Los Angeles has been in the middle of a cocktail renaissance for several years now and why shouldn’t it? The city has perfect garden weather year round for herbs, fruits and citrus, a clientele with as varied and diverse tastes as one could imagine and a deep, unwavering love for all things classic. While the restaurant scene has been getting in on the action with chart-topping contenders 1886 in Pasadena and Studio City’s Black Market, the five bars in this list are drinks-only watering holes. Ranging from the affordable (Bigfoot) to the luxury (the Library) and all within the limits of Los Angeles proper, here are the top five cocktail bars of Los Angeles.
Harvard and Stone is a prime example of what Los Angeles gets right about a serious cocktail bar. Regularly mentioned on best-of lists, Harvard and Stone’s a relatively new kid in town but has struck a near perfect balance of mixology snobbery and a rockabilly’s sense of fun. Rather than a focus on a specific spirit (for example, the great whiskey craze dominating the mixology scene currently), Harvard and Stone has carefully selected a unique and impressively high quality array of American distillates, highlighting each in a cocktail menu that rotates monthly.
Making masterful use of house-made bitters, Harvard and Stone’s drinks don’t shy away from adventurous ingredients, like habanero sauce or walnut liqueur. To give the aficionados some space from the drinkers buying beers during live shows, Harvard and Stone boasts an R&D Bar in the back toward the smoker’s patio.
The Polynesian craze hit Los Angeles in a big way in the 1950s, brought in on a tropical wave by legendary mixologist Don the Beachcomber. Then just as quickly, tiki fell out of fashion, shuttering most of the bamboo-decked bars. Tiki-Ti is a notable exception – this small family owned cocktail hut has been going strong since 1961 and is a landmark of LA’s Sunset Junction. Still poured strong Wed-Sun by the Bruhen brothers, sons of founder Ray Bruhen, Tiki-Ti’s cocktail list stays true to its original 92 rum-soaked recipes. "Stealth" is reportedly the strongest, Ray’s Mistake is the most popular. Because there are no employees beyond the owners, Tiki-Ti’s is grandfathered into to the LA’s smoking ban and cigar smoking is allowed indoors.
For a classic cocktail bar, the Library couldn’t ask for a better location. In the heart of Hollywood Boulevard, the Library Bar is part of the Roosevelt Hotel, a mainstay that first opened its doors in 1927 and quickly became one of the most famous hotels in Los Angeles, housing Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Tucked away in a relatively small space that seems very far away from the dull roar of Hollywood, the Library is a modest space, thankfully devoid of prop books, letting the small pots of fresh herbs for their handcrafted cocktails speak for themselves. The bar is omkase-style which, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese word meaning "I’ll leave it to you." There isn’t a menu at the Library Bar, but after some guidance and questions from the bartender, you’ll receive a beautifully crafted fresh drink tailored to your tastes and mood.
There’s a tendency in the new craft cocktail trend sweeping Los Angeles to get a little too precious with it. There’s almost an expectation that every cocktail bar will have a carefully curated selection of intelligently named, twee-colored refreshments with organic fruits and seasonal herbs. Sometimes you just gotta take a break and go for a cocktail bar that’s a little more rock and roll. Bad girl Liquid Kitty is a cocktail bar that’s almost an anti-cocktail bar.
Super dark and moody, the Kitty’s main source of light comes from the golden-lit bar or the projection screen showing classic movies (Star Wars and Blazing Saddles are perennial favorites here), ‘60s go-go dancing footage or black-and-white vintage burlesque reels. The Kitty serves a mean martini menu (The Travis Bickle Manhattan honors its namesake perfectly) and tells you everything you need to know with its house special, The Liquid Kitty: Ketel One Martini, Camel cigarette, no filter. No kidding.
The Culver City incarnation of the well-known Atwater Village original, Bigfoot West’s Venice Boulevard location has grown into one of best cocktail happy hours in Los Angeles. Daily from 5 to 9 pm, Bigfoot slings shockingly delicious signature cocktails for $5. If the solid pine bar, cut from naturally fallen Big Bear trees, log-cabin walls and antlers lining the ceiling didn’t tip you off, this is a whiskey bar. Bigfoot has over 100 varieties of whiskey, showcasing a special each night. Although Bigfoot’s full bar also includes an excellent gin selection, it’s the whiskey and bourbon signature drinks that put this spot on the map.