From traditional Korean seafood joints to dive bars that define the genre, from plush speakeasies with craft cocktails to the best local beer selection in town, Koreatown offers a number of eclectic watering holes to barflies of every stripe. Whether you’re in and out for happy hour or committing to karaoke, each of these places packs unique flavor into Los Angeles’ densest neighborhood.
Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
R Bar is an American-style speakeasy that proudly keeps their status on the down low – you even need a password to enter the place (check their social media or call ahead!). With a raucous Metal set every Monday, power-packed karaoke nights on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, resident DJs for busting a move to on Saturdays, and the odd trivia night, live music performance, and storytelling show, the bar’s calendar is always overflowing with good times. Weekly drink specials keep the regulars coming for a revolving selection of tasty cocktails, and their weekend brunch is a force to be reckoned with. This place may be for lovers of the underground, but the secret’s out.
What’s behind door number one? Lock & Key is a plush, upscale and languid speakeasy-style bar virtually non sequitur to its surroundings in the heart of bustling, urban K-Town. After entering through a fairly inconspicuous red door on the corner of Vermont and 3rd Street, patrons are greeted with a guessing game: a wall of door knobs – only one leads to the desired destination. Sensational cocktails bear names that recall the Roaring ‘20s, and the menu is a short but mighty list of inventive bar foods including a deep-fried PB&J.
HMS Bounty is a proudly kitschy affair, nautical theme and all. Located on the ground floor of a Koreatown high-rise, visitors enter what seems like the dark, wood-paneled hull of a ship. The dive bar’s essentials are the beer and shot specials, which set loyal customers back a mere $5. Pair your drinks with a happy hour cheeseburger and you’ve got a night on the town for the cost of what one cocktail will get you elsewhere. When you’re looking for a bit of a moody atmosphere and cheap and easy selections, this is a solid choice.
EMC draws the hungry, highfalutin hordes with its $1 oyster special during happy hour on weeknights – it’s a great deal if you’re comfortable with getting cozy with your barmates. While you’re at it, try the live uni or soft shell crab sliders. Seafood most certainly reigns here, but the short, heavy-hitting cocktail list provides palate-cleansing balance with tried-and-true classics like a whiskey flip and a Moscow Mule in addition to more inventive takes with a barrel-aged Old Fashioned and a house sangria dubbed ‘The Hello Kitty.’
Cocktail Bar, Food Truck, Restaurant, Bar, Korean, Asian
Nestled in the corner of the lobby of the Line Hotel is POT Bar, which corresponds to Korean culinary genius Roy Choi’s esteemed POT restaurant just behind a nearby door. The lobby bar turns to full-on lounge on the weekends, complete with booths and bottle service. This spot is almost invariably bustling with 20- to 30-somethings anticipating a meal at the restaurant (yes, there’s a line) or hanging around to wash down a meal and mingle. The cocktails are the sort of creative fusion we’ve come to expect from Choi, like the Soju Curry which includes curry-infused soju with red wine, pickling liquid, lime, and agave syrup.
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Beer Belly, Los Angeles | Photo courtesy of Angel City Brewery
When you’re looking for a good beer in Koreatown, Beer Belly is undoubtedly the king of the neighborhood, overflowing with 12 rotating California drafts and a dozen more available on the can and bottle lists. Knowledgable barkeeps will tell you what’s what over a sample, but it’s hard to go wrong with their unequivocal selection. For the indulgent, brave the menu for guilty pleasures like their Death by Duckfat fries, quadruple layered grilled cheese or their crispy Brussels sprouts with pancetta. It can be tough to land a table indoors as this place is ever-popular, but patio seating is first come, first served, so slip on in.