A Guide to L.A.’s Best Speakeasies

Because that feeling when a password — or an unmarked door — stands between you and your drink is real

Words by KAREN PALMER

 

Old Lightning — a reservations-only speakeasy housed in Venice’s Scopa with a beyond-impressive library of vintage spirits — was recently christened with a James Beard Award long-list nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. Although it ultimately didn’t take home the award, the nod shined a light on what Angelenos already know: Our town is full of secret drinking dens worth seeking out.

Birds & Bees (DTLA)
The vibe: A surprisingly sprawling, subterranean midcentury mecca lives in the shadow of a massive office building in the heart of downtown. Gorgeous light fixtures cast a warm glow on the after-work crowd that congregates for strong yet playful drinks.
What to order: The retro-designed cocktail menu is entirely original. So you’ll be trying something new to you, like the tiki-meets-Negroni Tom Lehrer, made with three rums infused with banana, Carpano Antica, Peychaud’s Bitter Aperitivo and housemade tiki bitters.
How to get in: Walk around the back of 207 S. Broadway and through the parking lot. You’ll spot a bouncer ready to check your I.D. before you walk downstairs to the bar.

Brandon (Mid-City)
The vibe: You wouldn’t expect a midcentury masterpiece in the back of a brewpub, but the newly opened Brandon fits the bill, tucked in a back room of L.A.’s 6th & La Brea Brewery.
What to order: Enjoy one of Angela Ryskiewicz’s cocktails or an amaro flight in front of a trippy stained-glass window.
How to get in: It’s only open Wednesday through Saturday nights, so simply drop by the brewery to find it.

Good Times at Davey Wayne’s (Hollywood)
The vibe: You’ll feel like you’re chilling in your best friend’s basement — circa the 1970s — at this retro-styled Hollywood haunt that often has live bands and always offers a Sno-Cone machine on the patio — yes, you read that correctly.
What to drink: A can of Coors Banquet, because you’re here to relive high school, not get all fancy.
How to get in: Once you see a garage sale in an alleyway, you’re getting warmer. Enter through the fridge to live out your That ’70s Show fantasies.

In Sheep’s Clothing (DTLA)
The vibe: Within Lupetti’s Pizzeria lies a Tokyo-style record bar, or kissaten, complete with around 1,500 albums on vinyl spun on two specially made turntables built to mimic Garrard 301 turntables from the late 1950s.
What to order: Unsurprisingly, Japanese whisky cocktails are the main draw.
How to get in: It’s as easy as entering through the unmarked door to the right of the entrance of the pizzeria.

Lock & Key (Koreatown)
The vibe: A 1920s-era drinking den in the heart of Koreatown, complete with brass accents, tufted green leather booths and a classy white marble bar.
What to order: A Razzle-Dazzle (made with rye gin and elderflower liqueur) or another original cocktail of its playful-yet-well-prepared ilk, paired with refined takes on street food from the kitchen (named Stall 239).
How to get in: Look for Stall 239’s takeout window. Once you find the unmarked entrance, step inside and try your luck with a collection of doorknobs to find the one that allows you entry to the bar (you’ll find it eventually, promise).

No Vacancy (Hollywood)
The vibe: Hello, old Hollywood glam. The historic Janes House — the oldest residence on Hollywood Boulevard and a classic Victorian — is also home to this speakeasy fashioned as an old hotel. Elegance abounds in the form of crystal chandeliers, burlesque dancers, a sweeping courtyard and an outdoor white marble bar.
What to order: One of the Prohibition-themed “Dirty Dozen” craft cocktails created by a superstar team of mixologists.
How to get in: Reserve a table online [LINK], or find the doorman at the back of the building to see if you can snag a spot.

Old Lightning (Venice)
The vibe: Think swank midcentury speakeasy with light tiki accents. There’s a dress code, and you’ll be asked to check your phone at the door, so be prepared for a more refined experience at this bar housed within Scopa.
What to order: The team has stockpiled a collection of rare and vintage spirits, many of which you can only find here. Choose from signature cocktails, or better yet, build a tasting flight of half-pours to try the gems they’ve amasssed.
How to get in: Secure your spot on Resy [LINK] — the bar holds only 25 people — then enter through a door behind Scopa.

The Varnish (DTLA)
The vibe: Even though it’s a classic, The Varnish never feels dated. This dimly lit throwback was one of the first to usher in a new-era speakeasy boom back in 2009.
What to order: Sometimes you can’t go wrong with a well-made classic. The Old-Fashioned is really good here.
How to get in: Walk through an unmarked door in the back of legendary restaurant Cole’s French Dip. A doorman will be behind it to greet you.

Feature image: Cocktail hour at THE VARNISH.

 

May 29, 2019

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