Los Angeles is home to some of the best craft cocktail bars in the country. But sometimes, what's really needed is a session in a dimly lit dive bar. Everyone has their own idea of a proper dive bar, but some features are a must - full bar with cheap, strong drinks; open all day, every day (bonus points if first call is 6 a.m.); a solid jukebox with a combination of pool table, darts and/or karaoke. Food isn't a requirement - however, free popcorn or other snackables is a plus, and some dives offer killer grub to soak up the booze. The best dives have been around for decades - it takes time to build up all that character and colorful clientele.
From Downtown L.A. to the Beach Cities, read on for the best dive bars in neighborhoods across Los Angeles.
La Cita - Downtown LA
A Mexican dive bar by day, La Cita (336 S Hill St, Los Angeles 90013) transforms into a live music and DJ venue at night. Located on Hill Street just steps from Grand Central Market, La Cita hosts weekday Happy Hours out on the expansive patio from 4-9 p.m., featuring $3 Tecates and domestics, $4 imports and wells. Friday's "Angry Hour" adds punk rock and free pizza to the festivities. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (2-9 p.m.) features a Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar. Sports are a big part of La Cita - two flat screen TVs indoors, two flat screens outdoors, and a large projector screen show international soccer and domestic pro sports, along with major NCAA games. Music at La Cita ranges from old school hip-hop on Monday night to rockabilly (Thursdays 4-9 p.m.), cumbia (Thursdays, $7 cover after 10 p.m.), "Punky Reggae" every Friday night and Yacht Rock on Saturday afternoon.
HMS Bounty - Koreatown
The nautical-themed HMS Bounty (3357 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles 90010) is located on the ground floor of the historic Gaylord Apartments, which opened in 1924 across the street from the Ambassador Hotel. The Bounty originally opened as the Gay Room in 1948. It was later known as the Secret Harbor and then the Golden Anchor before it became the HMS Bounty in 1962. Start with the $5 Wise Man special (a shot of whiskey and a Tecate) and pick some tunes on the vinyl jukebox. The baseball steak is a popular order, or go on a Sunday for their $4.95 lunch specials. And if you're lucky enough to get introduced to Annie, it's guaranteed the legendary bartender will remember your name whether you stop in the following week or a year later. Mad Men fans will recognize the Bounty from the Season One episode "Indian Summer," when Peggy goes on a blind date with a truck driver at La Trombetta, a fictional Manhattan seafood restaurant.
If you're in the mood for a boilermaker, head to Frank 'n Hank (518 S Western Ave, Los Angeles 90020) located on Western Avenue about a mile from the Bounty. Jimmy Han (owner of the recently closed Beer Belly) took over the popular dive bar in 2015 and expanded the beer and spirits selection, along with adding a credit card machine. Han wisely kept the Sunday-Thursday boilermaker specials, darts, pool table and stellar jukebox.
Drawing Room - Los Feliz
The Drawing Room (1800 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles 90027) is a quintessential dive bar - open every day at 6 a.m., darts, top-notch jukebox and cash only. The dragon mural is a wonderful non sequitur and oddly appropriate for the bar's location in a Los Feliz strip mall that also houses a Thai restaurant and a laundromat. The pours are generous and good fuel for karaoke on Sunday night.
You can keep the party going just up the street at Ye Rustic Inn (1831 N. Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles 90027). Don't miss the buffalo wings!
Frolic Room - Hollywood
Located on Hollywood Boulevard next door to the Pantages Theatre, the Frolic Room (6245 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood 90028) boasts one of the best neon signs of any bar and was a favorite haunt of Charles Bukowski. The Pantages hosted the Academy Awards from 1950 to 1960, so it's fun to imagine Oscar winners like Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn stopping by the Frolic Room to celebrate their big nights. The famous two-panel mural by legendary artist Al Hirschfeld features caricatures of more than two dozen iconic figures, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Albert Einstein and Louis Armstrong. Pro tip: there's free Jiffy Pop popcorn, you just have to ask the bartender (nicely).
