The Best Bars For Classic Cocktails In Los Angeles
In recent years, Los Angeles has been flooded with craft cocktail bars offering plenty of options for imbibing intricate and elaborate tipples. And while we can definitely appreciate a cascade of smoky liquid nitrogen and farmers market-infused foams, sometimes we crave a straightforward, classic cocktail. Thankfully, there's still plenty of bartenders around town—in bars old and new—that can stir and shake simple, yet refined drinks that our grandparents once enjoyed. From a proper Martini to a satisfying Old Fashioned, we tracked down the best places to order the old reliables—including many that add an extra jigger of vintage charm and style for good measure. Here are our favorite places for classic cocktails in L.A. and as always, let us know your favorite old-school watering hole in the comments.
A Manhattan in Pasadena (Photo via The Raymond 1886/Instagram)
The Raymond 1886
Whether you're reclining on the stunning, canopied patio or tucked inside the cozy Craftsman cottage, there's not a bad seat in the house at The Raymond—especially with one of their thoughtfully, crafted cocktails in hand. While the team behind Bar 1886 is constantly pushing the cocktail envelope (glass?) with inspired creations, they also know the classic hits forwards and back. They also know the history behind the drinks and why they're prepared the way they are, and they make all of their syrups, tinctures and infusions in house, taking great care with each ingredient. From a frothy Ramos Fizz to a refreshing Pimm's Cup, to variations on sours and sidecars, precision care is taken with each classic cocktail.
The Raymond 1886 is located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, (626) 441-3136.
The Blood and Sand at The Dresden (via Facebook)
Since opening in 1954, this classy Los Feliz watering hole has been an old school, standard-bearer for classic cocktails. The bartenders—many of whom have been pouring for decades—don't mess around with frilly garnishes or elaborate infusions. These are cocktails served the way your grandparents would have sipped them—and the way the guys in Swingers enjoyed them, too. Chances are your grandparents would also appreciate Marty and Elaine who have been turning out jazz and lounge standards since '82. The signature drink of choice here is the icy Blood and Sand—developed by Tiki Ti founder Ray Buhen in the '50s—which features Scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry liquor and orange juice. But you would also be well served to order a Martini or a Rob Roy.
The Dresden is located at 1760 N Vermont Ave, Los Feliz, (323) 665-4294.
The back patio bar at Dominick's (Photo courtesy of Dominick's)
If Dominick's was good enough for Frank, Dino and the rest of the Rat Pack to enjoy a cocktail, you can bet it's a great place to wet your whistle. Whether you grab a stool at the marble-topped bar inside or perch at the outdoor bar on their beautiful brick-walled and ivy-covered patio in back, the setting at this 1948 West Hollywood institution is perfect for a tipple. And while the talented bartenders offer plenty of great new-fangled concoctions, they really know how to turn out a solid classic like the Dom's Manhattan featuring Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, bitters and a cherry, or their House Negroni with Beefeater Gin, Carpano Antica and Campari.
Dominick's is located at 8715 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 652-2335
Irish coffee at Tom Bergin's (Photo courtesy of Tom Bergin's)
One of the oldest bars in Los Angeles,Tom Bergin's recently received a crisp renovation, while still maintaining plenty of the pub's dependable Irish charm. First opened in 1936 where LACMA now stands as "Tom Bergin’s Horseshoe Tavern & Thoroughbred Club", the bar moved to its current Fairfax location in 1949, when several of the patrons helped carry the horseshoe-shaped bar up the street. Known as the "House of Irish Coffee," the bar undoubtedly has their iconic drink down pat— Tullamore DEW, dark roast coffee from Picacho Coffee Roasters in New Mexico, simple syrup, and Irish cream—which they've been serving since 1938. But they also offer plenty of other unfussy cocktails like a straightforward Old Fashioned. You'll also want to keep an eye out for their private whiskey club, Vestry, which will soon offer rare pours of the brown stuff.
Tom Bergin's is located at 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Mid-Wilshire, (323) 936-7151
Just a couple of Old Fashioned cocktails (Photo courtesy The Mixing Room)
The Mixing Room
While the drinks at many hotel bars tend to be uninspiring, The Mixing Room in downtown L.A.'s JW Marriott is definitely a notable exception when it comes to serving up well-crafted cocktails. While the decor may be sleek and modern, they offer plenty of cocktails that rely on time-honored and unpretentious recipes. And what better way to get ready in the mood for a concert or game next door at L.A. Live than with a well-made Negroni, Old Fashioned or Manhattan? They also just launched a mixology class on the first Wednesday of the month, where for $10 guests can learn to make classic cocktails and new twists from the pros.
