LA’s cocktail scene has boomed with speakeasy-style bars offering a contemporary take on Prohibition-era cocktails.
The Los Angeles bar scene has experienced a renaissance, with enterprising bar owners hitting on a winning fusion of old and new. Combining the ethos, ambience and libations of Prohibition-style speakeasies with modern ingredients and well-crafted cocktails is proving a hit with the nightlife crowd.
Housed in the basement of a 100-year-old building that was LA’s first power station,
has re-created the 1920s era. Hostesses wear flapper dresses, bartenders are clad in vests and ties, and period black-and-white films flicker on the cavernous bar’s brick and copper walls. Add to this period furnishings, live jazz ensembles, burlesque dancers and even carnival-style high-wire performers and the venue looks and feels like something from The Great Gatsby.
It’s not difficult to see the allure of these gangster-glam hot spots. Many of these speakeasy-style cocktail bars are off the beaten track, down laneways with no signage. Others are tucked away inside other venues. One popular cocktail lounge has a fake tarot card reader storefront, and another is entered through a hidden staircase accessed via a wardrobe. But inside, these venues radiate ambience. Thomas Edison-style light globes and antique chandeliers give small rooms a days-gone-by glow. Walls are lined with books, dark wood panelling or red flocked wallpaper. The air is thick with jazz and conversation. Perhaps the only missing element is a welcome one – the smoke of decades past.
Barmen and women are cut from a different cloth, too. They are aficionados who care deeply about their craft. They preside over beakers of fresh juices and infusions, whip eggwhites into a frenzy for traditional sour drinks and love to show off when customers request “bartender’s choice”. But not too much.
“To some people a ‘modern cocktail’ means molecular mixology, powders and foams,” says Chris Bostick, general manager of The Varnish. “We really take to heart the less-is-more approach.” Here, bartenders can make a three-ingredient cocktail memorable.
A big factor behind the success of these bars is that they hark back to simpler times, says Bostick. “It’s all about creating a wonderful place for people to hang out – fuelled by really, really good-quality cocktails.”
LA's top cocktail bars
The Varnish118 East Sixth Street.+ 1 213 622 9999.
The Varnish in downtown LA is secreted away behind iconic Coles French Dip Sandwiches... moreThe Edison Suite 101, 108 West Second Street. + 1 213 613 0000.
At the bar, get the experts to whip up a Citizen Kane, a blend of vodka and hibiscus rosebud liqueur; or a Southside Fizz, which kisses the bar’s house-made bathtub gin with lime and fresh mint... moreThe Association110 East Sixth Street. + 1 217 627 7385.
This luxe yet low-key speakeasy-style bar focuses on Prohibition-era drinks, and is popular with cocktail-savvy 20-somethings... moreThe Thirsty Crow Bar2939 W Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake. +1 323 661 6007.
The Thirsty Crow vibe is speakeasy with a dash of saloon... moreThe Roger Room 370 N La Cienega Boulevard, W Hollywood.+1 310 854 1300.
Fans of spicy fare should try The Thug, blending premium bourbon with honey liqueur and habanero pepper bitters... more
La Descarga 1159 N Western Avenue, Hollywood.+1 323 466 1324.
Live jazz and burlesque dancers add to the Old Havana allure... more
LA's culinary cocktails
Mix masters Many of Los Angeles’ fine-dining restaurants pair quality cuisine with high-end cocktails. The city’s elite mixologists share star billing with superstar chefs, using locally grown produce to create seasonal drinks. Here are some of the finest drinking and dining options.The Tasting Kitchen 1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice. +1 310 392 6644.
A cocktail menu as cheeky as it is culinary featuring drinks such as Danish Flame... moreComme Ça8479 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood.+ 323 782 1104.
Chef David Myers’ acclaimed French brasserie pioneered the culinary cocktail in LA... moreCopa d’Oro 217 Broadway, Santa Monica. +1 310 576 3030.
Artisanal creations at this sleek yet welcoming Santa Monica bar/restaurant include the Santa Monica Gimlet and the Campanula Sour... more
The Hungry Cat 1535 Vine Street, Hollywood.+1 323 462 2155.
This seafood restaurant and raw bar is as renowned for its cocktails as its oyster selection... moreSource Qantas The Australian Way