At these L.A. haunts, the drinks come with a chaser of kitsch
Smokey the Bear guards the entrance of The Bigfoot Lodge
Like T-Rex and Rod the Mod? It's all '70s at Good Times at Davey Wayne's
Of course L.A. has a superb tiki bar
You can pretend you’re totally someone else at any bar after enough drinks. But to pretend you’re totally somewhere else?
That requires a more inspired atmosphere. The transportive kind. With, say, exotic opium den decor and a last-call gong. Or vintage 1970s home furnishings and a dude in a mustache serving loaded sno-cones out of an old Airstream in the back. Or a fake log cabin featuring flaming toasted marshmallow cocktails and a friendly reminder at the entrance that “only you can prevent forest fires.”
Naturally, all of these drinking scenes are available in Los Angeles – home to some of the most treasured theme bars anywhere.
With so many of them, where do we start?
How about with some favorite destinations, where alcohol wouldn’t be caught dead without a chaser of intoxicating kitsch.
The Bigfoot Lodge
Theme: Cabin in the woods
Neighborhood: Atwater Village
Signature drink: Toasted Marshmallow (1921 Tequila Cream, rum, honey, fernet, toasty marshmallows)
The great outdoors concept runs sufficiently wild at this treasured bar full of stuffed rodents and a local crowd of Angelenos drinking ‘round the fire like they’re actually coming in from the cold.
Smokey the Bear stands guard at the front entrance. A Sasquatch statue looms by the bar, along with an animatronic squirrel with an ax. Wait staff hustle around in flannel serving drinks called Girl Scout Cookie and Backwoods Banana Hammock.
Are you in the Sierras or just some tame bedroom community wedged between L.A. and the Valley?
After enough $5 Moscow Mules at happy hour (5-9 p.m.) this may actually turn into a debate.
The Bigfoot Lodge, 3172 Los Feliz, Los Angeles; + 323 662 9227
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
Signature drink: “Some People Call Me Maurice” (Cinnamon-infused Vida mezcal, Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe, coffee, cream)
In hipster Hollywood, theme bars come and go about as fast as the latest cocktail craze. One of the latest hit drinking scenes looks like it’s been here since Marcia Brady threw that crazy, naughty house party when Mike and Carol were away for the weekend.
While that may be an episode we all sadly missed, fans of the grooviest bygone decade can play it out themselves in this fake ’70s-style house and patio – cleverly hiding behind a fridge door in the back of a faux garage.
Inside it’s a swirl of green couches, homey lamps, family photos and hockey trophies on the mantle.
DJs spin T. Rex and old Rod Stewart atop a wood-encased TV set. Bartenders pour Old Fashioneds on tap. Out back, crowds veg in hammocks and gather ‘round a converted Airstream trailer where sno-cone cocktails are served by a guy sporting a pre-“Dance Fever” moustache. Best of all, Mom and Dad never seem to come home here.
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, 1611 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles; + 323 962 3804
Neighborhood: Silver Lake
Signature drink: Ray’s Mistake (Botanic liqueurs, passion fruit, dark corub rum, “secret” flavors)
Never judge a bar by its size.
The yardstick of L.A. tiki bars, Tiki-Ti (which can barely fit a yardstick inside of it) has been confirming this wise adage since 1961 when patrons began squeezing into this family-run, overly adorned, shack-like landmark on outer Sunset Boulevard – home to some of the strongest fruity cocktails between here and Vanuatu.
Crammed with an ever-accruing inventory of tiki masks and other South Pacific bric-a-brac (regulars keep bringing in stuff for the walls), the bar’s dozen stools and handful of tables draw a mishmash of east side hipsters and Jimmy Buffet types. And a line on weekends.
Nearly 100 tropical libations are on the drink menu, which includes an Uga Booga (but no wine or beer) and a cocktail wheel for indecisive types to spin. Other crowd pleasers include a smoke-like-it’s-the-’70s policy inside and enough atmosphere to fill a hundred Trader Vic’s.
Tiki-Ti, 4427 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; +1 323 669 9381
Saddle Ranch Chop House
Theme: Urban cowboy
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
Signature drink: Ranch AMF (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, sweet and sour, Blue Curaçao)
A big ol’ wooden lair done up with hay bales, aged farming equipment, driftwood signs reading “Rustlers will be shot” and mannequins in racy Western regalia peaking out of second story windows, this steak and taters place with about 100 TVs serves massive enough drinks and ambiance to qualify as an honorary theme bar.
Even on the flashy Sunset Strip, Saddle Ranch Chop House stands out a mite.
It’s a knee-slappingly welcome relief from the usual velvet-rope attitude doled out on this street. Cocktails are served in 1 ½-liter carafes.
Out on the patio, there are campfire pits for do-it-yourself s’more roasting. And, yes, there’s a mechanical bull.
It’s the only one (we know of) in Los Angeles – aside from the three you’ll find in a larger Saddle Ranch location just over the hill at Universal CityWalk.
Saddle Ranch Chop House, 8371 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; +1 323 656 2007
Theme: Mexican cantina
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
Signature drink: La Seductora (Herradura Reposado tequila, agave nectar, watermelon juice, lime juice, cucumbers, mint)
Are fiery walls aglow with Mexican wrestling posters, ‘round-the-calendar Christmas lights and a bull’s head enough to transport you from the actual location of this compact drinking hive (seven blocks from the Beverly Center) into Lucha Libre land?
Por que no?
Especially when factoring in the bar’s huge selection of tequilas (more than 400 at last count) and tasty antojitos menu. On any given weekend night the place is filled with a mezcal-conversant crowd still young enough to count Thursdays as the weekend. And most Wednesdays.
El Carmen, 8138 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles: +1 323 852 1551
Good Luck Bar
Theme: Far East
Neighborhood: Los Feliz
Signature drink: Yee Mee Loo (vodka, white rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, Blue Curaçao)
It should come as no surprise in L.A. that the city’s most alluringly overdone Old Orient lounge has been hiding for years on a drab corner of outer Hollywood Boulevard across from an Auto Zone and next door to a vacuum and janitorial supplies store.
Don’t be put off by the misleading exteriors. It’s what’s inside that counts.
Namely, every opium den decor cliche on the list: Paper lanterns. Bamboo stools. Dragons on the ceiling. Cozy rooms with walls as red as Mao’s Little Book. And don’t forget the last-call gong.
All very authentic feeling after enough Singapore Slings.
Good Luck Bar, 1514 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles; +1 323 666 3524
Jordan Rane writes regularly for CNN Travel and The Los Angeles Times. A Lowell Thomas Award recipient from the Society of American Travel Writers, his work on travel and the outdoors has spanned six continents and appeared in over 50 publications. He lives in Los Angeles.