The Best of LA Bars, Past and Present

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Far more than Manhattan, Los Angeles has always been the town–at least for me–with cocktail bars you’d imagine Raymond Chandler hanging his hat in. Or Raymond Carver, for that matter.

It’s a deceptively dive-y city when it comes to its hidden treasures. After all, many of its culinary gems, from Chinese to Mexican, can be found in 1970s-era strip malls. It’s an under-cover-of-daylight kind of place that has somehow managed to cling onto its character when it comes to drinking establishments with a tainted Old Hollywood glamour.

A decade or more ago, during months when the sun seemed to never stop shining, we’d find hospice squinting into such darkly classic bars as The Formosa (where a key scene in “L.A. Confidential” was shot), Musso & Frank, The Drawing Room, The Dime, and Sportsmen’s Lodge, as well as restaurant bars like Dan Tana’s. I’d even hold editorial meetings at a retro go-go bar called Crazy Girls. Roll over, Russ Meyers. Later, there’d be arrivals that felt like they’d always been there, like the The Roger Room and Bar Lubitsch.

Now more than ever, Tinsel Town has become a serious Tipple Town. To grocery list out our favorites: the HMS Bounty, Blind Barber, No Vacancy, Les Descarga, The Varnish, Faith & Flower, Harlowe, Honeycut, Power House (once an iconic dive, now swank), Now Boarding, and the wonderfully named Lost Property (in the back of 33 Taps).

Take a day away from the beach and get pasty and waste-y in these old and new dens of civilized debauchery. We’ll always have Manhattan. And isn’t that what Don Draper would do? “Old Fashioned, rye, no muddled fruit.”

Photo of Dan Tana’s via


Steve Garbarino

Steve Garbarino

Steve Garbarino is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a culture reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of "A Fitzgerald Companion."