A Drinking Tour of Old Hollywood

Visitors to LA often get sucked into celeb sighting along the Santa Monica boardwalk (read: dodging rollerbladers) and cruising around town in one of those convertible vans powered by StarMaps.  Don’t do it.  For a better, truer sense of LA’s star power—and perhaps, more importantly, a drink—stop in to one of these classic Old Hollywood bars for a Martini and, if you’re lucky, a bartender who will regale you with tales of what this city was like when Steve McQueen and Marilyn Monroe were bellying up to its bars.  —Jennifer Cacicio

  • 1

    The Dresden Restaurant

    The Dresden got its nationwide nod via an appearance in Swingers, but its been a go-to hangout for locals since 1954.  The ambiance and décor have barely changed since opening night—think curved vinyl booths, dim lighting, and weird rock walls—save the classic lounge act Marty and Elayne, who began laying out their nightly hits on the upright bass and piano in the early 1980s. They perform Tuesday through Saturday, so don’t bother with the other nights. You want the full Dresden experience.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • historic
    • full menu
  • 2

    Frolic Room

    Tourists come to Hollywood expecting to find glamour and glitz, only to discover that Hollywood proper is actually pretty gritty. Celebrities live deep westside or up in the hills; Hollywood Blvd., meanwhile, is overflowing with clueless tourists, street performers, tattoo shops and creepy bars. Of the latter, the Frolic Room is far and away the best. Dating back to the 1930s, it's rumored to have been a speakeasy during Prohibition, when it was likely attached to the Pantages Theater next door. In the 1950s the Pantages played host to the Academy Awards, so it makes sense that the bar stools have been graced by the ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • historic
    • jukebox
  • 3

    Barney's Beanery

    In the 1920s, it was nothing but a little burger joint in a poinsettia field. Today, with several locations throughout Los Angeles County, it’s an institution. Still, when it comes to Barney’s Beanery, we suggest sticking to the original, where the ceiling is decorated with the license plates kept as bar tab IOUs and the booths are labeled by the stars who favored them. This place has long been a symbol of counterculture and cool, known as a hangout to Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, James Dean and Ed Ruscha. These days the crowd is a mix of frat dudes, WeHo boys and aspiring writers, plus the occasional celebrity in ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • sports
    • cheap date
    • games
    • karaoke
    • outdoor / patio
    • historic
    • full menu
  • 4

    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
  • 5

    Kibitz Room (Canter’s Deli)

    Since 1931, Canter’s Deli has been serving some of the most iconic corned beef Reubens within city limits. In 1961, they added music to the mix. The Kibitz Lounge is adjacent to the twenty-four-hour restaurant that lights up Fairfax Avenue, making it all too easy to get a serious buzz on, then stumble into a booth for a patty melt and coffee to sober up. With live music nearly every night, the Kibitz Room stage has played host to everyone from Joni Mitchell to Guns ’N Roses. These days it’s more a mix of local acts—music and standup comedy—but this is L.A., so there’s always a chance of some big name stopping by as a ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • day drinking
    • jukebox
    • sports
    • full menu
  • 6

    The Polo Lounge (Beverly Hills Hotel)

    The Polo Lounge has been the epitome of classic Hollywood since 1941, when the booths were peppered daily with the likes of Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe—and women weren’t allowed to wear pants.  A recent renovation made Angelenos everywhere nervous, but the lounge reopened to reveal that all its pink-and-green ambiance remains intact.  Today it’s where $25 omelettes are served, where fresh-squeezed mimosas are sipped and where serious Hollywood deals are still being made. It’s insanely overpriced, but worth the wallet dent every now and again.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • full menu
    • historic
  • 7

    Musso & Frank Grill

    It doesn’t get more old school than this.  Famous for its Martinis, steak and red-coated barmen full of Old Hollywood tales, a step into Musso & Frank’s is truly a step back in time.  Since 1919, this cozy bar and white-tableclothed restaurant has served countless stars: screen icons such as Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe all came on the regular, as did literary giants such as William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their motto couldn’t be more true: “The history will bring you in. The food and service will keep you coming back.”

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • historic
    • day drinking
  • 8

    Chateau Marmont

    Since the 1930s, The Chateau Marmont has been the place for stars to hole up, hide out, hook up and misbehave.  The bungalows have been graced by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jim Morrison, James Dean, John Belushi, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and so many more. This little slice of Hollywood history and glamour has a large Spanish-style courtyard and garden terrace complete with amazing landscaping, bougainvillea and olive trees—the ideal place to grab a drink and play LA tourist for a night. While bartenders are relatively skilled with the classics, the real draw here is the view and the escape. There’s nothing else ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • outdoor / patio
    • historic
    • hotel bar
  • 9

    The Townhouse & The Del Monte Speakeasy

    The Townhouse has been getting Venice residents drunk since 1915 (back when it was Menotti’s Grocery), making it the oldest bar in the neighborhood.  During Prohibition, one could sneak downstairs to the Del Monte Speakeasy, where booze was smuggled in via underground caves and catacombs that led in from the Abbot Kinney pier.  Today both floors serve craft cocktails worthy of that bygone era in a space that’s both cool and cozy.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • craft cocktails
  • 10

    El Cid

    Built in 1905, El Cid was originally a movie theater before eventually becoming a prison-themed restaurant called The Jail Café, wherein the servers wore black and white striped prison uniforms. El Cid took over just upwards of 50 years ago, but it’s less like stepping into the past than it is stepping right into Spain.  Once you find yourself lost in its brick courtyard with a glass of tasty sangria, decent tapas and live flamenco, it’ll be pretty difficult to reconcile the fact that you’re actually on a weird and otherwise uneventful stretch of Sunset.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • dancing
    • full menu
    • historic
    • outdoor / patio
  • 11

    HMS Bounty

    Situated on the ground floor of the historic Gaylord Hotel, the HMS Bounty has changed both hands and names over the years, but its cozy, kitschy interior and charming nautical theme have remained solidly intact. Back in the day this was a regular hangout for the standard Hollywood elite, but also for the more politically-minded heavy hitters such as Winston Churchill and William Randolph Hearst. Now it’s a reliable option for cheap drinks, greasy bar food and the knowledge that you’re hanging out in a bar where they shot a few scenes of Mad Men.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • historic
    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • jukebox
    • dive bar
  • 12

    Tonga Hut

    You can’t talk about the LA bar scene without talking about tiki, and you can’t talk about tiki without talking about the Tonga Hut, which remains the oldest LA tiki bar in operation.  It opened in 1958 when the tiki scene was still going strong, and though there were a few awkward years in between, new owners took over in 2005 and restored the Tonga Hut to its original glory.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • historic
    • tiki

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