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Arts and Entertainment

L.A.'s Best New Bars Of 2016

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We can all agree that 2016 was a crappy year, but the good news for Angelenos is, there was no shortage of places to drink away the pain! A bunch of superb new bars opened up this year in fact, each with their own unique approach, vibe and drink menu moxie. From thematic to romantic, simplistic to multi-faceted, here are the best new bars of 2016. We have a feeling we’ll all be hitting these up often next year...

(Photo courtesy of El Dorado via Yelp)

This subterranean speakeasy-style bar located below the El Dorado Lofts has some seriously stylish and seductive vintage vibes. Follow the neon arrow and saunter down the dramatic staircase, where Art Deco décor, sumptuous leather booths and requisite retro nudie art await. Rio Hackford (The Monty Bar) has created a spacious spot that feels special, but also a like neighborhood bar you can live and liquor up in often, Cheers-like. The crowds have been trendy, but the room itself isn’t. You’ll come for the atmosphere but you’ll stay for the drinks, all of which offer a take on mixology that’s both interesting and affordable. Highlights include The Mayonaka, a bodacious bourbon cocktail with an Old Fashioned feel; The Reborn, a funky fresh Manhattan; and The Elote a spicy tequila sipper. Many go for the E-40: a shot of 48-hour walnut-infused whisky paired with a pint of Japanese beer ($10). On weekends, DJs add a zesty mood to the imbibing, with DJ Senor Amor’s vinyl-only selections on Saturday nights shaking up the tiny dance floor and providing a soulfully exotic complement to the classy, somewhat chaotic new-bar verve.

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El Dorado is located at 416 S. Spring St. in downtown L.A. (213) 621-7710.

(Photo by Annie Lesser/LAist)

Probably the most anticipated bar in L.A. this year, Pacific Seas finally opened last month, and so far the tropical paradise is living up to the hype. The tiki crowd is a loyal but discerning bunch that appreciates kitsch more than anyone, but they are also serious about their libations. Seas, which pays homage to the cafeteria’s original tiki bar from the 1930s, has to make great drinks, and the overly-sweet, pseudo-tiki slushies that have become trendy just wont do. They’ve got fresh and inventive twists on old rum-based faves, and like the best tiki bars in town, it’s all about the rum selection—even on classics like the Mai Tai. You’ll pay a premium (drinks are in the $15-18 range), but in this gorgeous bar hidden away behind a secret door, you wont mind. DJs spin festive island sounds most nights (inside of a big boat parked right in the middle of the room!), Hawaiian dancers shake it luau-style for special events and Polynesian-inspired food is available from Clifton’s chef Andrew Pastore. You’ll need it too. Tiki drinks are some of the strongest out there and, especially in chaotic downtown, it’s smart to soak up before you sail out.

Pacific Seas is located inside Clifton's at 648 S. Broadway in downtown L.A. (213) 627-1673.

(Photo by Damon Kidwell/Adults Only)

Having a secret entrance for your bar might be a bit passé—popularized by the Houston Brothers’ flashbacky joints Davey Waynes (behind a fridge) and Breakroom 86 (behind a vending machine)—but Adults Only will still win you over. The mini-mall bar stands behind a video store with DVD and VHS rentals: blockbusters in front and a separate room for porn behind it, adorned with a neon “adults only” sign upon entry. Hardcore action plays on a video screen as you walk in, but it’s easy to miss as you enter the bar, which itself is a large Spanish-style room with a pool table, ample booth seating and a giant screen playing hit movies (Forrest Gump was on the last time visited). Though there’s nothing inherently seedy about the place, there are drinks with names like “Money Shot” and “Grounds For Divorce” on the VHS cassette that’s fashioned as a menu. The libations are flavorful and potent, and have surely inspired more than few couples to go home and try their own movie-making session.

Adults Only is located at 7065 ½ Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. (323) 469-0040.

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The lanes at Highland Park Bowl. (Photo by Lynn Millspaugh/LAist)

HIGHLAND PARK BOWLThe 1933 Group are known for quirky fun venues like Bigfoot Lodge and Sassafras, but they also have a thing for restoration (see: Idle Hour). With Highland Park Bowl they’ve taken their gifts for historic re-design to a whole new level. The L.A. landmark opened in the 1920s, but more recently it's best known as the grungy music spot Mr. T's Bowl. Now it’s back to its original glory and then some, a gleaming sight to behold with wooden arches, leather couches, a horseshoe-shaped bar, and, of course, an eight-lane bowling alley complete with vintage mechanical pin machines. The old timey cool here is palpable. Every crevice feels vintage, and the cocktail menu is no exception, from Old Fashioneds to Moscow mules. There’s even a wood-burning oven for pizza too. Nothing here is priced retro unfortunately, and that includes the bowling, which varies from $40 to $60.

Highland Park Bowl is located at 5621 N. Figueroa St. in Highland Park. (323) 257-2895.

