Lord knows you could use a drink right now. But your home bar is basically just a shelf in your kitchen with a bottle of tequila on it, and when you go out, you usually end up spending $19 on a margarita made by a bartender dressed like an old-timey pharmacist. Fortunately, there are a bunch of casual bars in LA where you can drink great cocktails without worrying about getting scolded for wearing flip-flops. These are our favorites.
Streamliner is the secret cocktail bar hiding off the main floor of the massive Imperial Western Beer Co., and it’s one of the best places in town for an affordable cocktail. It’s not often you’ll find this many cocktails below $10 outside of Happy Hour, let alone ones this good. The $9 Old Fashioned is appropriate amounts of sweet and bitter, and the strong, sour $10 Moscow Mule is all you’ll want when it’s 90 degrees outside. It’s dark and quiet inside, but if you want something a bit more lively, you can bring your drinks out to the main brewery hall.
An Old Hollywood spot that was recently reopened after a massive restoration, Formosa Cafe is exactly the kind of throwback we love. It’s largely housed inside a train car, and the dark, red, probably haunted interior is ideal for grabbing a drink with some friends, or going on a casual first date where you want tiki drinks (and maybe some Taiwanese food). Get the Mai Tai or the Bijou, and be prepared to get a ride home.
A tiny watering hole in Culver City, Old Man Bar specialized in one thing: Whiskey. Bourbon, specifically - they’ve got a fantastic list of hard-to-find (and occasionally very expensive) bottles, and some of the best Boulevardiers and Old Fashioneds in town. But rather than being stuffy, this is a a cool, dark space, filled with taxidermied animal heads, a fireplace, and a fun crowd that makes you think this could just as easily be a VFW in Maine. It’s attached to Hatchet Hall, one of the best restaurants in the area, so we recommend some getting some dinner beforehand, too.
Thunderbolt is a massive restaurant and cocktail lounge in Historic Filipinotown that’s perfect for post-game drinks with the dodgeball team, or a solo cocktail when you really want some space. Either way, order the tamarind-and tequila-based La Frutera, or the Liquid Picnic, a vegetable-forward gin martini.
Secret tiki bars don’t necessarily sound very “casual,” but Bar Tiki Tiki is an exception. This is a fun bar in the back of Beer Belly in Long Beach, and getting in is admittedly sort of high-key - you enter by asking the bartender where to go, and he points at a very specific spot at the wall to open the door. But once inside, you’ll find a bunch of locals who know this is the best place in town for rum-based cocktails, and bartenders who you’ll instantly want to become friends with.
Note: As of March 2020, both Beer Belly and Bar Tiki Tiki are temporarily closed for renovations, but will reopen in April.
The cocktail list at Know Where Bar looks like it was pulled from a speakeasy during Prohibition - meaning you probably won’t find anything infused with jalapeño or cilantro. This is a tiny, tropical-themed spot that fills up on weekends, but on weeknights, you’ll find a mix of dates and groups of friends catching up over martinis and listening to live music.
Highland Park has a lot of great places to drink cocktails, but ETA is the only one where you can show up in jorts to eat oysters and drink French 75s. This dark, quiet bar on Figueroa is the ultimate spot for an after-dinner drink. It’s usually pretty full, but you’ll always manage to find a seat for some of the most interesting drinks on the Eastside. Our favorite is the Penultimate Word, which includes mezcal, gin, chartreuse, and a worm salt rim (exactly what it sounds like). After your dinner date in Highland Park, head straight to ETA for a nightcap.
No one would consider Mar Vista a tentpole of LA nightlife, but this sleepy Westside neighborhood is home to one of our favorite neighborhood cocktail bars in the city. Accomplice is the kind of place you walk into at 6:30pm for a quick drink after work and end up staying for three hours because the bartender knows how to hold a conversation about anything other than the Lakers, and the vodka Negroni is too good to only have one. Plus, if you get hungry, you can order food from Little Fatty, the Taiwanese spot next door.
Any place with a sno-cone machine and video loops of swimming mermaids might seem a little cheesy, but this neighborhood dive bar in Little Tokyo is the opposite. Expect a small, darkly lit room filled mostly with musicians, Downtown locals, and people who’d rather die than stand around a mediocre brewery in the Arts District all night. The cocktails are fantastic, and if you want that sno-cone, nobody’s going to stop you - not even the mermaids.
Perhaps because it’s hidden under a tiny neon sign next to The Largo theater on La Cienega, The Roger Room tends to get lost in the mix. The place isn’t big, but the big crowd inside is mostly comprised of people who know how to drink and comedians waiting to go on at The Largo (read: also people who know how to drink). Get the Spiced Mule or the absinthe-infused Green Fairy, sit and talk to bartenders who actually know how to engage in conversation, and realize you’ll probably never drink anywhere else again.
Catcher In The Rye resides in that section of Toluca Lake dedicated entirely to the drinking needs of disgruntled studio workers. But unlike the hostile environments you find in other bars around here, this literary-themed spot is where you and your favorite coworkers can have some cocktails in peace after work. With drink names like the Tequila Mockingbird and Pearadise Lost, there’s no subtlety in the theme here, but everything tastes good and you can actually hear your friends talk, so you don’t care.
On the ground floor of the Hollywood Historic Hotel, The Edmon exists in an in-between area of Hollywood, and for that reason alone, it never gets too slammed. The art deco space has good cocktails, a crowd that’s there because they want to talk without having to scream, and plenty of comfortable chairs at the bar for you and your first date who wouldn’t commit to a full dinner. But if dinner is on the itinerary, come for a few pre-drinks before walking one block over to Osteria La Buca.
Ignore the fact that you have to look up R Bar’s password on their socials to get through the door - this Koreatown bar is super-easygoing. Good beer, strong cocktails, and entertainment that ranges from live jam bands to stand-up and trivia. Certain nights are more popular than others (avoid karaoke if you want to find a seat), but otherwise, expect a mostly local crowd full of regulars who are on first-name basis with the bartenders.
The Alcove might be known for having one of the busiest patios on the Eastside, but inside, you’ll find the small, quiet, Big Bar. It usually clears out after dinner, and the bartenders will actually talk to you, so it’s a good place for a solo drink when you don’t feel like making the same pre-mixed margarita like every other Thursday night. The drinks tend to be pretty sweet, but they’re also strong, so it all balances out.
One block from the madness of Grand Central Market is Bar Clacson - a calm, Italian-themed bar Downtown with excellent cocktails and super-knowledgeable bartenders. Come here for a drink with coworkers you actually like, and maybe play some foosball or bocce when one Negroni turns into three. There’s an entire wall of hard-to-find liquors, and the price is listed below each - a surprisingly obvious feature we wish more bars had. There’s also a fantastic sandwich place attached called E Stretto - get the Ill Papa.
Famous for being the first place you could get a Kogi taco without having to stalk down the truck, the Alibi Room still holds up as a great Culver City neighborhood bar. This is the kind of place where you close out a successful first date with some cocktails in a quiet corner, or swing by the bar after finishing a shift at a nearby restaurant for some drinks and a late-night Kogi quesadilla.
Father’s Office might be known as a craft beer haven (which it is), but the Culver City location takes cocktails just as seriously as it does beer. On any weekday, you’ll find their patio filled with nearby studio workers unwinding, and drinking mostly classic cocktails - things like Negronis, Boulevardiers, and Sidecars. All the drinks use fantastic, near-top-shelf liquors, but they still stay in the $10-$12 range.