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Bar Hopping in LA-LA Land: The Southland's Best Watering Holes



Angelenos love their drinks, as the recent rise in "mixologists" proves. For nowadays in Los Angeles, bartenders are not just bartenders – at least not in the chic and trendy places where people flock to see and be seen. No, there you are taken care of by a special mixologist, the person who has gone to the farmer's market to buy fresh ingredients (think mint for mojitos, blackberries to muddle while creating a top-shelf tequila cocktail) and then devotes the time and effort to build a cocktail to remember. There are the hot nightclub bars, where reserving a table, a single bottle of good vodka and some mixers can set you back $500; and the cool pool scenes at places like The Viceroy or The Roosevelt Hotel, where a cabana stocked with drinks will cost at least that much for an afternoon frolic. The choices are endless, from dive bars where people croon karaoke tunes to spots like the High Rooftop Lounge at the Hotel Erwin in Venice, where gorgeous views and a dazzling, multicolored sunset close out just about every day. Visit wine bars or brew pubs, or take the ultimate plunge and head to Beverly Hills, where you can choose unique experiences: go to the 10 Pound Bar at the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel, where a single dram of ultra top-shelf whisky can ding your credit card over $2000, or hit Nic's Beverly Hills, and climb into the frozen VodBox to try unique vodkas while shivering – and laughing with delight.


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Messhall Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Messhall Kitchen


Looking for a great place to hang out in Los Feliz? Then Messhall Kitchen can't be beat. Located in the domed building that once housed The Brown Derby restaurant and later The Derby nightclub, the structure is now a protected Historical Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles. Messhall is an easygoing watering hole that locals seem to love, probably because of its wide-ranging (and funny) drinks menu. Try a sip of White Girls Can't Drink if you like vodka, or go for the Pride, w/Liberal Amounts of Prejudice if scotch is your poison. There are both a carefully curated wine-by-the-glass list and a tap beer selection, too. They even offer "Spirits Flights," 1/2-ounce sips of whiskeys from all over the world. The food's good, too, including everything from burgers to a raw bar, grilled meats and blackened tuna – you name it and they seem to have it.

Recommended for Bars because: Messhall's creative cocktails keep people coming back for more in this landmark building in trendy Los Feliz.

Jenny's expert tip: Nightly specials are a steal, especially their Tuesdays, when both tacos and oysters are just $1 each.

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Augustine Wine Bar
Photo courtesy of Augustine Wine Bar


If a fascination with fine wine rules your life, then Augustine Wine Bar is your must-visit spot in Southern California. This San Fernando Valley hotspot is always packed with locals who love vino – and for good reason. For the Augustine's staff adores a good glass of wine, and curates quaffs from all over the globe. Champagne from France, Prosecco Superiore from Italy's Valdobbiadene, Chardonnay from California, Tempranillo from Spain, Malbec from Argentina – think of your favorite and they probably have it in their cellar. Add in the congenial atmosphere in a place usually filled with like-minded wine lovers (they do offer beer for non-believers) and the party is ON. There are appetizer plates of cheese and charcuterie to pair with the wine, as well as other tapas-like dishes including braised octopus, diver scallops and even tater tots.

Recommended for Bars because: Wine lovers come from miles around to sip their favorites at this popular San Fernando Valley wine bar.

Jenny's expert tip: Serious connoisseurs will love the chance to order bottles that date back to 1860; check out the chalkboard for the special list of vintage wines.

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Barrel Down
Photo courtesy of Barrel Down photo by Marie Buck


Downtown L.A.'s newest beer hall really brings it, with over 40 craft beers on tap and one of the longest bars in town. That's a slate-topped expanse where hops lovers can belly right up; but never fear, Barrel Down also offers plenty of specialty cocktails and fine wines for those whose palates shy away from the suds. Even teetotaling partiers will find Abita root beer and Mr. Q cucumber soda to help quench their thirst. Bar food is purveyed by Executive Chef Derrick de Jesus, ranging from burgers and fried chicken to a pecan-and-pear salad and a grain bowl overflowing with barley, wild rice and wheat berries.

