Drinking in L.A.: How to Do It Well in 24 Hours

Ever since I heard the Bran Van 3000 song “Drinking in L.A.,” I have maintained a sort of obsession with the idea of sipping gin and juice in City of Angles. Naturally, once I visited Los Angeles I had to tipple and found a range of places to do it in the 24 hours I was there.

The first bar was right next to our hotel on Sunset Boulevard and had a baseball theme. Called the Short Stop, this quaint dive bar could easily have been in Williamsburg. The main difference: space. They had a huge, empty dance floor, full bar, a dark, tiny room that appeared to be the make-out spot, and a back room with a pool table and Photobooth machine. A perfect way to start the adventure.

The next day, my first adult beverage was a glass of California chardonnay at The Getty Center. Normally a drink at a museum wouldn’t be something to write about, but sipping the cool white wine under Richard Meier’s magnificent structure and taking in the sprawling city below, well, it’s highly recommend. Plus, it’s one of the best views in the whole city.

After the museum, we headed to Fairfax Village and downed a couple beers at Rosewood Tavern while waiting for our table at Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s Animal across the street. The dark bar serves plenty of craft beer and scotch, plus a fine selection of steaks. Once at dinner, Animal provided a lovely wine selection that paired lovingly with the meat-centric (duh) dishes.

Now, the real drinking in L.A. happened at Cana Rum Bar downtown. When I walked into the smuggler’s den nestled in a carport, I knew it was something special. Here, Allan Katz is making an array of innovative rum-base drinks from their list of over 140 bottles. Since we were not only drinking in L.A. but also driving, I couldn’t try them all, but I did enjoy the simple coconut and rum drink, which came in a young coconut, and the Pleasure and Pain that also had mezcal in the mix.

Finally, our drink tour ended the next day at Baco Mercat with their fun and creative drinking vinegars. Some say L.A. isn’t a drinking town, but I have to disagree. You just have to know where to go, and how to do it right. 

LA’s Unlikely New Drinking District: Fairfax Village

In Los Angeles, New York-style bar crawls tend to happen in neighborhoods with a high concentration of bars (obviously). Think the Sunset Strip, Silver Lake, or Santa Monica. Yet no less than five bars are now clustered together on Fairfax Avenue, between Beverly and Rosewood, turning the area anchored by Animal restaurant and Canter’s Deli into LA’s version of the Lower East Side.

The neighborhood isn’t totally foreign to night owls, however. Back in the Swingers days, Sean MacPherson and Jon Sidel opened Olive in the area, and the Kibitz room on Fairfax was popular with big name musicians, who used to drop by to play at the bar attached to Canter’s. But more recently, Fairfax has been popping with the addition of two new bars: Rosewood Tavern and Vodvil. Rosewood Tavern has emerged as a hit from the moment they opened in May, thanks to a low-key pub vibe in an exposed-brick environment (28 craft brews can’t hurt). The future is less certain for the just-opened Vodvil, which boasts a novel concept that may or may not endear itself to locals.

So what’s the deal with Vodvil? Well, the bar and restaurant encourages patrons to play games while they eat and drink. We’re talking word games, trivia, classic game show challenges and party games like charades and celebrity. Every night has a different theme. Hosts with microphones, who resemble stand-up comics, guide guests through the evening, which features trivia tied to what’s displayed on a large screen. Trivia in bars is nothing new, but this high-tech approach is winning over guests over, so far.

The problem with the lounge is a surreptitious $6 per person “entertainment” fee added to each person’s bill at the end of the evening. This fee is not really disclosed up front, leaving some to feel as if they’ve been had. The charge acts as a sort of de facto cover change, which is what the bar should do up front, so people know what they are in for. That said, the bar should be commended for pushing forward with a new concept. It gets loud inside, with multiple sound sources competing for your attention, but it can be a fun choice for first dates and office parties.

Next up for the neighborhood is a gastropub inside the former Largo space, which sources say is coming soon.