small and casual, downstairs from and to the right of the restaurant’s main entrance.

Bar Centro, The Bazaar at SLS Hotel, 465 S La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 246-5555.

Bar Marmont, 8171 W. Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90046. (323) 650-0575.

Big Bar at The Alcove, 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 644-0100. Juan Sevilla et al., bartenders.

Black Market Liquor Bar, 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604. (818) 446-2533. Tricia Alley, Ray Ewers, et al., bartenders.

Bottega Louie, 700 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 802-1470. Across the street from Seven Grand.

Bouchon Bistro, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 271-9910. The upstairs bar in the bistro has a separate staff and menu.

Caña Rum Bar, 714 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 745-7090. Enter at the first private driveway south of Olympic on Flower St. Members only; membership is open and is $20 annually. Allan Katz, general manager.

Church & State Bistro, 1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 405-1434.

Cole’s Red Car Bar, 118 East 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 622-4090.

Comme Ça Restaurant, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 782-1104.

Copa d’Oro, 217 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 576-3030. Vincenzo Marianella, proprietor.

Craft Los Angeles, 10100 Constellation Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (310) 279-4180.

La Descarga,1159 North Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 466-1324. Steve Livigni, general manager. Pablo Moix, Ken Arbuckle, et al., bartenders.

Drago Centro, 525 S Flower St., Suite #120, Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 228-8998. Michael Shearin, sommelier & beverage director. Jaymee Mandeville, Jen Len, Mark Blackhart et al., bartenders.

The Edison, 108 W 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 613-0000.

El Carmen Restaurant, 8138 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 852-1552. Large selection of tequilas.

The Eveleigh Restaurant, 8752 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (424) 239-1630.

First & Hope Supper Club, 710 W 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 617-8555.

Harvard & Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd. (at N. Harvard), Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 466-6063. Bar program by Steve Livigni & Pablo Moix of La Descarga. Matt Wallace, head bartender, with bartenders Rich Andreoli, Nathan Oliver, Francois Vera & Mia Sarazen, opening crew.

Hemingway’s Lounge, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. (323) 469-0040.

The Hungry Cat, 135 N Vine St. at Sunset, Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 462-2155.

Jones, 7205 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 850-1726. Eric “E.T.” Tecosky et al, bartenders.

Las Perlas, 107 E 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 988-8355. Across the street from Cole’s. Tequila & mezcal.

Library Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Matthew Biancaniello, Ryan Green, Brady Weise et al., bartenders.

Malo Taqueria, 4326 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029. (323) 664-1011.

Mixology 101 at Planet Dailies, 6333 W. 3rd St., Ste. O20, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (323) 370-6560. Bar manager Joseph Brooke.

Musso and Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 467-7788.

Neat, 1114 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale, CA 91202. (818) 241-4542. Owner Aidan Demarest. Bartenders Cari Hah, et al.

Next Door Lounge, 1154 N Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 465-5505. Head barman, Joe Brooke.

Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 297-0100. Finest collection of Italian amari in Los Angeles, perhaps anywhere.

The Parish, 840 S. Spring St. at 9th, Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 225-2400. John Coltharp, head bartender. Leo Rivas, Edwin Cruz, Brian Summers, et al. Chef Casey Lane.

Picca Peru, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133.

Plan Check Bar, 1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 288-6500.

Playa, 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 933-5300.

Pour Vous, 5574 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004. (323) 871-8699. Pablo Moix, Dave Fernie, et al.

Providence Restaurant, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 460-4170. Zahra Bates, bartender.

Rivera Restaurant, 1050 S Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 749-1460. Julian Cox et al., bartenders.

The Roger Room, 370 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. (310) 854-1300. Damian Windsor, Jason Bran et al., bartenders.

Seven Grand, 515 W 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 614-0737.

Sotto Restaurant, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133. Cocktails by Julian Cox and team.

The Spare Room, Mezzanine Level, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Two bowling alleys, backgammon and chess tables, board games.

Sunny Spot, 822 Washington Blvd. at Abbot Kinney, Venice, CA 90292. (310) 448-8884. Brian Butler, et al.

The Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. (310) 392-6644. John Coltharp, Justin Pike et al., bartenders.

The Thirsty Crow, 2939 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA. (323) 661-6007.