Kibitz Room - Fairfax District
Located adjacent to Canter's Deli, the Kibitz Room (419 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles 90036) has been a popular watering hole for the Fairfax District ever since it opened in 1961 as an addition to the landmark restaurant. Besides the cheap drinks, the Kibitz Room is best known for its live music, with local bands featured every night on the small stage. By midnight the sets will frequently turn into jam sessions, which have featured everyone from Joni Mitchell to Rick James, Slash and members of Guns N' Roses, The Wallflowers, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Chimneysweep Lounge - Sherman Oaks
As dive bars go, the Chimneysweep Lounge (4354 Woodman Ave, Sherman Oaks 91423) is very clean and chill - there's even a cozy fireplace. The regulars are a diverse and friendly crew. For years, the Chimneysweep has been a gathering spot for Ohio transplants during football and basketball season. The endless free popcorn and the digital jukebox are much appreciated, as are the comfy couches in the back room, which also has a pool table and darts.
Foxfire Room - Valley Village
You can't ask for much more in a dive bar than the Foxfire Room (12516 Magnolia Blvd, Valley Village 91607) a lively hangout for Valley Village locals. It gets packed with a colorful cast of regulars, there's sports playing on several TVs, stiff drinks for cheap prices, and karaoke a couple of nights a week. As "Quiz Kid" Donnie Smith in Magnolia, William H. Macy drunkenly declares his love for Brad the bartender in a memorable scene that was filmed at the Foxfire.
Lost & Found - West LA
If someone had created a checklist for the prototypical dive bar, Lost & Found (11700 National Blvd, Los Angeles 90064) would fill up all the boxes: open every day at 7 a.m., strip mall location, cheap drinks (especially for the Westside), pool table, darts, jukebox, cash only. There's also free popcorn, or you can splurge and bring in a pizza from Whole Foods across the street.
Tattle Tale Room & Scarlet Lady Saloon - Culver City
Culver City barflys get a two-fer with the Tattle Tale Room and the Scarlet Lady Saloon, which both open at 6 a.m. and are located next to each other on Sepulveda Boulevard. Opened in 1963, the Tattle Tale Room (5401 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City 90230) is unabashedly a Green Bay Packers bar. Cheeseheads can enjoy free pizza game during every Packers game. The Tattle Tale offers karaoke every night and boasts full surround sound, wireless mics and a massive song library that's constantly updated. Free pool with a two-drink minimum on Tuesdays after 9 p.m.
Who dat! The Scarlet Lady Saloon (5411 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City 90230) is a proud New Orleans Saints bar with two pool tables, darts and 13 flat screens. There's also karaoke four nights a week. The Scarlet Lady lets you bring your own food or order delivery from nearby local spots.
Harbor Room - Playa del Rey
Dive or otherwise, there is literally no other bar in L.A. like The Harbor Room (195 Culver Blvd, Playa del Rey 90293) reportedly the smallest bar in L.A. County and the third smallest in the country. Blink and you'll miss the wedge-shaped 10-seat bar attached to Cantalini's, an old school Italian restaurant. You'll feel like you stepped into a 70s detective show when you bend an elbow with the local salty dogs, who belly up to the bar for stiff drinks from the old timer behind the stick. There's even a jukebox filled with classics. Cash only, of course.
Ercoles 1101 - Manhattan Beach
Laidback and friendly, Ercoles 1101 (1101 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach 90266) is a neighborhood favorite that originally opened as a soda shop and restaurant in 1927. The award-winning Erc Burger features a juicy beef patty from Manhattan Meats next door, and it comes dressed with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayo. For a classic summertime bite, the footlong Dodger Dog is another local fave. Ercoles offers a killer Happy Hour every day until 6 p.m., plus Taco Nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 2-for-1 burgers on Wednesdays (with drink purchase). Christmas lights, numerous TVs and a pool table add to the festive vibe. Cash only.
Alhambra Cocktail Lounge - San Pedro
The sign outside the Alhambra Cocktail Lounge (216 W 11th St, San Pedro 90731) says "Welcome to San Pedro's Oldest Historical Bar," and since the bar dates to 1936 that's a pretty solid claim. Located a few minutes from Battleship IOWA, the A-Lounge is exactly the dive bar you'd expect to find at many a port. Split a bucket of malt liquor with your buddies and kick it with longshoremen and other blue collar regulars.
Charles Bukowski moved to San Pedro with his wife to be, Linda in 1978. He lived and wrote there until his death in 1994. Though his wife has said that Bukowski didn't venture out to the local bars, his fans will surely find inspiration in throwing back a few at the Alhambra and other San Pedro joints like Harold's Place and The Spot.