We love the Penthouse at the Huntley, but its wraparound views of the Santa Monica shoreline are strictly a daytime affair. The bar at David Geffen’s Malibu Beach Inn is about as inviting as the mogul himself. Sleek and dark, Bond Street at the Thompson Beverly Hills is still finding its clientele. Bar Nineteen 12, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, however, has everything we could want in a lobby lounge. Recently a Dashiell Hammett look-alike at the bar sipped a flute of Veuve Clicquot while a bachelorette party heated up. Businessmen hit on the bride in vain, while on the terrace overlooking Sunset, young couples met for J Dates. Traditional cocktails are served as well as oddball concoctions (cereal-milk martini, anyone?) that make excellent conversation starters. When a free amuse-bouche arrived—a nightly tradition after 7—we wished Dashiell would join us. » 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-276-2251
Once a Roaring Twenties beach club—then a military dorm, a rehab clinic, and a Pritikin Longevity Center—Casa del Mar (1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, 310-581-5533) has been restored to its Gatsbyesque glory. From 20-foot-high bay windows to pillow-strewn couches, the hotel’s Veranda lounge (L.A. is apparently big enough for more than one) is like a college quad for well-heeled grown-ups: space to spread out, talk freely, and marvel at the ocean views. Few bars are as welcoming, offering a fresh bottle of mixer with every cocktail and a basket of kettle potato chips with each round.
The lobby of the Figueroa Hotel is worth the trip alone. Part Moroccan, part Spanish, part medieval bat cave, this 1926 former YWCA boardinghouse is all tile and tapestry, lanterns and palms, with stone columns and painted beams and wrought-iron curlicues. At the far end, through the archways, the poolside Veranda Bar beckons like an oasis: bougainvillea, cocktails, fountains, and a glowing downtown sky. Sadly, as the Staples Center neighborhood gentrifies, so has the bar, which is all too often reserved for private events. »939 S. Figueroa St., L.A., 213-627-8971.
Tucked away in the canyons above Sunset, with a stone bridge for an entrance and its own lake of swans, the mission-style Hotel Bel-Air could pass for an invitation-only hunting lodge. The bar has the feel of an aristocratic study, dimly lit and darkly wooded, with a fireplace and a baby grand. The bartenders wear white blazers from a bygone era—and after 6 p.m., a jacket is recommended for all gentlemen, too. If you don’t belong, chances are nobody will call it to your attention; the Bel-Air is nothing if not discreet. »701 Stone Canyon Rd., Bel-Air, 310-472-1211.
If Shanghai was once the Paris of the East, Bar Noir at Maison 140 is the Westside iteration—a stylish French-Mandarin cubbyhole that is equal parts refinement and sin. Concealed on a quiet side street, just steps from the curb, the Kelly Wearstler-designed room is an altar to chinoiserie: ebony walls, crimson plates, lacquered panels, crystal chandeliers. Tea lights flicker on mirrored tabletops, and cocktails of Godiva liqueur arrive on black napkins. Thankfully, the windows swing open, affording one of the teensiest lounges in town a touch more breathing room. »140 S. Lasky Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-281-4000.
For more than 80 years, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel has been the Civic Center’s benchmark for old-world opulence, an Italianate palace of vaulted ceilings and ornate frescoes. Just off the lobby is the Gallery Bar and Cognac Room, a narrow chamber with hardwood floors and carved angels—and on weekends, a jazz combo—that feels like a scene from The Shining. This was supposedly Elizabeth Short’s last stop in 1947 before she became mythologized as the Black Dahlia, and a vampirish coffee-and-berry namesake martini (at a hair-raising $14) adds to the time-warp mystique. »506 S. Grand Ave., L.A., 213-624-1011.