NFT Los Angeles Nightlife

Los Angeles / Nightlife

Anybody who tells you that nightlife in LA sucks has just been to the wrong places. The city reflects its melting pot populous, and there are bars and clubs for everyone--people who love people and people who hate people, people with bottle service $ and people with a few bucks for a shitty beer, people who love dancing to shitty music and people who love dancing to good music. Hell, there are even bars that cater to people from other American cities, so you can always know where to watch your hometown football team.

Los Angeles is less a single entity than the sum of fifty or so distinct mid-sized cities that can seem neigh impossible to unravel. Neighborhoods and "scenes" rarely twain, unless you're say, looking for a skinny jean, PBR-and-Modelo hipster haven (Echo Park) or an ear-splitting club to grab an overpriced shit cocktail and dumb drugs (Hollywood). But despite the geographic disparity Angelenos cut through the Gordian Knot bar culture and excitedly dig out, share, and champion their faves, eventually identifying with their boozeholes of choice with the same seriousness as their political or religious convictions.

Keeping track of dance nights, comedy, live music, and all of the other weird shit that makes up LA nightlife can get complicated. LA Weekly, LA's premier free paper, is a good place to check for what's going on, and the LA Times has its Calendar Live section. (Each has an online counterpart, in case you think Craigslist is a fad.) There's also a honking traffic jam of sites like One namecheck on Daily Candy means your corner bar just got drafted--that's how hungry everyone is for the next big, pre-approved thing. Is this sounding like finding a needle in a haystack? Well, it is and it isn't. Consider all of this a childproof toolbox. Rummage, experiment, and find your favorites. Remember: in LA, word of mouth is king, and whatever advice you bought from your guerrilla marketing guru, there's no faking that funk. But here are some of our suggestions to get things rolling...

LA is a brilliant, weird place, so no matter where you go, you'll have a story. But if you're looking for some guidance, here are our suggestions...

If we need to explain what a dive bar is to you, that means that you probably won't like dive bars. Think: cash only, cheap drinks, bad wine, a pool table, karaoke, a cast of grizzled regulars, and if you're really lucky, a MegaTouch machine loaded up with dirty photo hunt. Los Feliz has two of the greats, Ye Rustic Inn (Map 4) and the Drawing Room (Map 4). If you're a dive bar collector of sorts, the Frolic Room (Map 3) is a must-Bukowski drank there, after all. Frank 'n Hank (Map 8) is dive-bar sparse to the point that has only one piece of art; a large painting of a naked lady. The Roost (Map 5) is your dive bar in Atwater Village, and Gold Room (Map 5) is your must in Echo Park (there are free tacos, too). It feels weird calling Jumbo's Clown Room (Map 4) a dive, because the pole dancers are insanely talented. But the weird clown pictures and cheap beer are 100% dive. More westerly, Cozy Inn (Map 24) has shuffleboard, a good jukebox, and pool. Up in the valley, there's the Foxfire Room (Map 56), with a sweet-ass jukebox, and the dangerously strong tiki stylings of Tonga Hut (Map 48).

Best Outdoor Spaces
Constant sun and an average outdoor temperature of 72 degrees mean that many LA bars drag their tables outside. One of the best places is Golden Road Brewing (Map 51), where the indoor/outdoor space has plenty of games and lots of delicious brews. The très rive gauche Figaro Bistrot (Map 4) on Vermont in Los Feliz lines up 'round marble tables to squeeze in thirsty hipsters. Malo (Map 4) on Sunset has an industrial-looking, surprisingly intimate outdoor seating area with heating lamps. For stargazing through your beer goggles, the rooftop bar at The Standard (Map 9) needs to be experienced once. The Red Lion Tavern (Map 5) does the German beer garden thing right, while Idle Hour (Map 56) gives you fancy outdoor cocktails on the edge of NoHo. And for those down near the beaches, Abigaile (Map 29) is a must-the former brewer of Stone is cookin' up beer there.

