Hard to Find But Easy to Love Speakeasies in Los Angeles
Written By: Michelle Slieff 6 LA Speakeasies You Need to Know About
Photographed By: Angel Manuel
We have a secret, and it’s where to drink in LA. We can’t give all of them away (because that just wouldn’t be cool) but we will do our best to lead you in the right direction. These not so discoverable bars are reinventing exclusivity, starting with the front door all the way to what’s in your cocktail. Some don’t even have front doors. You might find yourself entering through a garage that takes you to a fridge door as the entry. Some might require a password. An unassuming wardrobe closet may very well be where you enter into the club. You might find yourself looking for some munchies at a vending machine, and little do you know that it is the entrance to the time of your life. Or perhaps you are in the mood for a sandwich and while exploring the restaurant you come across a room that ends up serving you the coldest drinks you’ve ever tried while being serenaded by the sweet tunes of jazz. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself, but here is a list of drinks you should definitely try once you’re in.
Throwing it back, speakeasies were bountiful and one of the biggest parts of American culture during the Prohibition era. Fast forward, and the name was revived in the early 2000s to represent Prohibition-style bars or classic cocktail bar programs. Today, this is more or less what we think of when we hear the term speakeasy. We also think of exclusivity, secrecy, live entertainment, secret entrances, dimly-lit spaces and a damn good cocktail. Transform your nightlife by visiting a few of our favorite secret bars.
6356 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Formerly known as Hemingway’s Lounge, we invite you to The Study. This hidden gem can be hard to find if you’re looking for the sign. Make sure to get guest listed by making a reservation and dressing to impress — wear your cutest little black number. As you enter, your eyes are immediately drawn to the decor. Hundreds of books captivate your view, perhaps reminding you of that overdue book you never returned (but we doubt it). Typewriters line the walls, inspiring you to write your next novel. The guns behind the bar remind you to be on your best behavior. If the school library looked like this, then I’m not sure how much studying would get done. Dance to the beat of your next favorite DJ as you order a drink from the bar. Order the Garden of Eden, made with vodka, muddled strawberries and fresh basil, shaken with lemon and topped with a Champagne float. The drink is refreshing and will help keep those feet of yours moving to the best beats you’ve heard in weeks. Looking for a kick? Order the Sun Also Rises with crushed cucumber and jalapeño. This drink keeps things spicy while maintaining a cool composure. All of the produce is ordered the day of to provide you with the freshest drink possible, so cheers to that! Order a table and make this night one for the books.
Native Knowledge: There’s no cover at The Study, so feel free to spend more on drinks.
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
1611 N El Centro Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
As you walk along El Centro Avenue, you’ll come across a garage with finds that take you to an era that’s not quite like today. We invite you to time travel to the ’70s. Jonnie and Mark Houston created Good Times at Davey Wayne’s as a tribute to their father, David Wayne Houston. The feel of this place is inspired by their times growing up with their father. You’ll find this represented not only in the atmosphere but the music, old beer cans and in the cocktails. On the weekends, you can vibe out to the music of the Good Time Boys performing different ’70s covers. To make your experience come full circle, you’ll need to order a Snow Cone. This treat might take you back to your childhood as you enjoy a refreshing snow cone in sunny California. All of the fresh fruit purees are made in-house with citrus and a variety of spirits. Expect a well-balanced cocktail in the form of a snow cone. The most popular flavor is the blackberry ginger served with bourbon. If you’re in the mood for something that will warm you up, try the Old Fashioned on draft. It’s the original recipe that Davey Wayne himself used to drink. The cocktail menu of the bar changes somewhat seasonally, but don’t worry, the snow cones are available year round. If you’re looking for a more laid-back vibe, come during the day on Saturday and Sunday. Enjoy happy hour all day long while taking in the sunshine on the patio. Make friends with your bartender, because she is well equipped in the field of making your next beverage. Her background comes from Providence, a two Michelin star restaurant. Details, interesting ingredients, and techniques are what drive Kate Provenza to develop the bar program at Davey Wayne’s. Her background as a chef has definitely translated into her approach with cocktails.
Native Knowledge: If you purchase a #1 Dad mug for $3, you get to keep the mug and anytime you bring it in, you’ll get discounted refills on any of the draft beers.
