After Hours: Los Angeles
Classic martinis mingle with handcrafted bitters at our favorite Los Angeles cocktail bars: Cole's, The Varnish, Harvard & Stone, Villain's Tavern, Big Bar, Las Perlas, and Comme Ça.
Los Angeles is the celluloid city. A vast, diverse metropolis full of stories and storytellers, where anyone can play almost any part, if only for a moment. And the city's bars, from noirish back-room speakeasies to palm-shaded havens of azure paradise, provide the perfect rotating backdrop for a city of characters—places to see and be seen or to simply sit and sip in quiet anonymity. Here are a few of our favorites:
Stay long enough at Cole's and you'll likely hear Ella Fitzgerald's melodious version of "Night and Day" wafting over the mahogany bar and burgundy leather banquets of this cozy, clubby watering hole, best known for its rich French dip sandwiches, shockingly pungent pickles, and house-made pies. And the Cole Porter standard is a fitting theme song for this public house, billed as the city's oldest—here drinkers feel at home stopping in for a late-night Old Fashioned, one of the rotating assortment of designer Red Car specialty cocktails, or an early afternoon happy hour bargain—best sipped under the placard that bears the names of the "Professionals," the three-martini-lunchers who frequented this classic haunt in its early days. For a second round, duck into The Varnish, the bar-within-a-bar, hidden speakeasy-style at the back Cole's for some of the city's best bespoke cocktails.
A corner seat on one of the fireside leather couches is prime real estate in Thai Town's Harvard & Stone. Ensconced there you'll have a full view of the well-heeled hipsters, bopping to the sounds of an indie band rocking out on the tiny front stage, as they queue up for an impressive menu of American craft brews and cocktails like the refreshing gin-based Frequency Fizz or the deliciously titled Baby's First Bourbon. But for our money, the best seat in the house is in the tiny side room, on a stool in front of Harvard & Stone's R&D bar, where every night one of the staff—or a guest bartender on Mondays—plays mad mixologist, concocting experimental one-off cocktails with chemicals and foam or creative riffs on classics, like a recent lavender-themed night, which featured a particularly fragrant Lavender Collins.
A little steampunk, a touch of the Old West, Villain's Tavern, a nouveau saloon in downtown's burgeoning Arts District, is a genre-bending bacchanal for the senses. A rainbow of vintage apothecary bottles glistens in the bar's front picture windows, brilliantly reflected in the mirror (a converted cathedral eave) that hangs over the 19th-century antique bar. Most nights bands playing old-timey Americana grace the outdoor stage, where couples and groups tap their feet at small tables below a black-and-white striped circus tent. And the cocktails? A gonzo menu befitting the surroundings. Try the Stan Lee, named for the Marvel impresario, a frothy blend of hibiscus and jasmine-infused gin.
The ironically named Big Bar is really a little snip of a bar, tucked in the back of Alcove, a perpetually packed Los Feliz brunch and dinner favorite. Unless you arrive right at 2 p.m., for the generously early happy hour, you may have to elbow your way up to the bar for your handcrafted Mrs. Roper, a perky, bright gin cocktail with Campari and plenty of fruit-forward grapefruit notes. But the bar area is cheerful and airy, an unlikely combination of tearoom and speakeasy. Your efforts will make the ultimate reward all the sweeter, as you take your pint, flute, or tumbler into Big Bar's ivy-laced back garden, to sip under a big red umbrella to the soothing sounds of the stone fountain bubbling beside you.
Dimly lit and bluesy, with occasional vibrant pops of color from the green-tinged illuminated bar cases and the twinkly red glass chandeliers overhead, Las Perlas, the nation's first mezcal bar, is smooth and sultry just like its central spirit. Named for 'las perlas' or the pearls of foam that appear when the purest forms of mezcal are shaken, this Downtown joint is a fashionable weekend hotspot, and yet there's something decidedly dark and divey about it—with a jukebox, a pool table, and a sliver of an outdoor patio that looks out on the cool city streets. The drinks (try the spot-on house margarita or the extraordinary peppery-sweet-citrusy Spiced Daisy) follow-suit—they are at once stylish and thoughtful, while still being entirely soul-satisfyingly sippable.
Urban and urbane, West Hollywood's Comme Ça is a stalwart favorite for bistro classics like their sweet-briny moules frites and what continues to be one of the city's best upscale burgers. The spirits menu follows suit with approachable, food-friendly classics like a classic, near-perfect Penicillin and the Cool Louie, a savory, herbal blend of vodka, cucumber, and basil, with a piquant crack of black pepper. But just as the kitchen's menu rotates to reflect the season, so does the bar list, bringing darker, richer cocktails out in the winter and refreshing nips in warmer months, like the Fifth Story Flat (heady and floral with gin, yellow chartreuse, and dry vermouth, and brightened with a twist.)
118 East Sixth St
Behind's Cole's at 118 East 6th St
Harvard & Stone
5221 Hollywood Blvd
1356 Palmetto St
1929 Hillhurst Avenue
107 East 6th St
8479 Melrose Ave
View all After Hours articles.