Before the fancy condos and pop-up food museums, downtown LA was a nightlife destination. A home to the weird dive bars with no last call, hidden performance venues in abandoned factories, and everything else in between. Downtown was where you went to experience something different. And amidst its ongoing revitalization? We’re happy to report that statement still stands. So put down that basic margarita, grab your friends, and let’s get weird. Here are the 20 places where you should be drinking in downtown LA.
This is the LA version of a somewhat famous fancy cocktail bar from NYC, located on the outskirts of Chinatown. Unlike its original location, this Apotheke isn’t a speakeasy at all - instead it’s just a fantastic space to drink really good cocktails and people watch all night on the massive back patio. The decor leans into the whole 1800s apothecary aesthetic, and while we wouldn’t mind if the bartenders weren’t wearing lab coats, the medicinal-themed cocktails are so good, we don’t care. This is our favorite downtown bar right now.
Greetings from the best big group bar downtown. Rhythm Room is located in the basement of a big office building at the corner of Spring and 6th, and has a massive space filled with activities to keep you and your friends entertained: four pool tables, three ping pong tables, shuffleboard, darts, board games, and a live jazz band. Also, there’s an entirely separate bar area with good cocktails and a crowd looking to mix things up.
Once you get over the embarrassment of having to say “Dankness Dojo” to your friends out loud, you’ll realize it’s pretty great. Owned and operated by Modern Times Brewery, the all-day place is part brewery, part restaurant, and part coffee shop. Unfortunately, the plant-based menu isn’t very good, so don’t come hungry. But if you’re looking for fantastic craft beer in a low-key space that’s also walking distance to Staples/LA Live, the Dojo is where you go.
Lost Spirits is no way, shape, or form a bar. That said, this Arts District distillery is one of the most unique places to drink in Los Angeles. And before you say that you gave up drinking rum after college, and don’t really care how it’s made, let us stop you. Lost Spirits is not just a distillery. It’s a two-hour-long art installation/science experiment/jungle cruise that you have to see to believe. In the spirit of being as awestruck as we were, we we’ll withhold any specific details, but just know that a night at Lost Spirits is more than worth its $35 admission price. Just be sure to book tickets well in advance on their website - tours sell out quickly.
Fair warning - come to Birds & Bees after 10pm on a weekend, and be prepared to wait. Come to Birds & Bees on a weeknight (or get your friends out of the house before 9pm) and you’ll find one of our favorite cocktail bars downtown. The place is in the basement of some old building on Broadway and feels like a large, swanky bomb shelter on the inside. Make the Smuggler’s Eye Opener your first order of business.
The fact that gay bars are opening again on a regular basis in DTLA is thrilling. The fact that we got one as downright excellent as Precinct is the cherry on top. In terms of the space itself, Precinct isn’t exactly a jaw-dropper, but its large open floor plan works well for the massive crowds that are flocking to this place for some of the best nightly entertainment downtown. Whether it’s Latin or Madonna night, or the bi-monthly bear celebration, Precinct is the craziest party in the neighborhood right now.
Seven Grand has been open for a decade, essentially giving it landmark status in the downtown nightlife scene. But you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a more well-made whiskey drink in the city. Not to mention the massive space that feels like a Canadian hunting lodge for billionaires (prepare for aggressive taxidermy). Check out Bar Jackalope in the back too. They specialize in Japanese whiskey and have a secret cigar patio ideal for drinking the night away.
Part bar, part restaurant, full outdoor patio greatness, ERB has quickly established itself as one of the more reliable places to grab a drink in the Arts District. There never seems to be a line, the cocktails are tremendous, and their laid-back patio is one of our favorite places to sit around and drink cocktails with friends. Get the burger and the biscuits while you’re here.
Historic Filipinotown doesn’t have many bars - but Crawfords more than makes up for the lack of places to drink in this neighborhood. The small interior has a weird, dive-y feel to it, with a few scattered tables, a pool table, and Buck Hunter in the corner. The real hidden secret though? The fantastic fried chicken sandwiches you can order at the bar.
Oh, The Edison - where would downtown even be without you? The massive nightlife mecca (in the basement of an old downtown nuclear power plant) might be the biggest reason DTLA started feeling cool again. And despite the fact that its initial allure is long gone, The Edison definitely still holds up. With everything from a game room to a live music venue to private lounges and people swinging from the ceiling, it’d be hard for anyone in your crew to walk away bored.
Greetings from the best brewery downtown. Mumford might not be the biggest or the flashiest in the area, but the beer being cranked out of here can’t be beat. That said, their taproom on the Little Tokyo/Arts District border isn’t some sad cave you can’t find. It’s bright and airy and a fantastic spot for hanging out with some friends on a lazy Saturday afternoon. They’ve got tons of games (Connect Four, anyone?) and you can bring in any outside food you want.
Ktown has a bonafide monopoly on karaoke in this town, but deep in the heart of Little Tokyo is a tiny spot on the third story of a mall that on its own brings some fierce competition. Max is an LA karaoke institution and one that’s almost a rite of passage for new residents. So what’s the big difference? Four letters. B-Y-O-B. As in roll up with two 30-racks and a handle of Jim Beam and Max’s employees won’t even blink an eye. Stay safe out there.
Resident’s entire setup is outdoor and the bar itself is an airstream, which makes it feel like you’re getting hammered at your cousin-who’s-still-trying-to-figure-it-out’s place outside Boulder. The vibe is low-key, the drinks are good, there’s always a food truck, and the attached music venue has a great lineup.
Yes, Varnish is a speakeasy, but no, you aren’t going to hate it. Lines get long during peak weekend hours, but once you’re inside, the atmosphere is surprisingly low-key. Although the place isn’t large, there always seems to be a booth available for you and your friends. Getting hungry? Cole’s is attached, and you can eat as many French dip sandwiches as you want at The Varnish.
If you already know about The Escondite, you probably don’t want anyone else to find out about it. Because this somewhat hidden bar on the Little Tokyo/AD border has everything going for it - live music, no cover, great crowds, good cocktails, solid bar food, and a little patio with views of downtown. Just don’t tell anyone.
The arcade bar is on the verge of being extremely played out. But that doesn’t stop EightyTwo from being a great time. The space is actually pretty large, with two separate rooms for games and an excellent outdoor courtyard if you’re not in the mood for Game of Thrones pinball. Bonus: there’s a whole separate section with a nightly-rotating food truck for when the munchies inevitably make their appearance.
Angel City Brewery isn’t brewing the best beer in downtown, but it definitely has the best space. Its massive taproom and attached brewery in the heart of the Arts District is spectacular, with tons of communal tables, plenty of corn hole, and a front patio where you’ll always find a delicious food truck. Their hours go late into the night, but Angel City will always be one of our favorite day drinking spots in town. Just get there early, because weekend lines here are no joke.
You’ve done the Angel City thing a few too many times and are looking for a change of scenery. Go to Arts District Brewing. There’s a massive bar, tons of open seating, and an entire wall dedicated to Skee-Ball. And if you get hungry, there’s a designated window where you can pick up all the chicken and burgers from Fritzi next door.
We’ll cut to the chase here - this place is an all-out sh*tshow. But sometimes that’s just where the night takes you. Casey’s is secretly gigantic, with multiple bars, a huge front patio with ping pong, and an entirely separate room full of games you only see at Dave & Buster’s. This isn’t a place you head downtown specifically to go to, but if you’re crawling your way through the neighborhood, it’s a great spot to grab a cheap drink and experience some strange.