Whether you’ve lived in Los Angeles for ten years or ten days, finding new bars to frequent never gets any easier. Most places are either too expensive, too intimidating, or simply too far from your apartment to validate the $35 Lyft ride home. That said, there are always a few new spots that manage to make a night out just a bit more bearable - and 2019 was no different. From a distillery in Long Beach to a refurbished Hollywood tiki bar to the first new winery to open in LA since Prohibition, these are our picks for LA’s best new bars of 2019.
Formosa Cafe is one of LA’s most iconic drinking establishments, but it doesn’t take a bar expert to realize it had fallen on hard times over the past few decades. But after a multi-year renovation, it’s back - and better than ever. This classic spot has been meticulously restored to its former Old Hollywood glory, including a new drinks menu featuring tiki-inspired cocktails and a very good martini, plus Taiwanese/Chinese bites to snack on while you get a little boozy. The re-opening of Formosa means much more than just a new drinking option in the neighborhood; it’s like getting an old friend back - one who’s always down to party.
This Downtown LA bar in between the Arts District and Little Tokyo is eminently on-trend in nearly every way: They’ve got frosé on tap, it’s entirely pink inside, and there’s even a fully functioning glass-blowing studio on the patio outside. And despite the Instagrammable beverages and high-key design flourishes, this is actually a low-key great spot, and one that we make excuses to visit basically anytime the sun is out (so, a lot). They’re beer and wine only, so they get creative with cocktails, including a couple involving sake. Plus, that frosé is not to be missed - or messed with. It’s seriously strong, so proceed with caution.
You don’t have to be over-the-top to be a great bar - and Lowboy is proof. This Echo Park spot is located in the busiest part of Sunset, but there’s nothing flashy about it. Instead, they’ve got a great selection of craft beers, a lively-yet-low-key crowd, and a truly killer smashburger that could go head-to-head with any in the neighborhood. The cocktails rotate seasonally, but you can never go wrong with the Viva Sandia, which involves coconut, watermelon, and vodka. Oh, and it’s only $8, which makes it a certified steal in this part of town.
Bar Flores is the cocktail bar Echo Park didn’t know it needed. Located above Lowboy, this Latin spot is like stepping into a different, much better world. The drinks are strong and involve ingredients like Jamaican flowers, raspberry-infused Iwai Japanese whiskey, and something called schisandra berries, and the house sangria deserves some sort of international award. The patio in the back is gorgeous and serves great tamales on the weekend. Plus, we have no clue what’s in the air, but it smells better than an Aesop showroom in here. Sure, you’re dealing with the usual Eastside crowd of NPR shirts, but all things considered, this is a truly excellent bar.
Pinky’s just opened in November, but it’s quickly become one of our favorite places to drink on the Eastside. Not only because the crowd is very cool, very attractive, and very rowdy, but because the drinks are genuinely great. They’ve got a coconut, tequila, and Licor 43 cocktail served in a Capri Sun pouch that will remind you of your childhood (only with way more booze), and the Drunk Commitments, a tiki-ish rye and Madeira drink served with a cinnamon bubble on top, which smells like Christmas when you pop it. They’re also open until 2am every day, and have someone playing records most nights, so if you’re looking for a place to get lively on a Tuesday, this is it.
If we’re going off the traditional Hollywood rule, the sequel is never supposed to be as good as the original, but Little Friend is the exception. The second location of Silver Lake’s The Friend opened in Venice this summer, and almost immediately became our go-to dance spot on the Westside. As the name suggests, it’s not a big space, but the crowd size is always well-managed, so even when it’s at capacity, you never feel like a sardine swaying to the beat. The dancefloor energy definitely changes based on the DJ, but with cocktails this strong and a disco ball overhead, it’s never too difficult to find your place at the party.
The Westside bars that we like are usually dark, dingy, and full of surly locals who knew Abbot Kinney personally. Gran Blanco isn’t any of those things - it’s bright, clean, and buzzing with a young, attractive crowd - but it still found a special place in our hearts this year. It’s near the water, serves strong cocktails, and is basically what you wish The Bungalow would be. Rather than being filled with post-grad finance urchins, Gran Blanco is full of Venice locals who surf in the morning and design apps in the afternoon. They also get bonus points for having one of our favorite burgers in LA.
From the second we walked into Gold Diggers’ dimly lit space on Santa Monica Blvd., we knew we were going to be spending a lot of time here this year - and we were right. For years, this place was a dive-y strip club in East Hollywood, but after a thorough renovation, it’s been transformed into our favorite new music venue in town. This is the kind of place where you show up to at 9pm to check out a new band, but stumble out five hours later after becoming a dancefloor god and filling your phone book up with new numbers. If you’re sick of the same old Eastside bar routine, head to Gold Diggers to remind yourself it feels good to try something different.
The first winery to open in town since Prohibition (really!), and one of only two currently open to the public, Angeleno Wine Company still flies under the radar - though we suspect that might change. They make great wine, sourced from LA County grapes. But more importantly, they’ve got a comfortable, personal little space that feels more like your favorite brewery than a place making expensive bottles of tannat. When you walk in, there’s a good chance that one of the winemakers will greet you, and as you go through the tasting flight (or just order by the glass), you get not only a lesson in wine, but personal stories about the LA County vineyards and their growers - one of whom is painted on the wall behind the bar.
With their signature mix of Filipino and Southern flavors, Park’s Finest is one of our favorite BBQ spots in the city, so we were so thrilled when Thunderbolt opened right next door. Heading to this cool, comfortable bar after a meal of BBQ became our favorite one-two punch this year, but Thunderbolt is also perfect for everything from first dates to monthly book club meetings. Our favorite drinks here include the La Frutera, which is made with tequila, mango, and tamarind, and can be made spicy (do it), and the Tropipop, which is sweet and tropical like a piña colada, but filled with so much rum you’ll forget that you’re not actually on vacation.
When we hear about distilleries, we usually imagine huge oak barrels on a farm in rural Tennessee, not a shiny new bar in the most commercial part of Long Beach. But Portuguese Bend seems designed to buck trends. This big spot looks like any other restaurant on 4th Street, but inside, you’ll find massive stills, and legitimately great gin and vodka made in-house. Their whole cocktail program is good, but if you really want to taste where their liquor shines, we recommend getting a martini with the Smoke Bay Gin. It’s our favorite spirit made here - a traditional, juniper-forward London Dry-style. You won’t be needing Hendrick’s anymore.