The Mixing Room is located at 900 W Olympic Blvd, downtown L.A., (213) 765-8600.
The Corner Door
A dimly-lit bar with dark wood, brick walls and industrial accents, this Culver City (West) outpost has all the trappings of a great place to disappear in with a few drinks. And with The Corner Door's reputed bar maestro Beau du Bois, you're in good hands. Well-versed in the classic cocktail pantheon, du Bois manages to add his own distinctive twists to create refreshing takes on the old school favorites. The crisp and refreshing House French 75—inspired by the WWI-era classic—features gin, lillet rose, lemon, sugar, peach bitters and sparkling wine, while the stirred barrel-aged Old Fashioned keeps life simple with bourbon, bitters and sugar.
The Corner Door is located at 12477 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 313-5810.
Martini with olives and bonus carafe at Musso & Frank Grill (via Facebook)
Musso & Frank Grill
This old-school Hollywood institution has been around since 1919 and some of the bartenders—sporting their signature red jackets and black bow ties—have been slinging drinks nearly half of that time, so you know they're doing it right. Grab yourself a stool at the long mahogany bar where everyone from Charlie Chaplin and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Marilyn Monroe and Keith Richards have enjoyed a properly made cocktail. The bartenders obviously know the gamut of classics, including ones forgotten by most, but the move here is definitely the martini, which is served with a carafe on the side for another pour.
Musso & Frank Grill is located at 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788.
The Bernard cocktail at MiniBar (Photo by Eugene Lee/LAist)
MiniBar feels like a spot where Don Draper would hang out at, sitting at one of the red leather booths and placing a glass of whiskey on the bar's gold-covered tables. The dimly-lit and moody bar, which opened this year, occupies a tiny 600-square-foot space at the Best Western that also houses 101 Coffee Shop at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. The drinks there are a throwback to the classics, but with a modern twist. They keep things simple at this 32-seater bar, with eight classic cocktails and an extensive whiskey-tasting menu. There's an ode to Marlon Brando's supposedly favorite drink, the Godfather, and the Bernard, a version of the gin martini topped with a pickled mushroom from Little Dom's. Hey, but if you have a hankering for a classic cocktail that they don't have on the menu, feel free to ask the bartender for it because they're pros. —Jean Trinh
MiniBar is located at 6141 Franklin Ave., Hollywood Hills, (323) 798-4939. Cocktails range from $12 to $15.
A Manhattan at Harlowe (via Facebook)
Harlowe could easily be mistaken as another decades-old institution, but this classy West Hollywood outfit is just over a year old. All of the vintage, Golden-era flourishes are there—cool marble bar and tables, turn-of-the-century light fixtures, antiqued green and ivory-tiled floors—which offers a charming, well-worn feel. The central bar deservedly commands your attention as you pull up a compact, circular stool to put in your order. On the cocktail menu, you'll undoubtedly find many familiar faces—Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Moscow Mule (a drink that's thought to have been invented at the long-gone Cock n' Bull in Hollywood)—all expertly and simply prepared with premium ingredients and a subtle modern flair like the on-tap Old Fashioneds. They also offer a finely-tuned Sazerac and an Improved Aperol Spritz—a delicate twist on the classic gin, Aperol, lemon, maraschino and a splash of sparkling Chenin Blanc.
Harlowe is located at 7321 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 876-5839.
Bring on another Manhattan at BarTon's (via Facebook)
The bar at Little Toni's, NoHo's iconic red-sauce Italian restaurant, just received a beautiful and welcome revamp earlier this year. Echoing the vintage charms of the restaurant with a penny-tile floor, exposed brick and marble bar, BarToni's offers a timeless setting to sip some classics. With the arrival of a long-awaited liquor license and guidance from cocktail guru Aidan Demarest, the bar serves up excellent classics like the Whiskey Smash, a gin and blackberry Bramble, and an Old Fashioned with a choice of house bourbon or rye. You can even find slight variations on other old favorites like the bright green Grasshopper. And there's Toni's Banger, a twist on the Harvey Wallbanger—which was once-rumored to have been created in L.A.—and is served in a fun Tiki mug.
BarToni's is located at 4745 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 763-0131.
The Yellow King at Sassafras (Photo courtesy of Sassafras)
Since going to Sassafras in the Hollywood means basically getting transported to an old-timey Southern saloon in the Bayou, you know you can depend on the bar for classic cocktails. Each drink has an added oomph to an old favorite. Some of our favorites include Sassafras' The Yellow King, their take on Old Fashioned with an added New Orleans flavor of chicory, their barreled Sazerac and Vieux Carre, and assortment of tiki drinks, like their fruity and refreshing Hurricane. —Jean Trinh
Sassafras is located at 1233 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, (323) 467-2800.