Recommended for Bars because: With 40 craft beers on tap, this place is a haven for Angelenos who think Budweiser and Coors are made for amateurs.

Jenny's expert tip: Ask about their DTLA Homebrewers Club, which hosts monthly, how-to-make-your-own-beer classes.

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Nic's Beverly Hills
Photo courtesy of 10 Pound


Nic's Beverly Hills is a cool-cat spot on Canon Drive, just steps from the shops on Rodeo Drive. That's why the beautiful people seem to always be in here, sipping on one of Larry Nicola's luscious martinis and nibbling on his famous "cocktailing foods." Think oysters, shrimp, potato latkes, deviled eggs or Royal Osetra caviar. But whatever you decide to eat, be sure to try at least one icy cold vodka shot from Nic's famed VodBox. That's the place where things can get wild, starting when you slip into the faux-fur coats that Nic's supplies, to get you ready to go into the huge vodka refrigerator located at the back of the restaurant. There you'll find shelves filled with the best vodka money can buy, all offered up in tasting flights beginning at $21 per person. It's tons of fun in a quirky way, elevating the post-work cocktail to a whole new art form.

Recommended for Bars because: Nic's has been quenching people's thirst since 1980 in the heart of Beverly Hills, so they must be doing something very right.

Jenny's expert tip: There are 30 kinds of vodka in the VodBox, so it's best to let your "vodka ambassador" point out the ones you've never tasted.

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Firefly
Photo courtesy of Firefly


You'll feel just a tad smarter as you down one of Firefly's craft cocktails while relaxing in this sophisticated watering hole's library-like setting. Velvet sofas welcome you in the main room that's chockablock with books, but the well-heeled patrons aren't usually reading anything but their cellphones. The party goes on outside, too, where cozy cabanas and community tables await on the seductive back patio. Try Executive Chef Paul Shoemaker's easy-to-share appetizers or go all in with his Tasting Menu, a full meal (three courses) for $55. Weekend brunch is a favorite, with choices ranging from "scramblers" to salads to full-on meals. But the real fun here is the late-night scene, where cocktails flow and the party doesn't stop until 2 a.m. most nights.

Recommended for Bars because: One of Studio City's most popular bars, Firefly draws a hip, eclectic crowd with its convivial atmosphere and enticing back verandah.

Jenny's expert tip: Drink away the weekend day at Firefly's popular brunch, where you can build your own customized Bloody Mary at the Back Bar on the patio.

Read more about Firefly →


10 Pound
Photo courtesy of £10 (10 Pound) at the Montage Hotel


At 10 Pound in the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, serious drinking is taking place. By that we mean imbibing by those with very deep pockets, at this intimate bar located high atop the hotel, where The Macallan whisky from Speyside, Scotland, is poured for a pretty penny. It's a dark, wood-paneled enclave created for connoisseurs of the very best. Have your dram (one eighth of an ounce) in a gorgeous Lalique crystal glass, poured over a "Highland Springs Water Sphere" or the "Ice Bulb," both designed to slowly put just the correct amount of water into your scotch. You can try a dram of 62-year-old The Macallan single malt for $3360, if money is no object. Or try a whisky flight of "Rare" offerings for $2015. There are less dear choices here as well, and house spirits include tequila, rum, gin, vodka and bourbon as well as the whiskies.

Recommended for Bars because: Quintessentially L.A., where celebs (and others) love to show off just how much money they have. This is the ultimate bar for doing that.

Jenny's expert tip: There is a $50 minimum charge per person, so be sure you are well funded before you even cross the threshold of 10 Pound.