Best Lounges
In a city where image is reality, the larger-than-life style of LA's clubs tends to squash the urban reign of the almighty bar. Dives often seem a bit lost amid the velvet rope-gawking, and the current Cahuenga fascination distracts from simpler watering holes. What emerges is LA's answer to compromise: the lounge. What passes for a stylish alternative in other cities is the modest choice in LA. But a solid lounge is a beautiful thing no matter what city it's in, and LA has some truly solid ones. Many lounge-prone Angelenos migrate from the velvet ropes of Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset, where they stumble into The Well (Map 3). Modish warmth is key to this lounge's hip brown-and-black design and tall leather banquettes; with a killer juke mix and a smooth transition from lowkey hangout to loud and lively late night spot, it's a big draw. The Brig (Map 21) on Abbot Kinney in Venice is a chic, sleekly illuminated mod dream. As swanky as it is (down to the bathrooms), it's still a laid-back lounge where the cocktails and pool, not the celebrities, pull rank. If you're looking for something dressed up with a touch of seedy, Jones (Map 2) in WeHo is a good bet. The elegant wraparound bar gives way to bathrooms plastered in inelegant Polaroids of naughty-bit flashing patrons. Probably the most well known local lounge, The Dresden Room (Map 4) solidified its fame with a cameo in 1996's prerequisite LA film Swingers, and comes with its very own lounge act. Say hi to Marty and Elayne when you go. They're sweethearts.

Best Beer Selection
If you scoff at light lager swill, there are plenty of options. If you're a beer cynic, places such as Father's Office (Map 18, 24), with 30 microbrews on tap, and The Library Alehouse (Map 18), coming in right behind with 29 on tap, are all the conversion you'll need. Oh, and don't worry if you're stuck in Hollywood, it's not all clubs and vodka tonics--Blue Palms Brewhouse (Map 3) keeps you wells-sudsed along the Walk of Fame. Burbank has made a worthy addition to the beer snob scene with Tony's Darts Away (Map 49), serving a wide array (and only) beers brewed in California, with a heavy IPA bias. But their sister restaurant, Mohawk Bend (Map 5), has a wider selection. For a bottle shop where you can take away or drink on the premises, we'll direct you to another Echo Park spot--Sunset Beer (Map 5). For local breweries, there's the big, outdoor-game laden Golden Road Brewing (Map 51), smaller-but-tasty Eagle Rock Brewery (Map 51), Angel City (Map 9), and Craftsman Brewing, which is your local brewery for sours. It doesn't have its own tap room, but pretty much rules the beer selection at pizza joint Maximiliano (Map 33).

Best Milieu
Décor varies greatly among LA's proud gin joints. Drop by the Bigfoot Lodge (Map 5) in Atwater to swig down a few beers while you cozy up to Smokey the Bear. The owner of Tiki-Ti (Map 4) in Los Feliz is so dedicated to keeping up his mini-Polynesian paradise that patrons will find the bar closed when he's in the islands "doing research." Try Oldfields (Map 24) for a retro-speakeasy vibe and killer scotchy-scotchscotch. For upscale chic, Casa del Mar (Map 18) in Santa Monica delivers with a grand lobby/bar serving drinks with grand price tags. Of all the bars doing that "look at our immaculate old-timey interior" thing, Melrose Umbrella Company (Map 2) is possibly our favorite-it's just enough without being too much. Or if "too much" is your preference, you should see No Vacancy (Map 3) at least once-it can get douchey thanks to the H-wood location, but you enter through a goddamn hidden staircase under a bed. The Edison (Map 9) downtown takes boiler-room chic to a new, drunken level with its historically accurate industrial vibe--just beware of the gate-keeping bouncers who hold a staunch no-tennis-shoes policy. Or, just get with the program, you slob.