Tiki-Ti, 4427 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 669-9381. Mike Buhen Sr. & Jr., bartenders.

Tlapazola Grill, 11676 Gateway Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064 (310) 477-1577. Edwin Cruz, bartender and co-proprietor.

Tony’s Saloon, 2017 E 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 622-5523.

The Varnish, 118 E Sixth St., Los Angeles 90014. (213) 622-9999. Entrance through a non-descript door in the back of the dining room in Cole’s French Dip. Eric Alperin, co-owner & bartender. Chris Bostick, manager & bartender. Devon Tarby et al., bartenders.

Villains Tavern, 1356 Palmetto, Los Angeles, CA 91003. (213) 613-0766. Dave Whitton, co-owner & bartender, et al.

Westside Tavern, 10850 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. (310) 470-1539. Kylee Van Dillen, Dan McClary, et al., bartenders.

If I’ve missed any, shout at me in the comments. Also … I know it’s fraught with peril to list any bartenders in bar listings — it’s almost a full-time job keep track of where my bartender friends are working. I’ve thrown in a few more well-known names of people that I know are relatively settled, for the time being at least.

Next stop … where to get a great cocktail in New Orleans.

11 Responses to “Where to drink great cocktails in Los Angeles”

  1. Lush Angeles said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 12:58 pm

    Big Bar at the Alcove
    Test Kitchen
    Drago Centro

  2. Wendy Miller said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 1:00 pm

    Excellent! Is this our hit list for the weekend? 😉
    What about 320 Main, or is that too far outside the limits?

  3. Thirsty in LA said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 1:25 pm

    Great list! I keep my Bars list on a separate page and try to update it, but as you wrote it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

    Besides Ron’s suggestions I’d add Matt Biancaniello – Library Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt, Zahra Bates at Providence.

    I’ve never been to Tlapazola, will have to check it out.

  4. Chuck said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 2:00 pm

    Jeez! I can’t believe I forgot those. *smack forehead* This brings up the fact that I am Absentmindedness Personnified as well as God Emperor of Procrastination. Thanks y’all.

  5. Chuck said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 11:50 pm

    Wendy, 320 Main is fantastic but it’s 45 minutes to an hour away, depending on traffic. We’d kind of have to make an afternoon/evening of it. Which would be a great thing, of course — something to think about for next time? 🙂

  6. Wesly M. said:

    Nov 19, 10 at 11:33 am

    It’s been a while, too long in fact, but I really like El Carmen.

  7. Dana said:

    Nov 20, 10 at 10:49 pm

    Somewhat unrelated… but we are profoundly impressed with Andrew at the Mistral Kitchen in Seattle nowadays. I’ve been crushing on your Jet Pilot recipe and asked for one from him tonight. His version blew my hair back. Near as I can figure, he subbed white rum for dark, added some clove syrup, and bumped up the cinnamon. Good heavens. He knows this drink as a ‘Test Pilot’. Call it what you want. Nom.

  8. Shari Minton said:

    Nov 22, 10 at 11:55 am

    Thank you!

  9. Dennis D'Antin said:

    Sep 06, 11 at 10:05 pm

    Great article, but really, my favorite place for cocktails has always been at my house with good friends. There are really only two drinks that you ever need. Good beer, and Margaritas. I’ll either rent a margarita machine (check out Margaritamax.com ) or I’ll get me a keg of Hangar 24 (you can call their brewery in Redlands to find out how to get one) Its suuuch a good beer. MMMMM.

  10. Chuck said:

    Sep 07, 11 at 10:49 am

    We love having cocktails at our house with good friends, and we do it all the time. But it’s a lot of fun to go out, and to let some talented bartenders make things for you that you can’t make at home. I love the social experience of going to a bar (as long as it’s not too crowded — then we go back home and drink).

    Margarita machine? Who needs a machine to make margaritas? Tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, shaken with ice, dude. Does that thing take some kind of bottled mix? Margarita mix makes the Baby Jesus cry.


  11. Z said:

    Sep 11, 11 at 6:32 pm

    I’d throw Pali House into the mix–pretty good drink selection, and anywhere that has the Miller’s Westbourne Strength tends to get bonus points in my book.