Drink Spirits with Spirits at Los Angeles Bars

Tom Bergin's - The House of Irish Coffee
Photo courtesy of Tom Bergin's, Facebook

Los Angeles is world-famous for its nightlife. But how many know about its night-death? If you've always wanted to have drinks with a ghost, L.A. is your town. Haunted party people float through beastly boîtes in every corner of our mysterious city. We've gathered some of the most spirited places in L.A. to consume spirits. If you'd like to learn more, Richard Carradine, founder of GHOULA (Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles), has written the definitive tome on the topic, Spirits with Spirits.

Clifton's

Redwood tree at Clifton’s
Redwood tree at Clifton’s | Photo by Wonho Frank Lee, courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy

The history of Clifton's reaches back to the Great Depression. Clifford Clinton founded his cafeteria chain on a principle: the meals would be "pay-what-you-wish" and no one would be turned away hungry even if they couldn't pay at all. But Clinton had his darker side: a lifelong mistress so obsessed with him that she had her ashes scattered at the cafeteria. When the former Clifton's Brookdale (opened in 1935 as the second restaurant in the chain) was being restored for its grand reopening in 2015 (including its spooky, Disney-like "forest" theme and taxidermied animals), workers continually saw—and even photographed—the mistress' restless Jazz Age spirit.

648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014

H.M.S. Bounty

HMS Bounty in Koreatown
HMS Bounty | Photo courtesy of Santa Dog, Flickr

Located in the bottom floor of the Gaylord Apartments - dating back to a time when “gay” still meant “happy” - the H.M.S. Bounty is a beautifully-preserved 1920s-era nautical bar built by Gaylord Wilshire, for whom Wilshire Boulevard is named. In a primal act of gentrification, he created the Miracle Mile by building it atop the City Dump—which had been a popular place to dump murdered bodies as well. Visitors to the Bounty’s ladies’ room be warned—you may feel the pinch of a leering phantom real estate developer with a huge sense of entitlement.

3357 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010

Musso & Frank Grill

The Old Room at Musso & Frank Grill
The Old Room at Musso & Frank Grill | Photo by Joshua Lurie

The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank Grill will pass the century mark in 2019. And being open for nearly 100 years, a place accumulates a lot of ghosts. It would seem that in the celebrity afterlife, Musso's is still the place to go, as the shades of Errol Flynn, Orson Welles, and Jean Harlow have been spotted there apparently on break from haunting their respective homes. One ghost who remains loyal to this historic eatery (famous for its Martinis and flannel cakes) is Charlie Chaplin. Regulars maintain he can still be found cozily ensconced in the booth where he dined every day for years and was always kept ready for him—No. 1 in the Old Room, right by the window.

6667 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Formosa Cafe

Neon sign at Formosa Café
Formosa Café | Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Originally a decommissioned L.A. Red Car trolley, the famous Formosa Cafe opened in 1925. Thanks to the studio across the street (now known as The Lot), the Formosa has forever been a favorite of celebs, from Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley to Nicolas Cage and Britney Spears (although not at the same time). While the vintage interior (as seen in LA Confidential and other films) now has a modern upgrade, the ghosts remain the same—according to the bartender, someone mysteriously plays Sinatra's "New York, New York" on repeat late at night when she's there alone...

NOTE: Formosa Cafe is currently closed for renovations.

Snow White Cafe

Snow White Cafe
Photo courtesy of Snow White Cafe

It might not be the most haunted place to stop for a beer in Hollywood, but it is perhaps the most perplexing. Built in 1946, the Snow White Cafe features an above-the-door mural painted by the original Snow White animators, with the odd legend, “We hope we have pleased you.” Some surmise that it was a gift from grateful Disney staffers, including Walt himself, who used to meet there for brainstorming sessions. If the ghosts of an idea aren’t scary enough, there’s plenty of paranormal activity next door at the Hollywood Wax Museum.

6769 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90028

Tom Bergin's House of Irish Coffee

Tom Bergin and Bing Crosby at Del Mar in 1937
Tom Bergin and Bing Crosby at Del Mar in 1937 | Photo courtesy of Tom Bergin's

Another Depression-era spot, Tom Bergin's has a couple of claims to fame: it was one of the early purveyors of its namesake drink, and it was reportedly the inspiration for Cheers (take that, Boston). A perennial haunt of the Hollywood set, owner Tom Bergin was always found in his favorite spot, chain-smoking and entertaining friends like Bing Crosby and John Wayne. Some say the smell of cigarettes still emanates from the couch by the fireside, and they've lost a few night custodians who weren't convinced that the specter of a man in a dapper tan suit was there to watch over his old bar benevolently.

840 S Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Residuals Tavern

Residuals Tavern
Photo courtesy of Residuals Tavern, Facebook

Many of L.A.’s most frightening tales have to do with Hollywood (of course). Located in Studio City, Residuals Tavern opened in 1986 as “Re$iduals” - named for the ever-diminishing checks an actor gets for repeat airings of a TV program. It catered to small-time actors, haunted by not much more than the specters of their failed careers. However, there are whispers of a thespian ghost in the attic crawlspace, which the staff and owners refuse to talk about when pressed.

11042 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

Barefoot Bar - Duke’s Malibu

Duke's Mai Tai at Duke's Malibu
Duke's Mai Tai | Photo courtesy of Duke's Malibu, Facebook

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, Duke's Malibu is one of six Hawaiian-inspired restaurants named for Duke Kahanamoku, native Hawaiian, Olympic Gold Medalist, and the father of modern day surfing. The Barefoot Bar offers ocean views and themed drinks like Duke's Mai Tai, South Swell Margarita, Lava FLow. This coastal spot began its story as the Las Flores Inn in 1915 and was purchased in 1944 by “Captain” Chris Polos, a Greek immigrant who renamed it the Malibu Sea Lion, complete with a tank of actual pinnipeds. Polos lived in an apartment above the restaurant and worked there every day of his life until passing away in 1986 at 99. His spirit has been keeping an eye on things ever since.

21150 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265

Basement Tavern

Basement Tavern at The Victorian
Photo courtesy of Basement Tavern, Facebook

Originally located on Ocean Boulevard and home to one of Santa Monica’s first families, the 1892 manse that is now The Victorian was moved to Heritage Square on Main Street in 1973. (Not to be confused with the Heritage Square Museum in Montecito Heights.) Its last caretaker was an elderly lady named Delia; no one is quite sure who she was or where she disappeared to when the house was moved. Some say she never left - including the staff of the Basement Tavern, located downstairs at The Victorian, who continue to offer “Delia’s Elixir” to keep her spirit happy.

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Mya Stark