Best Dancing
So you think you can dance? Whether you shake your moneymaker to salsa, hip-hop, techno, or reggae, there is someplace for everyone to get down in Los Angeles. For hot and sweaty Havana nights, it doesn't get more authentic than Hollywood's El Floridita (Map 3) salsa club, located in a shady strip mall on Fountain and Vine. Downtown's legendary Mayan (Map 9) doubles as a concert venue and an exclusive salsa club with a strict dress code--call ahead for details. Over in the 90069, Boys Town boasts a plethora of gay dance clubs known for, um, stiff drinks, um, throbbing music, and Schwarzenegger-esque bartenders. Some of the most popular include Factory (Map 2), The Abbey (Map 2), Micky's (Map 2), and Rage (Map 2). For less hype, head to Los Feliz's Akbar (Map 4) to find a LGBT-friendly crowd and a chill Eastside vibe. Central Hollywood has replaced the Strip as the hotspot for club-hopping millennials, short-run celebrities, and indie fauxhemians. Cinespace (Map 3), Avalon (Map 3), and Bardot (Map 3) are all popular dance spots within one two-block radius. If electro and dub are your style, The Echo's (Map 5) hipster-attracting Dub Club on Wednesdays in Silver Lake is a plaid-flaunting good time. For a wild night out on the cheap, check out La Plaza (Map 2) on La Brea, with DJs spinning ranchero music and fabulous Latino drag-queen performances at 10 pm and midnight on the weekends.

Best Music
Out-of-work musicians are almost as plentiful in Los Angeles as out-of-work actors. Lucky for them, LA draws more than enough stadium-filling performances to help them keep the dream alive while offering plenty of smallish venues where they can showcase their talent. If you want your music grand, orchestral, and outdoors, then head to The Hollywood Bowl (Map 3). Pack a picnic, a blanket, and your significant other and head on up for a stunning view and some outstanding acoustics. The Bowl plays host to rock shows, classic bands, an impressive Independence Day fireworks show, and the occasional Garrison Keillor radio performance. Another panoramic outdoor attraction is the Greek Theatre (Map 4), a gorgeous venue in Griffith Park showcasing a lot of nostalgia acts and a recent current of freshness. On the Sunset Strip, the dependable House of Blues (Map 2) draws in big names. Local institutions like the Whisky A Go-Go (Map 2) and the Viper Room (Map 2) draw crowds for their reputations alone, while offering a mix of both established and undiscovered bands. Some adventurous performers and voyeurs take their chances at Mr. T's Bowl (Map 33), a seedy former bowling alley in Highland Park. For the freshest indie bands and underground rock, try the Troubadour (Map 2). The Wiltern (Map 7) and the El Rey Theatre (Map 6) in mid-Wilshire are local favorites for catching bigger bands at a smaller venue, while The Satellite (Map 5) in Silver Lake and The Echo (Map 5) in Echo Park bring in locals and music insiders with more alternative live music. The Hotel Cafe (Map 3) is undoubtedly LA's best loved acoustic venue, with a cozy New York vibe and some impressive names performing nightly. For live music that doesn't overpower the pub atmosphere, Molly Malone's (Map 2) is a deservedly popular spot. It's a great place to see a wide range of great bands (from alt rock to reggae) and then shoot some darts. Those with more, ahem, evolved tastes can often be caught taking in a Friday night performance at the Getty (Map 16), or a live music-silent film combo at The Cinefamily (Map 2). The famous, cavernous Amoeba Music (Map 3) packs in locals with (free!) live in-store performances--check their marquee for upcoming shows from surprisingly big names. DJs are people, too. Some people even consider them musicians. The most eclectic slate of DJs spins at Verdugo (Map 36), and the crowd is wildly different from night to night.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Black Boar
I've spent many hours in the dark confines of the Black Boar, knocking back the happy-hour special (a Pabst and an Evan Williams shot, which I christened the "meal deal") and wishing the day's care into the cornfield. So I got to know the bar's mustachioed proprietor. Like me, he has a history in Chicago, and we discussed the idea of opening a "Chicago-themed bar" in LA. But, in many ways, he's already done it. The Black Boar is modeled on British pubs, but like the most grounded Chicago taverns, it feels more like a particularly kempt dive than a theme bar. It's not well known enough to drive traffic from parts west, but like a corner tap in Chicago, it caters to a range of immediate locals: the craft beer selection rivals LA's best, but there's plenty of cheap swill for the kids. The jukebox rocks macho FM staples, contemporary indie-electro fads, and some surprisingly deep cuts. Key bartenders are enthusiastic to the point of flamboyance, but they're much more theatre/improv-comedy types than Hollywood types, if you get me. Bouncers and older regulars are chummy and charming in a gruff, avuncular way. The dark interior and huge wooden booths shut out the world. Daily specials include the Mystery Shot. Do not ask what this is.

