Drinking and history go together like beer and bar nuts. Wherever you go in the world, chances are your beverage of choice has deep roots. You might go to Italy to taste an ancient grape, or you to Brazil for an education in cachaça and caipirinhas. In Los Angeles, our heritage is a bit different. Bars are the birthplace of untold numbers of scripts, novels, and stars. Though Los Angeles is a relatively young city, one of the best places to experience the local history here is in a bar. From everyday regulars to famous faces, these Los Angeles bars are true history lessons.
One of the oldest watering holes in the city, the Golden Gopher still operates with its original liquor license from 1905. This Downtown staple is beloved on account of its deft blend of history and modern taste. It’s open every single day of the year, fancy chandeliers and all, with craft beer and cocktails that will please today’s palates. Hungry? There’s plenty of places to grab a bite nearby.
417 W. Eighth St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
The Frolic Room
This Hollywood Boulevard spot is immediately adjacent to the historic Pantages Theater, but there’s no reason to wait until you have tickets to a show to tipple here. After a day of sightseeing in the neighborhood, it’s a great place to rest and refresh in a place that feels, well, legitimately historic. The Frolic Room originally opened in 1934. Today, the drinks are still cheap, the jukebox is almost always playing, and the walls are covered in art and faded photographs. Ask your bartender nicely for popcorn with your drink.
6245 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Musso and Frank Grill
Two words: perfect martini. Musso and Frank Grill martinis are legendary, and sipping one at the mahogany bar is practically a rite of passage in Los Angeles. Since 1919, writers of all stripes have hung out at this Hollywood mainstay. F. Scott Fitzgerald proofed his novels here, Heller, Vonnegut, and Bukowski were regulars, while untold movie stars and writers have signed contracts in the booths.
6667 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
You have two choices at Cole’s, and both are excellent settings for a drink. The Red Car Bar is a beautifully restored piece of Old Los Angeles—order one of the trinity cocktails: an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, or a Sazerac. Then, experience another LA tradition: the speakeasy. The Varnish is a tiny bar tucked behind a solid wooden door at the back of the dining room. Classic cocktails rule at Red Car Bar, but Varnish is where the menu gets interesting.
118 E. 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
The Tonga Hut
Tiki fever hit Los Angeles hard in the 1950s. These tropical-themed bars sprouted up all over the city, and some have survived to this day. The Tonga Hut in North Hollywood opened in 1958 and bartenders there are still mixing up classics like Zombies and Mai Tais, unchanged since Don the Beachcomber invented it in 1934. The Tonga Hut has been restored to peak Polynesian kitsch and it’s as much a neighborhood haunt as it is a tropical drink destination.
12808 Victory Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91606
Photo courtesy of Alexandre Godreau