The Best Craft Cocktail Bars in LA

Los Angeles, long hamstrung by subpar public transit and 1:30 a.m. last calls, might never match mugs with the self-serious drinking scenes found in New York or Chicago. But what this disjointed metropolis lacks in fervor, it makes up for in originality. Cocktail culture in L.A. is as malleable as a movie set—we’ve got bars that double as bowling alleys, Western saloons, tiki huts, ’70s-era rec rooms and 19th-century cottages, all capable of making stellar and inventive cocktails that are downright fun to consume. This is the place where tradition takes a backseat and the most important mantra is to shamelessly enjoy whatever arrives in your glass. –Garrett Snyder

  • 1

    The Walker Inn

    The latest watering hole from the big brains behind Death & Co., Honeycut and many more, The Walker Inn is one of the most ambitious cocktail bars to open in years. Located inside a space behind a "secret door" at the back of The Normandie Club, the sunken bar doles out high-concept drinks (like the Rosé All Day, which contains watermelon and white wine that have been centrifuged to create "rosé" and a watermelon "hydrosol") that utilize a number of modernist techniques. Here, guests have a choice of two menus: The Book, a compendium of classic cocktails done in the house style, and The Walker Menu, a seasonal menu ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 2

    Bar Jackalope

    Already known as one of the city’s most dependable whiskey bars, Seven Grand upped its own ante by constructing a quiet back-room library modeled after a Japanese whisky den. The walls are adorned with dust-covered taxidermy, and Coltrane records spin on an antique gramophone in the corner. Guests are guided through a thick tome filled with a globe-spanning variety of whiskey, which can be sampled in small crystal snifters. As for the cocktails, Jackalope keeps things simple and centered on the whiskey, offering only a Manhattan, an Old-Fashioned and a traditional Highball (served with Japanese whisky and soda water). ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • lots of whiskey
  • 3

    Caña Rum Bar

    This sprawling, Latin Quarter-inspired hideaway near Staples Center is probably the only cocktail bar in town that requires an exclusive membership. The $20 annual fee, however, is a blessing in disguise, preventing the bar from becoming too crowded with concertgoers and allowing patrons to sip their way through the collection of 140 rare and small-batch rums in relative peace. Cocktails range from expertly made classics—including the best Daiquiri in L.A.—to elaborate tropical concoctions. Converse with the well-traveled bartenders while perched on a padded leather swivel chair, or join Downtown’s aspiring moguls ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • lots of rum
    • outdoor / patio
  • 4

    The Chestnut Club

    Longtime restaurant cocktail consultants Steve Livingi and Pablo Moix's The Chestnut Club is a stripped-down lounge where bare brick walls and antique fixtures lend a certain dignified air. The club is not only home to a stunning collection of old and rare spirits—some which cost hundreds of dollars per glass—but a sharp list of spartan cocktails, like The Diamondback Lounge (Rye, Applejack and Yellow Chartreuse) and the Brighton Racecourse (a lavender-and-grapefruit-scented Gin and Tonic).

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 5

    Bar Toni's

    Nearly 60-year-old Italian restaurant Little Toni's has appealed to a changing neighborhood by adding a cocktail bar: Bar Toni's. The newly redesigned bar area offers a thoroughly modern drinks program managed by man-about-town Aidan Demarest, whose menu veers towards the likes of flaming frozen Daiquiris, Lemon Drop Martinis and a Grasshopper "stolen" from Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • full menu
  • 6

    Harvard & Stone

    The crown jewel of the Houston Brothers' nightlife empire is Harvard & Stone, a faux-grungy hangout with a rollicking house band and burlesque dancers dressed like Rosie the Riveter. At the main bar you’ll find irreverent house cocktails, like a re-engineered Hurricane and a Summer Old-Fashioned dolled-up with Cynar, Giffard banane and coffee extract. In the rear is the famed Research & Development Bar, home to nightly guest bartenders slinging experimental cocktails made with everything from gin and bubble tea to mezcal with tomato shrub.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • live music
  • 7

    Honeycut

    Don’t be fooled by the LED-lit disco floor and Jameson-Fireball shots on draft; this clubbish subterranean cocktail lounge from the founders of New York’s Death & Co. packs plenty of skill behind its flamboyant veneer. The eclectic 50-strong drink list might include a buoyant tropical creation crowned with a house-made “fizzy lime tablet” or a pitch-perfect evocation of a root beer float made from vanilla-tinged Plantation rum. Group cocktails like the Scorpion Bowl laced with apple brandy and pitchers of Campari-topped piña coladas provide the liquid courage necessary to transform your happy hour stop-in into ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • dancing
  • 8

    Sonny's Hideaway

    Call it gentrification or hipsterfication or even welcome change. However you parse it, Highland Park is one of L.A.’s rapidly morphing neighborhoods, with new shops, bars and restaurants popping up all along York Blvd. The neighborhood's reputation as a serious cocktail destination grew tremendously with the 2012 arrival of Sonny's Hideaway—a moody, dark wood-and-leather bar helmed by Austin import J. Kelly O’Hare. The long mirrored wall behind the counter is stocked with a comprehensive collection of aperitifs and liqueurs, which explains the staff's pride in creating lower alcohol cocktails like the Campari Cobbler ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • craft cocktails
    • tiki
  • 9

    The Spare Room

    At the Roosevelt Hotel's second floor bowling-alley-cum-cocktail-bar, The Spare Room, waitresses in Gatsby-era dresses float around the room offering Gin Rickeys with housemade tonic and Penicillins spiked with amaro. Most cocktails are kept classically simple, augmented with seasonal additions like caramelized nectarine or Anaheim chile. Sportsmanship is encouraged, so don’t be surprised if your neighbors challenge you to a good-natured game of Monopoly or Battleship.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • games
    • hotel bar
  • 10

    Tiki-Ti

    Before opening the doors to Tiki-Ti in 1961, Ray Buhen learned his tiki trade secrets by working under Don the Beachcomber. Now his son and grandsons carry on the tradition (and guard the cocktail recipes), running this tiny Hollywood joint that offers 12 bar stools, tiki kitsch galore and 94 signature concoctions. Potent drinks like the Chief Lapu Lapu and the Uga Booga (still made with canned pineapple juice and maraschino cherries) are perhaps more about kitsch than they are craft, but even the most ardent cocktail snob can’t help but embrace this ultimate tiki time warp.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • tiki
    • historic
    • cheap date
  • 11

    The Varnish

    Hidden inside a former storage room behind century-old Cole’s French Dip, the Varnish practically exudes civic history. Most of the attention in the stark, barebones speakeasy goes toward perfecting overlooked classic cocktails like the Bobby Burns, which is paired with a buttery square of shortbread. Even when the intimate wooden booths are packed full, the room can take on a reverential hush, cushioned only by the sound of soft jazz and clinking glasses.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • historic

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