Los Angeles’ Arts District is a cognitively dissonant mix of hip watering holes, pricy lofts, and abandoned packing factories. It’s the kind of neighborhood where you’re still tempted to roll up your car windows and lock your doors. But if you know where to look, beneath the sketchy industrial exteriors, you’ll find the best whiskey bars and breweries around.
Here’s where to get caffeinated and inebriated in style in this downtown-adjacent neighborhood—you might need to drive by them twice before you find them, but you’ll be glad you did.
1. The Springs
The Springs is one of those places that could only exist in Los Angeles. Part yoga studio, part spa, part bar, and part vegan restaurant, it’s an industrial chic warehouse space that’s open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Come in for colon hydrotherapy or fire cupping (I’m still unclear about what that is, but it involves a heat lamp and a cup) and after bliss out with a s’more smoothie (cacao, housemade almond milk, maple syrup, and barely-there Thai chili).
If you want to retox after your detox, The Springs promises the cleanest buzz around. The bartender advised me to try their Night Moves: a prosecco sake spritzer with beet juice, dill, and aphrodisiac tonic (derived from mushrooms—not the magical kind). Their other drink offerings include on-tap kombucha ($5), a clay and water tonic that is decidedly medicinal tasting ($3), and an almond milk and oat horchata ($10). They’re currently renovating their restaurant so they aren’t serving food, but when the kitchen reopens in spring 2016, they’ll have hummus plates to help with your hangovers.
2. Eighty Two
Photo by Wally Gobetz CC BY-NC-ND
Straddling the neighborhoods of Little Tokyo and the Arts District, this bar/arcade is a cult classic. In the absence of actual signage, look for the psychedelic turquoise mural and follow the sound of the electronic blips and bells. Inside, the glow of vintage video games and pinball machines greets you.
The dark, cave-like space gets pretty loud after 9 p.m., but it’s still a great spot for bro-time or adventurous Tinder dates. Eighty Two’s drinks are surprisingly good given the fact that they don’t have to be. If you find your motor skills dulled after a beer or two, order a Wizard Mode: the cold brew coffee mixed with rye whiskey will give your motor neurons the boost they need.
3. Zinc Cafe
If you’re looking for a place to day drink in the Arts District, there’s no better place than Zinc’s garden patio. Undoubtedly its best asset, it’s the perfect place to recline under the shade of olive trees to the soundtrack of a bubbling fountain. Save for the occasional 18-wheelers rumbling by, you almost forget that you’re in the middle of an industrial district.
Menu-wise, Zinc has everything from brunch to wood-fired pizza to an antipasti bar. With so much to offer, it can be hard to find a dish you really like. If you’re craving some substance between Zinc mimosas (made with fresh raspberry puree, by the way), they do have pretty good tartines and pastries. Popular drink choices include their Old Fashioned and Decatur cocktail, best enjoyed underneath strung garden lights in the blue Los Angeles dusk.
4. The Wheelhouse
Photo by Gowri Chandra
Barely a month old, The Wheelhouse is the bike repair space cum coffee shop you didn’t know you needed in your life. Even if you know nothing about bikes, don’t particularly care about them, or don’t own one—this is LA after all—The Wheelhouse is worth checking out for the well-curated ambiance and smooth iced Americanos ($3.50).
The whole space inspires wanderlust, from the prints of old maps for sale to the felted satchels on display to the rustic walnut furniture that pervades the place. The worn leather couches and batik cushions provide the perfect setting for a laidback meeting or working. During a weekday, the level of background noise is minimal, ideal for just staring out of a window with a sketchbook in hand.
Check out the bike repair space upstairs, or, if the java’s got you going, take one of their for-sale beauties for a ride.
5. Everson Royce Bar
You’ll probably miss Everson Royce Bar the first time around. The large orange door and ambiguous “bar” signage out front make it almost reminiscent of the speakeasy culture it romanticizes.
Upon settling into the crowded din of business casual drinkers and sneakered hipsters (all strikingly good looking), you realize that ERB doesn’t mess around. They take their spirit game really seriously. Once you sit down, you’re handed a multiple page pamphlet detailing bourbon, rye, whiskeys, and scotches, the most expensive of which tops out at $725 for a 2oz bourbon pour. They also have obscure mezcals and rare Korean and Japanese whiskies, if that’s your thing.
If not, don’t be intimidated—enjoy one of their accessible cocktails without shame. Their infanto is pretty popular, and is a tequila-based riff off a margarita, adulterated with almond syrup, rose water, and nutmeg. Yes, please.
Top photo by Alejandro De La Cruz/Flickr CC BY-NC
Gowri Chandra is an LA-based writer who’s probably stuck in traffic right now, dreaming of vegan nachos.