1159 N Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
La Descarga has been bringing Old Havana nights to the City of Angels for the past 5 years, and we are looking forward to even more. Thank you Jonnie and Mark Houston for providing this hideaway from LA life. You’ll need to dress up (serious dress code) and book a reservation to even get into this place, but it’s well worth it. Enter through the secret entrance, and as you walk down the spiral staircase, burlesque dancers will be putting on a show (sometimes twirling fire), while the live Latina musicians set the mood for your evening. From the peeling ceiling to the painted floor, the club is decked out in details. Enjoy a hand-rolled cigar in the lounge and order an ice-cold Distant Shores. Your drink will be made with mint, lime, sugar, white rum and dry vermouth with a dash of absinthe. Think of a mojito — but revamped and updated with a Cuban flair. This drink is a little bit lighter in terms of alcohol content but more herbaceous than the traditional mojito. It might not be on the menu when you visit, but they can still make it for you. Thursdays are the best nights to come to the club. They have all of their entertainment available, as well as a DJ. It’s a good crowd, but not as crazy as on the weekends. Say hello to the beverage director of Houston Hospitality, Joseph Swifka — you’ll find him at the end of the white Carrera marble bar.
Native Knowledge: You can purchase cigars to enjoy or you can bring your own!
Break Room 86
630 S Ardmore Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Located in The Line Hotel in Koreatown, Break Room 86 brings you all things ’80s and then some. Upon entering, you may experience sensory overload, but you will adjust. Your eyes will light up, and several times throughout the night, you’ll find your self starting sentences with, “Remember when, ” Admire the throwback decor of old TVs, boomboxes, cassette tapes, microphone chandeliers and more — a lot more. Remember the times of bright color, arcade games and karaoke? Welcome back. Explore what Break Room 86 truly has to offer — the element of surprise. Beyond the telephone booth located inside lies just one of the exclusive private karaoke rooms you can book. You can sing at the top of your lungs and only your friends in the room with you will truly know the extent of your vocal skills/the following events that will unfold from the evening. Or perhaps dancing the night away while watching the performance on the hidden stage is more your vibe. Say hello to the bar manager, Christine Wiseman, and order the Cherry Chapstick. All of their cocktails are based on paying homage to the ’80s versus what people drank during that time period. Expect to see lots of colorful drinks with fruit-forward flavors. With sugary alcoholic drinks running through your veins, we suggest booking a room at the hotel, because you won’t want to leave.
Native Knowledge: Thursdays are the best nights of the week to come. They have live bands, special guest DJs and two different shows.
3331 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
This American speakeasy located in the heart of Koreatown takes you to a place of familiar faces. With a password required for entry, you won’t have to worry about tourists taking up your seat at the bar. Not sure how to get in? You can find the password on their Facebook page located in the address section. One of the first things we noticed and fell in love with at R Bar was the ample seating. This is the kind of bar you can take a seat and enjoy good conversation with your friends, or after a few drinks, sing your heart out doing karaoke on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday nights. By the end of it all, you’ll be hugging your bartender and offering to make drinks alongside them. And even though you may not remember the night, they will definitely remember you the next time you stop by for a drink. The bar manager, Matt Russell, has created the Russian Radler #2 for you, a drink christened by their crazy friend Jonny Z from Canada. Just like everything in this place, there is a great story behind it so ask him to tell you about it. Beyond the skeleton wearing Mardi Gras beads and the astronaut helmet that is silently telling you to put it on, this place offers a local watering hole vibe that is unpretentious and full of history — a place you can end the work day at.
Native Knowledge: The “R” in R Bar stands for “our.”
118 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Located in the back of Cole’s in Downtown LA, you’ll find The Varnish, a dimly-lit room with the sounds of smooth jazz wafting through the air. A speakeasy bar that promises to serve you the coldest drink you’ll ever have, negative 9 degrees Celsius. Bartenders clad in suspenders are creating classic cocktails with a focus on consistency and precision. All walks of life come through their door and each guest is treated equally, such as they treat their cocktails. You could say this is a cross between a destination bar and a neighborhood bar with a diverse set of clientele. Bring in your Beef Dip and let your worries from the day melt away — unlike the ice in your drink. This bar uses specialty hand-chipped ice cubes that are designed to maintain the desired temperature while not melting and diluting your cocktail. Sip on the Smuggler’s Notch made with rum, brown sugar cube, orange bitters, an orange twist and a float of absinthe. A drink that represents the bar’s ethos of simple, classic and strong. This original cocktail was created by Eric Alperin, the owner of The Varnish. It’s a cross between a rum Old Fashioned and a Sazerac. This drink was inspired by a bottle of Havana Club 7 Year as a gift from someone traveling abroad. He created a cocktail that really showcased the spirit. Throughout The Varnish, there is an attention to detail, technique, and an appreciation for the classics that is greatly appreciated amongst its patrons. The focus here is definitely hospitality, and you can thank General Manager Max Seaman for making sure your water glass is always full!
Native Knowledge: Their Clinebell machines make big, slow-frozen, crystal-clear ice blocks to keep your drinks the perfect temperature. We promise.
Native Knowledge: Come for the live jazz every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after 9 p.m.
Shh! Don’t Tell Anyone