It turns out writers can be a thirsty group of people with many a liquid expense report. Our roving band of writers has stumbled and wobbled into more bars than you can shake a stir stick at. Never averse to trying something new when it includes imbibing, they braved the arduous task of uncovering the latest in molecular mixes and unpronounceable ingredients, uncovering the hippest bars across North America.
And while not the definitive list, these are the establishments where we stood up, took notice, ordered another drink and said, “Well done, sir.”
There are some bars that are worth seeking out. As our writers tend to do, they teetered off course, managing to find the one bar where Austin Powers and Timothy Leary would feel right at home. Downright groovy, the menu of 25 unique martinis is printed on vinyl LPs and the kitschy décor comes complete with hand-shaped plastic scoop chairs. The vibe is as ever changing as the music; from '80s new wave to '60s soul, when the club set pours in this lo-fi lounge becomes the hot spot on St. Laurent. Be forewarned, this psychedelic '70s throwback gets busy; this is the bar where people start their night but never want to leave.
1219 Granville Street
This '60s-inspired lounge is home to the fashion-forward and the moneyed trendsetters, but we didn’t let that deter us from our night of drinking. This is the perfect spot to sit back and watch. Think red velvet walls, plush carpets and models parading by. Intimate and moody, the bar screens adult movies on the ceiling; just our kind of place.
191 Chrystie Street
Fourteen drinks on the menu. That’s it. There is no room for confusion with a limited selection, but what the Experimental Cocktail Club lacks in variety they make up for in taste. Our taste. They have managed to curate an impressive collection of near impossible to find liquors dating back to the '50s. Each drink is an epicurean affair with a minimum of three ingredients. Oh, and of course, there is an unmarked doorway.
1159 North Western Avenue
“Let’s go to Descarga” can be an ominous charge for first-timers; be it the dark, unmarked doorway with only a bouncer and a congregation of seemingly out of place but well-dressed people to note its presence or the dank, dingy stairwell straight out of Bukowskian lore, one might suspect a seedy soiree lurks on the upper landing. But a quick duck through a well-concealed “secret passage” reveals just the opposite: a red-hued, rum-soaked room of red oak and revelry. La Descarga is L.A.’s premier rum bar, a throwback to the Havana heydays to the point that one expects to find Hemingway and Castro cajoling in the corner. It’s a historian's haven of over 75 handpicked rums and cigars to match, the closest thing to Cuba without leaving the continent.
Image courtesy of John Cappiello
1315 Sansom Street
Skip the restaurant and head straight to the bar. Between live jazz sets and an extensive whisky list, it will be hard to shake the feeling you’ve taken a wrong turn and slipped back in time to the dirty '30s. Luckily, you’ll be imbibing like those more fortunate at the time thanks to the atmosphere that balances elegance and comfort. Every bartender we encountered serves up flawless vintage cocktails and has extensive knowledge about all whiskies and absinthe. Did we not mention that? Take the curving staircase to the absinthe bar upstairs.
Any bar formerly occupied by one Midnight Cowboy Oriental Massage is bound to grab our attention. While no longer a massage parlor with mattresses on the floor, Midnight Cowboy still gives the brothel feel, though of a higher class. This modern-day speakeasy has a hidden door, a red light (if there is a vacancy) and buzzer labeled “Harry Craddock,” all of which can be tricky to navigate if you’re well into your night. But none of that is important. It all comes down to the drinks. Hard-to-find and at times homemade ingredients make this bar stand out. Ah yes, the seediness may be gone but the secrecy remains. As do the private back rooms and two-hour limit.