Here are ten spectacular L.A. bars that anyone can get into. These have great ambiance and/or great views. Some have mild dress codes or require reservations, but if you do that little bit of homework, you’ll be rewarded with these really unique bar experiences. Are you ready? In no particular order, here we go..
1. The Edison
The Edison is one of the most unique venues of any kind that I’ve been to. Located in the basement of the downtown L.A. Higgins building, this used to be an electrical generator station (hence the name) circa early 1910’s. The main furnace and many of the generators have been preserved, while vintage incandescent lamps gently illuminate the place. It’s like stepping into Steampunk heaven as the place unfolds before you when you go down the stairs.
Given all of this, the place is surprisingly unpretentious and amenable. There is usually no cover if you go early enough. There IS a mild dress code forbidding athletic shoes, T-shirts, etc. (check the website). But the purpose here is more to preserve the vintage atmosphere of the place rather than to punish patrons. In fact, you should try to have a little fun and put on your best Steampunk or vintage outfit when you go here. There can be long lines on weekend nights, but I’ve never had a problem getting in before 9PM. The place is almost impossible to identify from the street, so just park and follow your GPS on foot down the alley to the entrance.
2. Clifton’s Cafeteria
The folks who bring you the Edison have given us Clifton’s Cafeteria, a whacky four-level restaurant with multiple bars. My friend describes it as part natural history museum, with its taxidermy animals, fake rocks, and waterfalls. There’s nothing else like it, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Next on my list is Yamashiro, a Japanese restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. Originally a private residence, you’ll feel like you’re stepping into a karate movie when you walk inside. Pick a table by the window because the view of Hollywood is spectacular at night. There is also an inner courtyard that is quite serene. Food is just okay, so I usually go for drinks or dessert. Afterwards, take a walk in the gardens in front of the restaurant where you can really take in the breathtaking views of Century City to downtown L.A. Amazingly, I have rarely encountered large crowds here. Let’s keep this our hidden gem! It is one of my favorite attractions in Los Angeles, hands down.
A truly unique Los Angeles bar/restaurant is the Cicada Restaurant in downtown LA (pictured at the top of this post). You will feel like you’ve gone back in time when you enter this amazing art-deco space. Sunday nights there’s a live 1930’s-style band, but there is also a dress code – formal or vintage wear required. But, it’s worth getting a little dressed up for! Numerous films have been shot here, including “The Artist” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.
Try to check it out when they have a vintage band playing. Check this calendar to see when.
5. The Spare Room
Located on the second floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, the Spare Room features a two-lane bowling alley and is sumptuously decked out in vintage goodness.
Check their website for their hours before going, as they sometimes don’t open until 10PM or even midnight.
6. La Descarga
La Descarga is a unique rum bar and cigar lounge that will transport you back to 1950’s Havana. After you enter, you go up a narrow staircase and you’re directed through a closet.. yes, a closet! With clothes hanging in it! Go through the closet and the bar opens up below you. It is usually packed shoulder-to-shoulder, so go with someone you don’t mind being close to. Every hour or so there is a live Latin band with a burlesque dancer doing a bit of a strip tease. You can do a little Salsa if you find some space. This place is popular so you’ll have to make reservations far in advance or make friends with the doorman. Also, there is a mild dress code, but again, there is no pretentiousness here, just a great atmosphere!
7. Pour Vous
Enter this plain white building across the street from Paramount Studios and you will be transported to late 19th century Paris: Pour Vous. On your left, a magnificent bar featuring French-inspired cocktails. On your left, a conversation area topped with a translucent white dome. Further on, a small dance floor and stage surrounded by red velvet couches. If you want to step outside, proceed through the hallway to a full-scale authentic trolley car!
As you can surmise, I really like Pour Vous. It really transports you to another place and time. There is an upscale dress code (at least on certain nights), so check before going. But do go!
8. Bona Vista Lounge
For the best view of downtown L.A., hands down, check out the Bona Vista Lounge atop the Bonaventure Hotel, one of the most distinctive buildings in downtown LA, consisting of four cylindrical wings around a larger central cylindrical bulding. This hotel has been featured in many movies including Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire”. The bar is near the top of the circular central building and rotates slowly giving you a 360 degree view of the city (if you stay long enough). Sure, this place is not as hip as the Standard, but that place doesn’t rotate! Oh, and be sure to face outwards when you go up in the glass elevator and you’ll feel like you’re shooting up in a rocket when you clear the lower roof.
9. Sassafras Saloon
Similar in decor and time period to Pour Vous, Sassafras has an wonderful Victorian feel, with an amazing bar and faux exterior decor to make it feel like you’re outside (even though you’re inside). The band performs above you, on a balcony, while dancers spin in the back room area and quieter conversation happens in the enclosed “indoor” area. This place reminds me of a cross between the Blue Bayou at Disneyland and the Edison. Located on Vine street near Hollywood between Fountain and Santa Monica Boulevard. Check it out.
10. The Rhythm Room
Located around the corner from Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown LA is The Rhythm Room. This WWII-era underground lounge has pretty much every bar game imaginable including pool, darts, chess, foozeball, table shuffleboard and even ping pong.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this tour and I’ll look for you at one of these venues! Leave a comment if you know of other cool, unique hangouts in L.A! – Brian