Pub Crawl: What's Hot and What's Not in Downtown Bars
Drinks are prepared inside CaÃ±a Rum Bar.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Working as an advertising executive, I’ve spent many an hour entertaining a client over drinks. I’m what you might call a professional regular when it comes to bars. Over the last two years that I’ve lived in Downtown, I’ve done enough drinking in the neighborhood to fill up a shoebox or two with receipts.
I have also always enjoyed checking out new spots, and that has resulted in a custom-crafted and ever-changing pub-crawl list for myself or visiting friends. Walking (or cabbing) from location to location is one of the best parts of drinking in DTLA so I highly recommend it.
Here I share with you the Cliffs Notes of what’s on my list of places to go and places worth skipping. The list is ever-changing and with so many new nightlife options coming, it undoubtedly will continue to evolve:
My South Park Swing
The South Park area has a nice three-block span of hot spots few of us think about when it comes to drinking. I find it great for Thursdays and weekends when the other bars are usually slammed with a bridge and tunnel crowd.
Corkbar – This beer and wine-only bar is a great place to kick off my evening. Staff members Natalie and Greg are quick to introduce new wines and offer ample samples to get your night going in the right direction. Owner Garry Muir is always onsite to drop by your table for a chat. The crowd is mixed with first-daters, gaggles of giggling girls and talkative locals perched at the massive bar. A recently added patio fireplace offers up great people watching on this busy corner of Grand and 12th. 403 W. 12th
Arashi Sushi– Plotting my route north from Corkbar, I often drop into Arashi Sushi for a quick nibble and some sake. This ultra hip sushi spot is well aware of its sushi competition to the North so friendliness and freshness for locals takes priority. 1111 S. Hope, but located on 11th between Hope and Flower.
Rivera— Around the corner from Arashi is the bar at Rivera. Matt the bartender, a DTLA resident, is quick with a handshake and a dazzling show of mixology. With a drink menu crafted by legendary mixologist Julian Cox, the appeal of the bar is easy to see. Creative cocktails ranging from the Blood Sugar Sex Magic (a blend of rye whiskey, red pepper, agave nectar and basil) to the Sabertooth (cachaca, lime, Eau de Vie and bluberries) ensure there is an impressive cocktail for everyone. The crowd is an upscale blend of locals and those trickling over from L.A. Live. I tend to arrive after 9pm to avoid the heavy dinner crowd. 1050 S. Flower, corner of Flower and 11th.
Caña Rum Bar— From Rivera I saunter over to Caña Rum Bar. Formerly the high priced membership joint called Doheny, Caña is a Cedd Moses bar that many locals never find. The heavily adjusted membership fee (a requirement linked to their liquor license, I am told) is now just $20 for an annual membership and purchase includes your first cocktail. Not a bad deal when you think that this offers some very cool cachet when entertaining guests. Seating is ample throughout and the weekends offer live music with a Latin flair. Head bartender John Coltharpe is always down to get deep on cocktail theory and makes some of the most impressive blends I have seen around. The guy is an encyclopedia of mixology. To find this hidden gem, look for the driveway just south of Olympic on Flower’s west side. 714 W. Olympic
The entire route makes for easy walking -- female participants always thank me for this -- and gives us a glimpse of this less-often traveled part of town. For the squeamish guest fearful of what lurks beyond Main St, you are less likely to run into panhandlers and sidewalk sleepers on this route.
The Tried and True
The Historic Core is booming with bars yet care in choosing the right bars for the right nights can be the difference between a great time out and just a good one. Granted, we can always bar hop, but that can cut into time that should be spent enjoying the evening. Here is my rundown of the Historic Core and beyond and what nights I find to be most appealing at each.
Broadway Bar— This bar is literally across the street from where I live, yet I frequent it the least. It has a great décor and some of the friendliest bartenders in town (all with heavy hands), yet I find the crowd to be very hit or miss. Fridays and Saturdays are absolutely packed but unfortunately with not the best crowd (think Mayan or the Exchange). Earlier in the week the place is most often quite empty. Best bet here is a Thursday as a kicking-off point for your evening. 830 S. Broadway
The Golden Gopher— is probably my most frequented spot. I pop in on weekends before the small bar gets slammed with USC students or I swing through late to take advantage of their off-sale liquor license (yes, the Golden Gopher is also essentially a liquor store). Earlier in the week is when I enjoy the Gopher the most. The crowd mid-week seems to be more local and you don’t have to fight for a drink at the bar. From themed nights like iPod Tuesday (essentially BYOB but with your music in a bar!) to the expansive back patio, Golden Gopher typically has some reason to be on my pub-crawl. 417 W. 8th
Big Wangs- seems to have waned in popularity lately, the hot-female-staff-only policy is slipping and I rarely see a local crowd in here. Drinks are potent, the street-side patio and fire pit is massive, but I just don’t see many locals. Maybe it is difficult for us to feel comfortable telling our friends to meet us at “Wangs” or perhaps it is a lack of local promotion. Maybe they need a music-themed night. I do find myself here for the occasional blacked out sports game or the UFC fights (Big Wangs is the only location in Downtown that broadcasts all the UFC fights). 801 S. Grand
Seven Grand- I have to assume that 7G is on every local’s pub-crawl list, and it is easy to see why. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have live Jazz jam sessions filled with many of our resident musicians. My favorite drink of all time, the Old Fashioned, is done the best here and the staff, from managers to bar-backs and doormen to bartenders is a solid bunch of people. Weekends are absolutely slammed here so I often opt for other choices (unless the uncontrollable urge for an Old Fashioned takes over). 515 W. 7th
Spring St- is the newest must-see addition to my nightly pup-crawl and a pleasant surprise at that. Staff and affordable drinks take high marks. From the so-cute-they-are–adorable female bartenders in suspenders to the smiling gruff of Scott at the door and manager Steen ensuring a good time is to be had by all, Spring St gets A’s and is a solid addition to the growing hustle of the core. Ideal for early and mid-week drinking, with a genius communal table on the patio that forces people to converse. To aid in the absorption of alcohol, you can always grab a fresh sandwich here that is made with bread from Hygge Bakery and a solid late night snack. 626 S. Spring
The Falls- This well-decorated place hasn’t sunk in with me yet. Drinks are at par and the crowd seems distant, as do the bartenders (who you can tell by reading this story are a key factor for local love). Maybe it is the Hollywood roots of the staff and owner that give off an arms-distance vibe. But being next door to Spring usually makes it easy for me to pop in for progress checks. 626 S. Spring
Las Perlas- Down the street and around the corner from Spring St is Las Perlas. Weekdays are solid, drawing in mostly locals while leaving seating. Weekends get busy but they seem to do a good job at the door of not overwhelming the bar staff. The challenge I see with Las Perlas is that tequila intake must be carefully monitored to prevent overheating. 107 W. 6th
Villains- Only a bar like Villains could make me seek out a late-night cab ride to the east side of Downtown and these days it often does. With former Golden Gopher bartenders Sonny and Rodney and the same for-hire door staff as all the Cedd Moses bars, co-owner Dave Whitton is hitting on all cylinders. Live music is featured Wednesday through Saturday nights and the massive patio fills, resulting in a line to the street. Get there early and do my pub crawl in reverse if you are not a fan of the crowds. Or stop me on the street for a super-special secret in beating the crowds at Villains! 1356 Palmetto
To see where Michael is at throughout the week, follow him on Twitter where he can be found @mikerobleto.