(Photo by Lynn Millspaugh/LAist)

It’s all about the views at this gorgeous room atop the US Bank Tower, both inside and out. Surrounded by windows, the new restaurant and bar provides an unparalleled eye-gasm while looking at the cityscape. Those afraid of heights or simply more into what’s right in front of them wont be disappointed either. Brass details and Mid-Century Modern décor that’s chic-not-kitsch make this locale a glorious and glam escape. The food is pricey but worth it (foie gras, steak tartare... you get the idea) and the drinks are on-point (try the Downtown, with toasted hazelnut-infused bourbon, cognac, and apricot; or the Hollywood, a jalapeño-infused Grey Goose fruit sensation). Expect a little vertigo here, but in a good way.

71 Above is located at 633 W. Fifth St. in downtown L.A. (213) 712-2683.

Nighthawk Breakfast Bar (Photo via Nighthawk)

NIGHTHAWKNighthawk is inspired by what they call the “iconic rock n’ roll breakfast” (i.e. the up-all-night, what-time-is-it? meal) and takes the idea of late-night eating (and drinking) to its logical conclusion—a hub for decadent grub, some of it booze-infused. The menu, from Greg Schroeppel (Spago) features Benedict fries, duck confit hash, and an epic breakfast burger. Brandy-infused French toast and spiked cereal deserve the buzz, even if they don’t really get you buzzed. Slushy bloody marys, boozy floats, and alcoholic coffees, not to mention DJs and the low-lit ambiance, add to the playful decadence.

Nighthawk: Breakfast Bar is located at 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood. (323) 467-0200.

(Photo courtesy of Bar Tribute via Facebook)

The people behind Te’Kila have turned a Sherman Oaks dive into a destination. Tribute’s sexy flocked walls, subtly guilded decor and rosey hues make for a warm atmosphere that’s quickly elevated by the impressive cocktail selection and food menu. Everything here has an intriguing twist and pays tribute to other bars the owners and tenders have known and loved past and present, especially the menu (which changes with new specials regularly). With Matt Wallace (Seven Grand) and Chris Day (General Lee’s) in charge of libations it’s no surprise the selections are as solid as the giant ice cubes that clank about your glass. They’re even got punch bowls for big parties. Bar bites like bacon-wrapped dates and shrimp skewers add to the place’s audacious appeal.

Bar Tribute is located at 13817 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. (818) 981-1334.

(Photo by Billy Gil/LAist)

ETAHowever you feel about gentrification, it can have advantages, and when it comes to Highland Park, lately these always seem to have something to do with booze. At this cozy little cocktail lounge the drinks are fanciful and they aren’t wimpy—especially the mescal-, vodka- or rum-based ones. With brick walls, a striking mural and retro touches, this unpretentious hovel is simple, streamlined and reasonably priced. It's an intimate alternative to Highland Park Bowl’s fancy flurry across the street.

ETA is located at 5630 N. Figueroa St. in Highland Park.

Good Housekeeping's speakeasy bar (Photo by Tessa Neustadt)

GOOD HOUSEKEEPINGHighland Park is a veritable a barhoppers' paradise now with so many new bars and old established favorites. This locale is a little off the beaten path, and regulars probably like it that way. Like ETA, it’s also about simplicity of design and creativity of the cocktail craft. Enter through the patio in the back of Cafe Birdie to find a candle-lit space for a relaxed drinking rendezvous. Classic concoctions with inventive embellishments (think charcoal-filtered Manhattans) make this hidden gem a keeper that probably won’t remain a secret much longer.

Good Housekeeping is located behind Cafe Birdie at 5631 N. Figueroa St. in Highland Park. 
(323) 739-6928.

Girl at White Horse (Photo by Perry Shimon)
And two that look to be contenders for next year's list...

Two brand new bars tie get honorable mention here, mostly because they’re not quite fully open yet. But sneak peeks suggest they’ll be topping next year’s list.

The Friend is at the former Barbarella space on Hyperion in Silver Lake, but promises to leave more of a lasting impression in the neighborhood. It has the look of a classic ice cream parlor which gives it a candy-coated whimsical vibe—especially when the place is packed with messy-dressed hipsters and blasting loud dance music. Trendy and tasty drinks with names like “The Artist” and “The Writer” add to the ironic fun.

The Friend is located 2609 Hyperion Ave. in Silver Lake.

Girl at the White Horse also takes over a well-known spot—venerable dive bar The White Horse—and owner and designer Reza Fahim (Tenants of the Trees), seems to be honoring the space’s past as he amps up the present with splashes of color and estate-sale furniture. According to a recent New York Time story, Fahim (who bought the building in 2014) plans to pour at the bar himself sometimes, just like the White Horse’s old owner Victoria Lalea did back in the day. But will he serve free chips and cookies like she used to? Time will tell.

Girl at The White Horse is located at 1532 N. Western Ave. in Thai Town.

Related: L.A.'s Best New Restaurants Of 2016

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