In a culinary city as dynamic as Los Angeles, the drinking culture keeps pace with the remarkable restaurant scene. Consider these 10 favorites a doorway into our city’s singular approach to serving wine, cocktails, beer, coffee and tea.
It’s an easy pleasure to settle into Augustine’s scruffily handsome Sherman Oaks wine bar and request, say, a $15 smoky red from the Rías Baixas region of Spain; enjoy it alongside charred octopus with fennel and Asian pear. The wine nerds flock here for another, singular dimension to the selection: Chalkboards list daily-changing specials, drawn in part from co-owner Dave Gibbs’ personal collection. Wines can date back decades. A bottle of 1989 Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet is fairly priced for a well-stored white Burgundy that’s at once creamy and complex. Aged options by the glass and the bottle are offered in a range of prices, not all of them exorbitant. — B.A.
13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 990-0938, augustinewinebar.com
Black Market Liquor Bar
This is the type of place where the bartender makes an effort to learn your name — it’s a proper neighborhood bar with cocktails fit for a posh downtown rooftop. In fact, all the drinks are fancy; they’re noted on the menu as “fancy drinks” and “really fancy drinks.” The tipples at this Studio City establishment are from the mind of consultant Pablo Moix, the award-winning bartender behind Old Lightning bar, Harvard & Stone and many other notable watering holes around town. Under “fancy drinks” you’ll find well-made classics and classics with a tweak, such as the Son of a Beesting, made with Bombay gin, honey, lemon, ginger and rosewater for a pleasant floral aftertaste. For a really fancy drink, there’s the Base Camp. Orphan Barrel Rhetoric and Ardbeg Scotch pack a boozy punch with creme de cacao and allspice dram. It’s smooth and warming, like a swanky holiday pajama party. Order a snack or two, like chef Antonia Lofaso’s peel-and-eat lemon pepper shrimp and thick-cut dill potato chips. — J.H.
11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 446-2533, blackmarketliquorbar.com
The Santa Ana brewery opened Oct. 1, 2020, and was immediately hit with whiplash from all the pandemic restrictions, the Silverado and Blue Ridge fires, the holidays, the presidential election and a surge in COVID cases in the winter months. But from the start, the taproom has felt like a throwback to simpler times. Thursday is trivia night. There are board games. Food trucks and food pop-ups set up shop out front. Brewer Kevin Buckley is crafting brews that are highly gulpable and ideal for micheladas. There are spicy lemon, funky pepino and vegan mango micheladas; the house mix is made with Flying Embers’ tamarind-based michelada and your beer of choice. The light and crisp Firme Twist is flavored with both lime and salt, which pairs especially well with the savory, tart mix. Regardless of your beer choice, expect a generous, gloppy rim of chamoy and Tajín along with a sweet and smoky tamarind straw and a Rebanaditas. The brewery, like the house michelada, always feels like a party. — J.H.
309 W. 4th St. Santa Ana, (714) 852-3529, cervezacito.com
The ties to the Filipino community are strong at this female-run bar in Historic Filipinotown. Owners Roselma Samala, Patricia Perez and Christine Sumiller developed a friendship through Filipino cultural organizations at UCLA, and they opened Genever in 2018 after a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the bar. It’s named for genever, the gin-like spirit that’s heavy on the juniper but distilled from malted barley, corn and rye, and produced in Holland, Belgium and some areas of Germany and France. There are a few on the bottle list, along with more than 20 varieties of gin, but where the bar really shines is in beverage director Kelso Norris’ cocktails. The Happy Happy Joy Joy is a new addition that marries gin, Ming River baijiu, passion fruit, basil-vanilla, citrus, Droplet Pretty Happy sparkling drink and house-made bitters featuring sampaguita and mango, the national flower and fruit of the Philippines. It’s fruity and nicely balanced with a hit of spice from the baijiu — happy, happy indeed. — J.H.
