Time Out LA - March 2019
The best Downtown Los Angeles bars for perfect cocktails and quality dives
Downtown’s become one of the city’s biggest and best drinking destinations, with dozens of bars to choose from
By now, even the most Downtown-averse Angelenos have figured out that the neighborhood is one of the most exciting in L.A.—especially when it comes to drinking. As skyscrapers and loft apartments have shot up, an increase in outstanding restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and museums have furthered the development of DTLA, making it a veritable destination, no matter how much you hate the traffic. With all of that innovation came a whole lot of watering holes, from perfectly dark dive bars, to upscale cocktail establishments and beer bars. There’s a welcoming place to imbibe on almost every corner, and we found the very best of them for prime drinking—now, who’s thirsty?
The 21 best bars in Downtown L.A.
Downtown Financial District
When the hospitality juggernaut landed in L.A., it had to live up to its world-class New York City counterpart. To our amazement, it did. We’re thinking the awesomeness has something to do with the rigorously trained team, a massive yet expertly curated 40-drink menu and, oh yeah, one of the sexiest, moodiest interiors in all of Downtown. But the cocktails don’t stop in the lobby: There’s also a cheeky beverage program on the roof, where tiki-leaning cocktails and blended drinks arrive in plastic pineapples, and a coffee-cocktail program in the café once the sun sets. No matter the NoMad bar you visit, local, seasonal ingredients and house-made yogurt, tinctures and tonics brighten rare liquors for drinks so good you’ll have to convince yourself to try something new each visit. (Even if they are around $20 a pop, they’re worth the splurge.)
The Varnish—tucked inside Cole’s and marked solely by the etching of a cocktail on the door—has managed to become not only influential in Downtown, but the bastion of this city’s drinking culture. The space is small, so there’s usually a wait, but you can bide your time by noshing on a Cole’s French dip sandwich. Amidst the hushed jazz ditties and dim lighting, the Varnish’s bartenders carefully craft vintage tipples with names like Bobby Burns, Paper Plane and Baker’s Buck. Drinks are strong but well-balanced, the mood is sultry, and you can almost feel the history in every inch of Cole’s.
The concrete exterior of this Arts District haunt seems intentionally nondescript. A neon sign above the door reads “BAR”—while the small plaque beside it, “everson royce bar, est. 2015,” verifies the spot’s identity. Inside, E.R.B. is bustling and bright, and a spacious patio out back offers ample seating for drinking, dining and stargazing. There’s a lengthy spirits list, but we always prefer E.R.B.’s spirits mixed into concoctions like the Boss Bitch, made with vodka, ginger, lemon, honey, tumeric and cinnamon-coconut foam). If you’re feeling peckish, you’re in luck: E.R.B. whips up some of the city’s best bar bites, such as the legendary, deceptively-simple Single Burger, and the flaky, craveable, perfectly salty buttermilk biscuits that would impress even the most Southern of grandmas.
Think tea time, but for adults: Located in the Freehand Hotel’s gorgeous Arts and Crafts-inspired lobby, Rudolph’s Bar & Tea offers a menu built around tea-infused cocktails—often internationally inspired—plus full tea service, if you’re old-school, and light bites if you’re hungry or simply looking for a way to sample some of the Exchange’s Middle Eastern menu. Go solo with the daily punch or something from the list of for-one cocktails (we love the Tea N’ Biscuits, with rooibos-infused gin, Grand Marnier, Carpano Antica and house-made bitters, served with delicate lemon cookies) or order for your group with large-format cocktails served from ornate teapots.
Downtown Historic Core
Stepping off of Spring Street and into this whimsical, ornate cocktail bar is like a trip to Paris—or maybe it’s Victorian England. It’s intentionally hard to pinpoint the exact locale, but regardless, the setting is transportive: Antique lamps, sconces and scultpures dot the space, while the show-stopping arches of stained-glass form the ceiling that hangs over you. Of course the cocktails—made almost entirely with in-house ingredients—are also like nothing else in Los Angeles. Beverage director Kevin Lee hand-batches the bar’s vermouths, tinctures, bitters, amari and iqueurs, often always made with hyper-seasonal ingredients. This means that your new favorite cocktail—maybe the Korean Pear with Apple, made of rum, mezcal, sweet vermouth, apple liqueur, fresh Korean pear, mint, lime, cranberry bitters and bamboo fragrance—will only be around for a few short weeks. Better make the most of it.
Downtown Historic Core
There are tiki bars, and then there’s Pacific Seas. Clifton’s Republic’s ode to the original pan-Polynesian extravaganza, which opened around the corner in the 1930s, is one of L.A.’s most over-the-top cocktail destinations. It’s a sight to behold, with hanging canoes, maps, masks, pufferfish lanterns and other ephemera sourced from the original Pacific Seas and other now-shuttered L.A. tiki bars, but the drinks alone are worth crossing, well, the Pacific seas to get there. You can’t go wrong with the classics—some of which use original Trader Vic’s recipes—while showy, multi-person scorpion bowls and punches served in custom-made glassware are sometimes all you’ll see on the scattered tabletops. Look out for DJ nights and hula dancers, which really get the party going.
Downtown Historic Core
Bar Clacson is what happens when the team behind 213 Hospitality opens a French- and Italian-classics cocktail hideaway in a city very much having a European moment. The nightlife heavyweight brought in an extensive amari collection, not to mention the bar group’s usual preference for zero pretention, creating a laid-back spot where you’re just as likely to sidle up to the bar and hunch over a strong negroni as you are to show up with a group for spritzes and a round of pétanque (think: bocce). The $5 aperitivo hour is one of DTLA’s best happy hours, and if you change your mind and want a location that’s a little flashier, there’s always the Slipper Clutch, Bar Clacson’s highball-focused hidden pinball bar.
Downtown Arts District
Don’t be alarmed to spot throngs of cool kids standing outside the old auto repair shop on Hewitt. They’re probably here for some of the best live shows in the Arts District, or one of the best patios in the neighborhood. That, or the fantastic, funky drinks. Or maybe the chile verde potatoes served from a cart in the courtyard. Whatever the case, there’s a lot to love about Resident, which feels almost like you’ve been plucked from L.A.’s now-chic warehouse district and into the heart of Austin.
This European-inspired bar is casual, cute and, most importantly, full of great cocktails. Plants hang over shelves of imported amari, ingredients like salted-peach Campari make their way into drinks, and the service is always stellar. The space is soft—light pink walls, fresh flowers in vases, line sketches of women—and the drinks are some of the most complex in the neighborhood, flipping the bird to anyone who thinks femininity is boring.
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