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Redondo Beach
Tony's on the Pier
Photo courtesy of Tony's on the Pier/Jessica Sherman


In business and family owned since 1952, Tony's on the Pier in Redondo Beach has been a landmark watering hole literally for generations. It's got incredible views of the ocean from the main floor and there's a wonderful vantage point from the Top 'o Tony's, the upstairs eyrie that affords views up and down the coastline and out to Catalina. Watch the sun set and sip on one of Tony's famous Mai Tais or try the Fire Chief, adding a 151 rum floater to the Mai Tai for a serious kick. Enjoy live entertainment every night from about 7 p.m. on and if you order up the serious fried food platter (calamari, oysters, cod), you may never want to leave. On Friday and Saturday nights, you can hang out until 1:30 a.m.; closing time is 11 p.m. the rest of the week.

Recommended for Bars because: When it comes to old-school, classic beach bars, nothing beats "Old Tony's" on the Pier.

Jenny's expert tip: Order the signature Mai Tai and you'll get to take home the cool retro glass it comes in.

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The Bowery
Photo courtesy of The Bowery


The Bowery is a little bit of New York City in the heart of Hollywood (literally, it's located at Sunset and Vine), a tiny place that changed the mood of Los Angeles a decade ago. Acknowledged as the first bona fide gastropub in Los Angeles, the place is the brainchild of NYC native George Abou-Daoud, whose idea for the place was simple. "I wanted to open a bar that had really good food," he says, and ten years later, he's obviously doing something right. The grass-fed beef burgers served on an English muffin are legendary, smothered in cheese and BBQ sauce with a choice of toppings like mushrooms, onions, bacon, avocado, etc. Belly up to the bar and chow down, or simply settle into the banquette and enjoy a glass of beer or bubbly. And don't be surprised if you see a famous face sitting nearby, for this is a popular place with stars who love the Bowery's hassle-free ambience.

Recommended for Bars because: L.A.'s original gastropub, the Bowery started a trend in town that is going strong.

Jenny's expert tip: Eat the fried chicken slider; it's the owner's favorite thing on the menu.

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Next Door Lounge
Photo courtesy of Next Door Lounge


Next Door Lounge is a classic Hollywood speakeasy, hearkening back to the Roaring Twenties when booze was illegal and drinking was just a bit sinful. There's a doorman on duty, so whisper a secret password (don't worry, he'll tell you what it is) and you'll be admitted to this cozy spot that's stocked with 1920s-era cocktails and barrel-aged spirits. Sip on those specialty drinks whipped up by resident barman Zac Henry and order up one of the place's legendary burgers if you're feeling a bit peckish. Or try some of the specially curated light bites created by Food Network star Nikki Martin, like the Headless Horseman (bacon-wrapped, feta-stuffed dates). We love the "Sweet 'n Smokey" pulled pork sliders; and we love the old classic black-and-white movies projected on the walls, too.

Recommended for Bars because: This retro place has great style, old-school drinks and terrific food.

Jenny's expert tip: Don't show up here in shorts, flip flops, babby pants or baseball caps, as they are serious about their have-a-little-class dress code.

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High Rooftop Lounge
Photo courtesy of High Rooftop Lounge


The High Rooftop Lounge in Venice's Hotel Erwin has the best L.A. city views you can find anywhere, hands down. Look one way and you see Catalina Island, the South Bay and LAX; look another and there's Santa Monica Pier, Malibu and the Getty Museum. Keep looking and you see the Hollywood Hills, Century City, downtown Los Angeles and beyond. It's the single best place to bring newcomers to town, for once you've shown them the layout of the city from this unique panoramic vista, they'll feel like locals. It helps that the sunset is usually stunning, too, and that the drinks and appetizers served up here in the open air just seem to taste better than in other bars. The lounge is so popular with locals and tourists that it is expanding, adding more bars to keep up with the demand.

Recommended for Bars because: There's nothing like the view from this outdoor rooftop bar, it's especially good for helping newcomers get orientated to where everything is in L.A.

Jenny's expert tip: Bring a jacket for when the sun sets, or ask them for a blanket, which they will happily supply. It gets cool up there!

Read more about High Rooftop Lounge →


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Meet Jenny Peters

Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good...  More About Jenny

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