10 Best Neighborhood Bars in Los Angeles
The neighborhood bar is a tough thing to define. Sometimes, it occupies the intersection of dive and sport. Sometimes, it's a lounge time has thankfully forgotten. When a comfortable neighborhood bar gets too crowded, it turns into a destination, overrun by scene-seekers for a spell until it can shine no brighter. And then, like a red dwarf, it fades and sinks back into obscurity, emitting just enough light to satisfy the locals who discovered it first. If we neglected to mention your own favorite, be relieved, not indignant. If we named your favorite hangout, we're sorry. At the same time, the 10 neighborhood bars that follow aren't secrets. As if we'd tell you those.
Daina Beth Solomon So neighborhood: Tattle Tale
10. El Prado:
Daina Beth Solomon El Prado's interior
Classy yet understated, the interior of El Prado, at least what you can see of it through the shadows, is dominated by the long wooden bar and the broad chalkboard peering down from the wall behind the bar advertising tasty things like Delirium Tremens and St. Bernardus. An Echo Park standby, El Prado focuses on wine and craft beers, but its menu is blessedly no model of consistency. The taps and bottles seem to change more frequently than the records spinning on the turntable. The turntable is behind the bar, too, but the 'tenders here are more than capable of sliding vinyl out of sleeves and topping off pints at the same time. There is no food beyond nibbles -- salami, goat cheese, olives and so forth -- but you can have an iffy pizza slice across the street for a third of the price of a tasting plate. Or a solid taco for even less. Come on a Tuesday, when the dudes from Origami Vinyl preside over Record Club Night. 1805 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 484-6079.
9. Instant Replay:
With its stone exterior and drab sign advertising cocktails and a "giant TV," Canoga Park's Instant Replay just looks like a place where patrons cheerfully give nonregulars the stink-eye. And it is, you'll find out, if you stroll in breezily when a crowd of them have gathered. Yet, with as many as eight craft selections on tap, swift, friendly service, darts and (blessedly) plenty of parking, Instant Replay, in other ways, is as welcoming as a neighborhood joint can get. This is no easy feat, especially considering that the goal of a neighborhood joint's regular clientele is usually to make nonregular walk-ins never want to return. As an added bonus, Tacos Reyes' taco truck often parks directly outside, offering some steaming cabeza tacos to pair with those mildly esoteric brews you're swilling down. 21927 Saticoy St., Canoga Park. (818) 712-0628.
8. Mandrake Bar:
A. Simmons Mandrake, Interior
The Mandrake is not in Hollywood. The Mandrake is not filled with Ed Hardy shirts straining to conceal ballooning biceps. The Mandrake has art. This means, of course, by some standards, that the Mandrake is edgy, a hipster hangout. Like mounds of driftwood, low-slung tables line the small room where the bar sits, directly opposite the door through which you enter. That bunker spills into a dance-floor space with white walls and high ceilings, where two wooden picnic tables tip and heave beneath the weight of leaning, liquored customers and a projection of a cozy fire crackles on the screen behind the tables, and still further back, outside, where a patio fills up with smokers. The Mandrake wants people to dance, but there is a problem. The music is too loud for talking and yet not good enough to draw out the kind of dedicated, deliberate, focused dancing that aunties do at weddings -- the only dancing, we believe, that you should ever do. It doesn't help that the sound system is comparable to the speakers in a mid-'90s Corolla, the bass fuzzy and the high ends piercing. If talking is your aim, you will scream until you sound like Gilbert Gottfried. Despite the dearth of dancing aunties or conversation, though, this a nice place to drink, staffed by friendly folk. 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 837-3297.
7. Bigfoot Lodge:
Daina Beth Solomon Bigfoot Lodge's interior
Inspired by its namesake, Los Feliz's Bigfoot wallows in forest-y tropes -- bartenders in scout garb, park signage, bathrooms labeled "buck" and "doe" and plenty of stuffed fauna -- but it doesn't forget that the aim of a bar is not to elicit a giggle or two but to sell drinks and lubricate relations between friends old and new. From the Girl Scout Cookie to the Toasted Marshmallow, the drinks are fine, but the real appeal is the scene -- aided substantially by cozy booths and a popular karaoke night. The noise level makes quiet conversation an impossibility, but the people-watching possibilities are considerable. 3172 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 662-9227.
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