Laurel Tavern has given us something unexpected: the Ventura Boulevard sidewalk scene, complete with stilettos, cigarettes, and a bouncer asking you to please—please—stand away from the entrance. Inside, Valley denizens throng the bar to order regional brews (15 California beers are on tap) and way-above-average pub grub (try the salmon plate or the roasted marrowbones) before plopping down at the high butcher-block bar, a rare instance of communal seating that works. Locals count: 53 percent. Signature drink: Pasadena-brewed Craftsman beers. Bonus points: Add house fries to any beer order, and you’ll still come in under $12, including tip. » 11938 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City 818-506-0777.
Behold another bar from downtown nightlife impresario Cedd Moses, the man behind such self-consciously retro destinations as Seven Grand and Cole’s. Situated on a seedier stretch of 7th Street, the former dive has had a thorough scrubbing but is refreshingly style free. With only a few brown leather booths, some bar stools, a pool table, and an expansive smoking patio lined with benches, this is just a bar—albeit a good one—for an after-work drink, a date, a buzz. Tony’s also lacks a proper cocktail menu, which for Moses must be akin to stifling a sneeze. Instead, top bartender Skyler Reeves can expertly mix your usual from the well-hewn lineup of liquors behind the bar. (There’s a whiskey made by Hunter S. Thompson’s Aspen neighbor—how awesome is that?) You can still get a mean manhattan, but nobody’s going to frown on your vodka tonic, we promise. Locals Count: 79 percent. Signature drink: Whatever you’re having. Bonus points: A Ping-Pong table on the patio. » 2017 East 7th Street, Downtown, 213-622-5523.
We know—we’ve worked this sausage-and-beer hall into just about every issue since it opened. But this is the quintessential new-school neighborhood bar. The long picnic tables offer a slice of downtown life, circa 2009. Fashion District employees with funny haircuts chat over obscure Doppelbocks. A birthday party looks as if it includes the entire lower ranks of Deloitte & Touche. A middle-aged couple chuckles at their rabbit and rattlesnake sausage, while underage USC students suck on their small-batch sodas, disappointed. The modern beer hall boasts the city’s most impressive collection of Belgian and German brews—ideal for slow drinking and goblet smacking. Locals count: 12.5 percent. Signature drink: PBR (we kid!—though they have it). Go for the Optimator. Bonus points: Gourmet sausages range from the classic brat to nouveaux game meats. » 800 East 3rd Street, Downtown 213-687-4444.
Manhattan Beach was long overdue for this kind of bar. Since Simmzy’s opened in April, the minute indoor-outdoor gastropub has been swarmed with residents eager to show their appreciation for the microbrews, drippy burgers, and unique ambience we’d call “urbane-beach”—which means your bartender knows as much about natural fermentation as she does about the surf. There’s no front wall, and the sea breeze is dandy with a glass of Brasserie Achouffe Belgian IPA (one of the 24 rotating beers on tap) or any of the 20 or so small-production California wines. Locals count: 68 percent. Signature drink: New Belgium Dandelion Ale, made with dandelion greens instead of hops. Bonus points: All-Vinyl Sundays and Guest Bartender Mondays are excuses for weeknight beer drinking. » 292 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Manhattan Beach 310-546-1201.
A deserted strip of Glassell Park studded with parked RVs is an unlikely place to find the city’s microbrew mecca. Also surprising are the top-notch liquor spread and the laid-back rear patio. A blinking Cocktails sign leads you to the door; inside, a gleaming wood bar curves along one wall. Hugging it is a crew of ball-capped regulars who down 120-proof whiskeys and rare hand-pulled cask ales. A To-Go sign marks a fridge of bottled beers available for brown-bagging home. Depending on the night, the massive picnic tables outside are crowded with scruffy cyclists, beer nerds, and leather-clad Latino hipsters. Oh, and us—with our Booker T. on the rocks. Locals count: 38 percent. Signature drink: The best part is, you never know; taps rotate almost daily. Bonus points: Beer pong tables, inscribed with the bar’s logo, are in back. » 3408 Verdugo Road, Glassell Park 323-257-3408.
Photograph by Lisa Romerein