The dense urban village of West Hollywood is one of the smallest cities in Los Angeles County geographically, but offers one of the most prolific arrays of drinking and entertainment options in Southern California. Nicknamed, “Boystown,” the neighborhood is a regional hub for LGBT nightlife. The watering holes of the Sunset Strip attract both well-heeled Hollywood stars and scruffy rock musicians, while Santa Monica Blvd. east of La Cienega boasts a diverse offering of trendy joints. Whether you are looking for a quiet nightcap or a frenzied dance party, a no frills dive bar or a refined cocktail lounge, ‘WeHo’ has a bar to suit your fancy.
The Bayou, always decked out for the party | Courtesy Ryland Lu
Rare is the establishment in LA where you can purchase a Goose Island IPA for as little as $3 and drinks, featuring brands like Tito’s Vodka and Tanqueray Gin, for only $5 at midnight on a weekend. The Bayou’s late night happy hour, which lasts from 10:30pm to 12:30am every night of the week, allows you to square these bargains, as well as $8 pitchers of Budweiser. For those with more discerning tastes (and money to spare), the bar offers a respectable array of bottle and draft craft beers such as Speakeasy Ale’s highly-rated Prohibition Ale and St. Archer Blonde Ale. Aside from the drinks, the bar’s extravagant Mardi Gras-themed decor and pulsing music make this the place to start the party in Boystown.
Hamburger Mary's flaunts its drag theme | Courtesy of Ryland Lu
Perhaps no place in West Hollywood better encapsulates the city’s “out n’ proud” vibe than Hamburger Mary’s. Taking its name from a slang term traditionally used by gay men to identify one another, the open-air bar and restaurant features drag performances five evenings a week, as well as during Saturday and Sunday brunch. Come on Wednesday or Sunday evening for the “Legendary drag queen bingo”, where drag queens read out the numbers with a good dose of humor and spank those who falsely call out bingo. The drinks, like “Call of the Wild Thing,” made from Ketel One Vodka and Roaring Energy Drink, are standard in quality, but can be upgraded to “double-size,” which comes served in a hefty goblet. Thirsty? Upgrade to an “OMG” size, served out of a goblet the size of a punch bowl for sharing.
The Rainbow, the home of 80s glam rock | Courtesy of Ryland Lu
Formerly the epicenter of the Sunset Strip’s glam-metal rock scene back in the 1980s, the “Bow” is perhaps the only joint in LA where the male patrons still have their hair down long and loose. Bands like Mötley Crüe and Led Zeppelin dominate the sound system; you might occasionally hear some Nirvana but never any music from the millennium. Despite its age, Rainbow’s color has not faded. The interior dining area offers a menu featuring hearty pizzas and sandwiches, but the bar on the outdoor patio is where the action is– the smoke is pervasive and the drinks are poured stiff.
Located just down the street from the Rainbow, Pearl’s offers a classy atmosphere fit for its namesake, a fictional 1940s-Hollywood madame. Enter through a dim, brick-lined passage, and head to the rooftop lounge, decked with vines and a fireplace for a view of the Sunset Strip and Los Angeles beyond. On weekends, take in LA sunshine and mild weather with a boozy brunch (11am to 4pm), fueled by a Build-Your-Own Mimosa Kit that includes orange juice, fruit puree, berries and a bottle of Champagne. Alternatively, enjoy the sunset – a full dinner menu, featuring refined fare such as whole lobster and Chilean sea bass, makes the latter perfect for a romantic outing.
Named for the animal mascot traditionally placed on bottles of bock-style German lagers, the Surly Goat is a dream come true for craft beer fanatics. The bar’s rotating list of draft beers includes niche brews (often from local craft brewers) like Hop Concept’s Hull Melon and Blanc, which includes a German hop varietal that offers hints of honeydew melon, and Orange County Bruery’s Reuze, a citrusy Belgian-style sour ale. Check the bar’s website or twitter page before visiting to find out if your favorite Saison, Gose or Witbier is on tap. Indulge in brews and enjoy the cult classic movies silently playing on the TV Screens around the space, or play darts or pinball behind the back patio. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Goat erupts into a bit of a dance scene as well.