3123 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 908-5693,geneverla.com
Since opening in 2018, Andres Jinhan “A.J.” Kim and Scott Sohn’s Highland Park shop has become one of Southern California’s crucial destinations for caffeine geekery. Shelves wrap around the store, displaying bags of beans from national and global cult coffee roasters. Baristas make single-origin pour-overs for the purists but also charm with drinks like Cloudy (With a Chance of Peanuts), an espresso finished with cold milk and peanut butter foam. Tea lovers can choose from among three levels of ceremonial-grade matcha. The one hot food item is a breakfast burrito — compact egg, cheese and potato parcels (sausage or bacon optional) perfumed with but not overwhelmed by garlic confit. The number of customers allowed inside the small space remains limited; don’t be too daunted by a morning line that can stretch to the street. — B.A.
4936 York Blvd., Los Angeles, kumquatcoffee.com
Ivan Vasquez is one of the foremost mezcal evangelists in America. His three restaurants — in Torrance, Palms and the newest location, in West Hollywood — are mind-opening windows into mezcal culture. “Smoky” only begins to cover the range of the spirit’s flavors. Note that the drink list mentions just a fraction of the available selections; ask a server for a style and a price and the bartenders will happily send you on an off-menu, mind-opening journey. To eat alongside: memelas (thick tortillas overlaid with pureed black beans, queso fresco and crumbled chorizo) and a prism of moles. — B.A.
1261 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, (310) 974-8005; 10426 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 559-4732; 801 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 850-8518; madrerestaurants.com
Night + Market
Natural wine has settled into the firmament of L.A. culture. Kris Yenbamroong led the charge last decade when he made his natural-wine-focused lists an inextricable part of his full-blast, only-in-L.A. Thai restaurants. He and his wife, Sarah Yenbamroong, sustain the edge and the fun of their lists. A rosé Zweigelt described as “passion fruit and white pepper — electric pizzazz” tastes so right alongside spicy pork jowl and a hot pot version of tom kha gai. Visit the Venice and West Hollywood outposts of Night + Market while we wait for the beloved Silver Lake location to reopen after a fire in August. — B.A.
9043 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 275-9724; 2533 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 301-0333; nightmarketsong.com
All the tasteful gold trim, the palm frond-studded wallpaper and the backlit Tetris tiles behind this Los Feliz bar make it feel like you’re inside a lush tropical jewelry box. New beverage director Aly Iwamoto has been a bartender at some of the city’s most lauded hangouts, including the Varnish and Bavel. Her current menu is a tribute to 1980s beach culture with the Three Day Weekend, a cocktail of bourbon, pineapple rim and banana, and a Seashell Sour made with tequila, white peach, lemon and yuzu. But the most compelling of the bunch may be Iwamoto’s take on an espresso martini, appropriately named the Midnight Jolt. Vodka, espresso, nuts, citrus and fennel flirt in the glass to create a drink that’s familiar but newly enticing, like reconnecting with an old flame at your high school reunion. — J.H.
1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 763-0351, pinkyslosfeliz.com
The Recess Room
When you spot a Spumoni Negroni among the options at this Fountain Valley bar, you might hesitate. Turning a classic cocktail into a cloyingly sweet Italian dessert typically packed with candied fruits is blasphemous, right? Instead of gin, there’s strawberry-infused gin. The Campari is replaced with a coconut-fat-washed Campari. The sweet vermouth is infused with cocoa nib. But it was like drinking the best Negroni in a field of strawberries, with the aromas of fresh fruit wafting into each sip. And the drink had an almost creamy mouthfeel. Another favorite was the Passion Bird, made with jalapeño reposado, Thai chile aperol, passion fruit, pineapple, lime and blackstrap bitters. These are thoughtful, unexpected concoctions that will make you forget you’re in an Orange County strip mall next to a State Farm office. — J.H.
18380 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 377-0398, therecessroom.com
Imen Shan specializes in dan cong oolongs — teas cultivated around Phoenix Mountain in China’s Guangdong Province that, through miracles of oxidation and roasting, taste of stone fruits or florals or spices; multiple steepings reveal evolving flavors. Lately she’s expanded her collection with top-tier black and fermented pu-erh teas as well. Similar to wine and coffee, there are many levels at which tea can be appreciated. Come to Shan’s tiny Alhambra shop (by appointment only) to experience some of the finest examples in the world.— B.A.
(626) 202-8777, teahabitat.com