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

POP Champagne & Dessert Bar
C'mere, beautiful. I know it's been a long week. We've been caught up with work, and neither one of us has gotten enough attention. Trust me, I know. So here's what we're going to do. We're going out. For dessert. AND bubbly. Plus swank, swank atmosphere. (It's got bubble-shaped mirrors--I mean, come on now.) If that doesn't get things simmering, I'm a monkey's uncle. Which I'm pretty sure isn't the case. I'm not sure who drafted this business plan, but it's close to the ideal date spot for overstimulated professionals who appreciate the simpler things among the finer things, ersatz class with no pressure. Skip dinner. Just fill up on crepes and hoist a flute. I have heard people complain about the service, but I've never had any problems. And, once, I happened to drop in while a speed dating session was going on across the room, which would make a fantastic people-watching date, methinks.

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

The Airliner
Yes, it's dingy, and yes, you'll get patted down aggressively at the door. (I had a ballpoint pen confiscated.) It gets crowded and, many times yes, the service is slow and unenthusiastic. But any fan of underground hip hop is advised to pop in at least once. The cosmopolitan, Jazzercise-dressed hipsters show up in force for Low End Theory Wednesdays, but I'm partial to the Urban Underground on Fridays, particularly the freestyle open mic. At least since the '90s, "West Coast hip hop" has been stereotyped as lackadaisical and nihilistic (think Snoop), but the MCs at Airliner, who commute from all over SoCal, generally share a fierce, sophisticated style of wordplay and an unrelenting enthusiasm for the game. Yes, it's in Lincoln Heights, and the crowd is, how you say, gully. Don't be a jackass or get too drunk (easier said, considering the enormous helpings of beer on special) and nothing bad will happen.

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Sonny McLean's Irish Pub
$4.25. Why would any bar charge $4.25 for a glass of beer? I'm a big tipper and usually break off a dollar per drink, but if the change consists of jingling quarters, it's much easier to leave them on the bar, thereby nickel-and-diming the staff out of a good deal of dough by the end of the night. If I owned a Boston Celtics shirt, I'd wear it here, just to see if I would have to wait any less than ten minutes for a bartender’s grace. (This is the sort of place, the rare sort of place, where Celtics fans come to root against the Lakers.) Obviously, it's an "authentic Irish pub." For the record, I think almost all ethnic pride is stupid, a poor substitute for personal achievement (I'm an untraceable white-trash mutt, if you're playing along at home), and I don't make an exception for Irish pride. Plus, I've drank Guinness and Jameson in Dublin, I've never seen it done right here, and it isn't done right at Sonny's. And yet, I like this joint. I've always shown up here in a foul mood, and I've always left in a better one. Everyone is attractive (in that particularly Santa Monican flavor of vanilla), the bartenders are friendly and generous, and I've never found anyone who wasn't down for a loose chat. So, in spite of all the, you know, bullshit, I'd be glad to meet you at Sonny's. It's the perfect place to act normal. Solid pub grub, too. But $4.25? Really?

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Broadway Ale House
Great beer selection; odd business plan. The sign outside bespeaks a $3 happy hour lasting until 2, but that's just the shitty beers you can procure anyplace; the tasty stuff (Allagash White FTW) will cost in excess of five bones. The staff is kind, but the service is often largely theoretical; order a plate of the half-decent pub grub, and you may watch an entire True Hollywood Story before it appears. The jukebox is just as inexplicable as the TV, ping-ponging from country to Sinatra to Rick James to AC/DC. The Fifth Amendment is still new on the scene, and it's rep is thusfar mixed at best. But in Santa Monica, a land of pretensions lounges and cavernous, deafening Fratty McDaterape meat markets, it's a small, insulated getaway for touchy, self-sufficient boozehounds. No one said Zen was smooth sailing. But, if you imbibe enough, you might find yourself sampling a llama burger.

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