Cocktails at Cole's (Photo via Facebook)
The Varnish and Cole's
When you want a straight-up good Old Fashioned (one that packs a serious punch), you go to Cole's in downtown L.A. and its speakeasy, The Varnish, which is located in the back of the restaurant and bar. These spots will send you back in time; after all, Cole's, which was established in 1908, claims they were the originator of the French dip sandwich. If you're not an Old Fashioned person, then try some of their other cocktails like boozy Manhattans and refreshing Penicillins. And you can always count on the bars for using the right type of ice cubes, ones that will slowly melt away, keeping the drinks cool, but not watering them down too quickly. Like a boss.—Jean Trinh
Classic cocktails at The Normandie Club (Photo via
The Normandie Club and Walker Inn
The Normandie Club is a relatively new addition to the Koreatown nightlife scene, tucked inside the Normandie Hotel. This dimly lit, svelte cocktail lounge doesn't open until 8 p.m., but when it does, it's an intimate space for strong drinks and conversation. They have a menu of classics done in their house style, including an apple brandy and rum Daiquiri, Bloody Mary, Martini, Old Fashioned and Manhattan. Their twist on a Collins involves Gin, Meyer lemon cordial, lemon juice, yellow Chartreuse and seltzer. They also offer a small wine list, plus a small list of craft beer, and good ol' Schlitz. If nothing on their cocktail menu sounds appealing, you're invited to tell a bartender what you like and they'll think of something for you.
Hidden within the Normandie Club is the Walker Inn. You'll likely need a reservation for this clandestine bar—accessible by pressing a secret button in the Normandie Club—as there are only 27 seats. Guests can order from the The Book—Walker Inn's menu of classic cocktails—or The Walker Menu, which changes several month or so. There is also an omakase-style option for $45 at the bar. —Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Normandie Club and Walker Inn are located inside the Normandie Hotel at 3612 W. 6th St., Koreatown, (213) 263-2709.
Cocktails at Love & Salt (via Facebook)
Love & Salt
One of our favorite recent additions to the South Bay also happens to have a stellar line-up of throwback cocktails, along with an excellent selection of originals. While you'll find the more common gold standards like the Negroni, Love & Salt also serves up fantastic renditions of often forgotten vintage drinks. There's the Jack Rose—hugely popular in the '20s and '30s—with applejack, homemade grenadine and lime juice; a Hemingway Daiquiri with rum, maraschino liqueur, lime and grapefruit juice; and a great, frothy Pisco Sour. Those looking for something a bit smoky will want to check out the Vieux Carre, which features rye whisky, cognac, sweet vermouth, benedictine, angostura and Peychaud's bitters. Whether you're nestled at a table for two or at the lengthy bar or communal table, these classics are a great way to cap off a day at the beach and prime you for a feast.
A veritable temple to all things whiskey, this downtown L.A. den is definitely the spot for an Old Fashioned or three—especially if you want to feel like you're holed up in an elegant hunting lodge. With an incredible roster of whiskeys on hand, you can have your Old Fashioned served with a wide variety of rare pours like the Hudson Double Charred or the Four Roses single barrel, served in the classic way with bitters, sugar and lemon zest over ice. They also have an excellent array of other vintage drinks—all served with some variation of whiskey, of course—including sours, smashes and swizzles. Grandad would approve.
You also may want to investigate Seven Grand's speakeasy-style bar, Bar Jackalope, which offers super, super hard-to-find whiskeys. The trick is finding your way in to the hidden bar, though we will say it may involve a phone, a light and instructions in English and Japanese.
Seven Grand is located at 515 W 7th St, Downtown, (213) 614-0736.
Keep it neat at Cadet (via Instagram)
If the alluring smell of the wood-burning oven isn't enough to lure you into this fairly new French-inspired Santa Monica spot, let the cocktails be your guide. Just as the food menu offers modern twists to classic dishes, the cocktails offer slight and clever departures from the familiar set with a French touch. There's the crisp Cadet Negroni with rye, Bénédictine and the French bitters Suze. The Pickled Martini adds a bit of heat with pickled Fresno pepper and celery bitters, while the Gin & Juice is refined version of the L.A.-classic, featuring Caprock gin, dill, green apple and lime. You're also likely to be pleasantly surprised by the French Margarita, which includes tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, yellow pepper, smoked salt and firewater bitters.
Cadet is located at 2518 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, (310) 828-3300.