Los Angeles is a city built on contradictions. While it’s famous for its international stars, miles of beaches, and dedication to exaggerated opulence, it also boasts an equally impressive network of gritty dive bars.
These aren’t the places you’ll find glitterati or Insta-fluencers – the parade of people who try to look like they’ve never tried in their lives. No craft cocktails or elegant decor here; no stage, no dress code. These water holes are almost as old as Los Angeles and attract a range of regulars.
With California now in the midst of a severe lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19, these establishments are now closed and are the ones I miss the most and look forward to returning to.
When I was writing my novel, The lady upstairs, a feminist noir thriller about women blackmailing the richest and most morally bankrupt men in Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time in dive bars. Mainly as research. (Most.) Where can the anti-heroes of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, among others, find respite from all this optimistic sun? Slip into one of these joints and you can practically smell the ghosts of the private investigators wearing fedora and the fast talking femme fatales. The cool, dark dive bars provide the chiaroscuro that makes Los Angeles a breeding ground for the genre.
Although it will take a while before I can go out for a drink, these are the waterholes I plan to visit first.
There is a plethora of kitsch-cool tiki bars in Los Angeles. All of these elements take a scenic turn on mid-century tropes and update them for the 21st century. It’s like the bartenders wink at you isn’t that ridiculous trick that lets customers know they’re in for the joke, so everyone can just relax and enjoy their not-too-sweet Mai Tai.
Not so with the purple orchid.
Located in El Segundo, a western Los Angeles suburb just south of LAX that reads like the child in love between Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and the well-appointed business parks of Silicon Valley, the Purple Orchid is within walking distance of a cinema. which plays 1950s sci-fi classics on Sundays and the headquarters of Raytheon Defense Contracting.
With specialty cocktails like the Curious George, which is heavy on both rum and banana (imagine an eight-ounce-deep liquid sugar hangover), and a range of ‘bowl’ style and flamboyant drinks. , the purple orchid is refreshingly unpretentious in its love for all things typically tiki. It is also the setting for more than one crucial scene in The lady upstairs. I chose it because the tiki cocktail history is littered with blackish nuggets and because I think you can argue that tiki bars are a lot like femme fatales themselves – gorgeous to look at and likely to you. leave a lot of regrets in the morning.
The Prince of Whales, located a few blocks from the ocean and only a few miles from LAX, smells like the inside of an aquarium that hasn’t been cleaned regularly. The clientele is almost evenly split between daytime patrons who start the hard work of stripping themselves at 10 a.m. and students at Loyola Marymount University who test their freshly minted ID cards. It’s a tall, beautiful blue whale of a building, home to a karaoke stage, a quadrangle of sports televisions, and an expansive back patio that sees a variety of table tennis experts who have spent a number of hours. unlikely to perfect their backhand.
You might have heard of other bars on this list, but I’m pretty sure the Prince of Whales never made a list of bars to visit in Los Angeles and that’s where its charm lies. It is located in my neighborhood (and the neighborhood where the main character The lady upstairs also lives), Playa del Rey, the forgotten seaside town of Los Angeles. It’s a corner of town where mom-and-pop restaurants can still afford beachfront property and feature a charming little cluster of neon lights and beach bums resembling Thomas Pynchon characters.
At Prince of Whales the drinks are cheap and strong. If you’re starting your night out at the Prince of Whales, you’re in trouble. If you end the night there, you’re doing it right.
The woodwork at HMS Bounty, not updated since the bar opened in 1962, now looks a bit out of place in Koreatown, a chic and diverse neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles.
HMS Bounty is attached to the Gaylord Apartments, once dubbed “one of the tallest and most pretentious buildings in the country” by The Los Angeles Times. He made a cameo appearance Mad Men, but this high level advertisement did nothing to change the unpretentious charm of the place, which offers “food & grog” as on the banner outside.
I don’t remember any special cocktails from HMS Bounty; I barely remember the double Gin & Tonics under $ 10; but I remember the sweaty brown carpet swaying under my feet like a real boat as I stumbled over to the bar to pay my insanely cheap bill on an adventurous evening.
The ghost of Raymond Chandler welcomes you at the door of this legendary Hollywood establishment. Although not a dive bar per se, but truly a historic restaurant with an amazing, darkish bar, I felt I should always include it on this list
Musso & Frank opened in 1919 and is the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles. Along with Chandler, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker and many more ate and drank here. From the cocktail menu springs lucrative inspiration – or that’s what writers like Charles Bukowski seemed to hope for, as he is credited with the tradition of looking for just the right opening hook to a novel deep in a Musso & Frank. Gimlet.
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