Drinking in Los Angeles is always a pleasure. If you fall into conversation with a local at a bar, you’ll inevitably hear a good story or two about an encounter with a celebrity, assuming you can steer the conversation away from whatever project that person is pitching at the moment.
In the past year, Los Angeles has seen a wave of interesting new bars open up, ranging from immense beer halls to candlelit speakeasy-style cocktail lounges. Several of the most exciting bars are downtown, but I also discovered appealing new options closer to our recommended hotels.
In addition to the bars below, I also suggest visiting Covell, a romantic wine bar in Los Feliz associated with the Hotel Covell, and Mon-Li in Malibu, assuming it reopens. The latter was a 12-seat cocktail bar that served a “12-course liquid tasting menu” before it was heavily damaged in the Woolsey Fire. Mon-Li was still closed when we stayed at the Malibu Beach Inn, but I hope to be able to visit the next time I’m in the area.
Nowadays, with so many fine brewpubs having opened around the country, a new one has to be special to draw my attention. The Imperial Western Beer Company more than qualifies, located as it is in a grand, historic hall within Los Angeles’ Union Station. The large bouncer guarding the entrance looked intimidating, but he couldn’t have been friendlier, giving us a warm greeting and an introduction to the space’s layout. I loved the period décor, which combined Native American and art deco motifs.
Nor did my flight of beer disappoint. I liked the lemony and creamy Table Manners Patersbier (a light style of Trappist beer) and the funky Superchief IPA, fragrant with orange blossom. But I loved the Rough Rider Imperial Red Ale, which had a touch of light brown sugar balancing its bitter and hoppy notes, as well as the meaty El Tovar Doppelbock, redolent of smoke, coffee and Worcestershire sauce. A full menu of pub food is also available.
Imperial Western Beer Company
800 North Alameda Street. Tel. (213) 270-0035
This spare, candlelit bar hidden inside a pizzeria in the downtown Arts District is inspired by jazz kissaten — Japanese bars that play music on record players — but the experience feels very L.A. If you look at its website, you won’t find a drink menu, but you will find an extensive description of the sound system, both the one for daily use and the system used for dedicated listening events. We arrived around 5 p.m. to find the midcentury modern-inspired seating empty of patrons, and I promptly ignored the bar’s prohibition on taking photos. (Phone calls are also prohibited, as is conversing too loudly.)
The drink menu would do credit to any bar, including nine fascinating wines by the glass and several tempting cocktails. I opted for a glass of 2017 Bianco di Ampeleia Trebbiano. I ordinarily dismiss Trebbiano as bland, but this orange (oxidized) version had juicy acids, ethereal red-apple fruit, substantial tannins and some saline minerality. I went in thinking that the concept of the bar was a bit much. But sipping that unusual and exciting wine while surrounded by lusciously warm sound — during our visit, electronica with world-music influences — proved immensely pleasurable. It was at once chic, decadent and meditative, and I can’t think of a more L.A. combination than that. (To enter, use the wooden door to the right of the building’s main entrance, just past the bookshelves.)
In Sheep’s Clothing
710 East Fourth Place. Tel. (213) 415-1937
Like In Sheep’s Clothing, this West Hollywood cocktail lounge is tucked inside a larger establishment, Conservatory. Head for the white door straight back from the host stand, or simply tell the host you’re having a drink in the Society Room, and he’ll show you the way. Inside, the 1920s-inspired space is dark but colorful, with a lacquered-green ceiling, pink barstools and a black-and-white checkerboard floor. We found seats along the U-shaped banquette next to the bar, under shelving bearing coffee table books about Tom Ford and Tom of Finland.
A bartender came over to take our orders, and when I mentioned that I liked Manhattan-style cocktails, he recommended the Trotula di Solerno. It appeared on a special menu titled “Women Power Happy Hour,” which highlighted drinks including Yola Mezcal. Named after an 11th-century Italian female physician, this cocktail of mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, Cynar and orange felt incredibly smooth, aside from the bits of aromatic fennel pollen floating within, and it tasted rich and bittersweet. It was an ideal digestif. The music was a hair too loud, and waitstaff kept going through the main door, allowing bright light to regularly intrude on the Society Room’s romantically dark atmosphere. Those quibbles aside, I wouldn’t hesitate to return for a creative and carefully crafted cocktail. Open Friday and Saturday only.
8289 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. Tel. (323) 654-0020
Set in an annex of the historic Alexandria Hotel, a luxury property when it was built in 1906 that has been renovated into apartments, The Wolves has extravagant period details throughout its magnificent interior. Under two barrel vaults of golden stained glass stands an ornate bar of dark wood and marble, as well as carved-wood booths and marble bistro tables. Almost all the cocktail ingredients, aside from the spirits themselves, are made in-house, including bitters, amaros and vermouths. Some drinks include rather esoteric ingredients — what does “bamboo fragrance” smell like, exactly? — but the quality of the cocktails is unimpeachable.
I ordered a delicious “blood orange with ginger,” composed of Armagnac, housemade fermented ginger, housemade blood-orange liqueur, housemade chocolate-cinnamon bitters, fresh lemon and fresh shiso leaf. It tasted citrusy and deep, with flavors of dark orange and warm spice. A couple next to us ordered a High Tea, a cocktail intended for four people based on English breakfast tea-infused gin, and they kindly offered to share some. Served in a vintage ceramic teapot, it too was delicious: aromatic, sweet, milky and strong. Next time, I plan on timing my visit so that I can try the Wolves’ small “omakase” cocktail bar, Le Néant (open Thursdays only), where patrons sip custom-made cocktails based on ingredients purchased at the farmer’s market.
519 South Spring Street. Tel. (213) 265-7952