Bar Lubitsch, a Soviet-themed vodka bar. | Courtesy of Aaron Tecosky (Bar Lubitsch)
Even in the midst of a craft spirit craze, it is difficult to find a bar specializing in vodka in Los Angeles. Enter Bar Lubitsch. This bar’s menu devotes more than four pages to vodka, including brands from Mongolia and Japan as well as Poland’s infamously smooth “bison-grass” vodka, whose flavor is derived from a type of grass that is consumed by the European Bison. Those who can’t take their vodka neat can sip on cocktails like the Garden of Alla, a citrusy infusion of pineapple-flavored vodka, cranberry juice and lime juice or the Ninotchka, bringing together vanilla vodka, strawberries and sparkling champagne. Soviet-era paraphernalia on the walls, including a giant poster of Lenin, makes for an interesting drinking experience. An adjacent backroom hosts live music and comedy performances on weekday evenings and some of the craziest dancing in this part of town on weekends.
If you dread economy class, head to Now Boarding, where you’ll receive the royal treatment. The bartenders at your service are dressed as airline pilots in a venue modeled after a 1960’s airline lounge. The bar’s swanky mid-century modern design and photographs on the walls of model flight attendants call back the days when flying was ‘sexy’. Aside from the decor, focus on the drink list, one of the most innovative in town. The gin and cucumber Jetsetter is exceptionally refreshing, while the Lolita, a rum old-fashioned made with coffee bitters, lemon and orange, will perk you up with its rich mocha flavor. Creative flares round out the drinking experience – for instance, the Mexican Dove, a version of the Margarita tempered by grapefruit and squirt soda, is served in a squirt can.
With 30’s swing music playing in the background and Post Impressionist portraits adorning the walls, entering Harlowe on a weekday evening is like stepping back into a bygone era. The bar’s ornate glazed floor tiles and wooden barstools bring to mind a turn of the 20th-Century soda fountain, except the vintage-dressed servers dispense craft cocktails rather than Sarsaparilla floats. The Moscow Mule (available on tap) is refreshing, but those with a more adventurous palate (and a greater thirst for liquor) should consider the Early Riser, which infuses a hefty dose of Ballast Point spiced rum with coffee spirit, orange liquor and tobacco mist. The Roasted Vegetables derive a delectable umami flavor from white soy sauce and pair excellently with any drink. Come in for the weekly Monday Night Jazzor the bi-monthly “House of Harlowe” vaudevillian show, featuring a magician with a dog and a whole lot of old-time fun.
If Harlowe evokes history, Formosa Cafe has lived it. Operating continuously since 1934, the Chinese-themed drinking establishment was once a favorite haunt for the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. John Wayne, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe each had their own tables here, while the gangsters-turned-Hollywood socialites — Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel — conducted deals in the backroom booth and are rumored to have hidden money in a vault below. Although the bar draws a young professional crowd during weekday happy hour and weekend evenings, the Chinese decor and autographed black-and-white photos lining the walls ensure that the past lives on. Indulge in a strong Mai Tai and soak up the Hollywood history.
St. Felix is a popular spot for happy hour. | Courtesy of Ryland Lu
Dimly lit, with plush lounge chairs and flower vases lining the walls, St. Felix offers a cozy vibe that is hard to find in Los Angeles. You can unwind here with friends after work over a game of Jenga or contemplate life over a solitary nightcap as the bar scene tapers later in the evening. St. Felix enhances these simple pleasures with subtly soothing concoctions like the Stockholm Syndrome, in which pressed strawberry, lime and pomegranate juice tame Martin Miller’s gin without obscuring the crisp flavor.