Photo: Todd Sternisha
LA is a town built for the dive bar—a classic, no-nonsense place for young hipsters and old-timers to come together for cheap drinks and good times. Luckily, there are a vast array of divey watering holes from the South Bay to the Westside and all the way down to the thick of the Valley that you can drink your week’s worth of worries away at. From raucous and dimly-lit joints in more rough-around-the-edges neighborhoods to kitschy faves featuring overly loud music, hard-to-listen-to karaoke, quiet corner booths to get a little rowdy in, as well as layers upon layers of old peeling paint and faded posters, escape the SoCal urban sprawl by downing shots, sipping whiskey straight, and feeding crumpled bills into an almost-broken-down jukebox. When craving equal parts solace and below-the-line entertainment, a dark, seedy L.A. dive bar is the way to go.
Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
This super low key, adjacent-to-Skid-Row barstaurant has got two of DTLA’s biggest draws: good music and even better food. Featuring regular rockers from the likes of L.A.’s best bands—i.e. rowdy genre-smashers like Blackwater Jukebox or the Black Keys-ish blues blasters Snakearm (aka Restavrant) – the chill tone, light prices, and crazy eclectic array of unusual dishes is enough to make any down night a fun night. Try the bacon cheeseburger stuck smack dab in the middle of two glazed doughnuts serving as buns. Yum?!
Just across the way from the W and right next door to the Pantages, the former Howard Hughes-owned institution is one of the last remnants of old Hollywood and remains an Angeleno favorite. Since debuting all the back in the 1930s. it’s had the stars on its side, being a real life fave of Charles Bukowski and even earning a cameo in the late nineties neo-noir thriller L.A. Confidential. Find fun caricatures and a totally-at-home-feel at “The Last Bar on Hollywood Boulevard” – not to mention one of the happiest of happy hours in town with drinks well under $5 and beer for under $3 before 7pm.
There’s no one who won’t go for some free popcorn and this red-colored, woody barn-like bar with an always hospitable totally relaxed feel is definitely the area hangout to lounge and sneak in some kernels at (there’s an old-fashioned popping machine from which you serve yourself with tiny brown-paper bags!).
Over the years, it’s become a hipster fave, thanks in large part to its Los Feliz and Atwater Village location, its farmy charm, and the ample amount of open seating where you can catch up on everything from sports highlights to old TV sitcoms to cheesy movies. Surround yourself with dozens and dozens of empty liquor bottles at a quintessential L.A. dive that boasts the (self-proclaimed) “stiffest pours in town.” Just remember to bring along lots of dollar bills, as the place is cash only.
For something simple, easy, and totally inexpensive, there’s this underrated Rose City classic that’s got a great jukebox, plenty of pool tables, the occasional live band, and some curiously strong drinks. What’s more is that in classic dive fashion, the local hangout has got no windows at all– so you can happily lose track of time and just chill.
Three words: Free. Turtle. Racing. Seriously, any discussion of this Marina Del Rey Irish bar has got to include something about those fine and dandy turtle races held weekly in their converted parking lot. Bench seating is set up for the hordes of Loyola Marymount University kids and Guinness loving locals who all gather round to catch a glimpse of the slow-moving action. There’s even a friendly BYOT (Bring Your Own Turtle) policy, or you can just rent one from the bar. Let those Jameson’s flow freely amidst a sea of dark wood decor and shiny green shamrocks. Yes.
More of a restaurant than a dive bar per se, it’s still one worthy of putting on the books. The Santa Monica institution is well over fifty years old, serving up a nicely-rounded mix of seafood, steaks, and inexpensive drinks inside an old-timey dining room that’ll take you back several decades to hang out with the likes of the Rat Pack.
Besides all the trademarks of a classic dive (i.e. peanut shells on the ground and kitsch all around), the Hollywood Golden Era haunt actually maintains plenty of class– perfect for all those longtime regulars who come back again and again for ice cold beer and quiet conversation within a recently revamped outside patio.
It is a true Prohibition-era haunt with surly bartenders, strings of dim lights, cheap bottles of beer, and some of the most delicious griddle-cooked cheeseburgers in town—so what’s not to love?
Since starting shop in 1927, the Manhattan Beach spot remains a standard local favorite, the perfect place to settle in a cozy booth to catch a game while chomping on a tasty dollar hotdog on Dodger Days. Drink away the afternoon with a nice stiff cocktail, dabble in some pool playing, and make sure to mosey on in on Hump Days to get two burgers for the price of one when you buy two drinks—just be sure to bring cash.
Ideal for cutting loose without having to break the bank, the Culver City classic has got all the major trappings of genuine dive bar: a more than colorful clientele, tons of unpolished karaoke, worn-out pool tables, dart boards and games, and oh yeah, loads of cheap and strong cocktails and pitchers of beer. Find also the likes of yummy homemade treats: think chili, nachos, breakfast burritos, or hotdogs that are often times brought out for free by friendly staff members attempting to feed the always swarming frenzy of boozy regulars.
If you want to avoid those modernized, ultra-chic, and newly opened Hollywood lounges, there’s this dimly lit alcove along Cahuenga Blvd. that still feels strangely homey and comfortable even after having gone through all too many different owners since opening up shop in 89’. Sure, drinks aren’t as cheap or as strong than at most spots, but it’s got that true Hollywood dive bar feel that you see in all the best movies– the perfect mix of dive and bar with easy-going bartenders, cold stiff drinks, and even snazzy Ouija board tables on site. It also happens to be an EDM scene headquarters, the go-to destination for the punk metal crowd, so you’ll likely be too busy rockin’ it out to think about how cramped, dark, and totally seedy the space actually is. Word.