If Los Angeles is famous for anything, or perhaps because of anything, it is for its use of legal loopholes. Hollywood, for instance, is a byproduct of slick backroom deals that sought to outrun Edison's patents in the wake of cinema and vaudeville. When Prohibition was in full swing, many LA establishments stayed open with technicalities and legal side-steppings. As a result of scrappy tenacity, some of the oldest and most reputable mainstays of LA are bars and restaurants. Whether you are a native or just passing through, these are some places truly worth checking out.
Golden Gopher — Downtown
Golden Gopher is among the oldest bars still in operation in LA. It still holds the original liquor license acquired under Theodore Roosevelt's presidency in 1905. This place survived Prohibition by serving watered down beer and bitters (called “near-beer”), which were served on the pretense of being "medicinal". Although the interior was redone in 2004, it still holds the same understated charm as it did in its heyday. But if the interior doesn't do it for you, you can also take advantage of its liquor-to-go set up, which is a nearly extinct system since not many bars have a liquor license that dates from before the 18th Amendment.
The Tower Bar — Hollywood
If you're looking for a posh and stylish place for dinner and drinks, The Tower Bar is a top choice. With an elegant Art Deco interior and sweeping vistas of downtown, guests can enjoy a bistro culinary experience with Italian finesse. Since it’s an offshoot of the Sunset Tower Hotel, The Tower Bar has been host to much of Hollywood’s finest while still being accessible to the average guest. Naturally there is a dress code, so bear that in mind before heading over, and securing a reservation is advised. The Tower Bar opened their doors opened in 1929 and has since become a registered historic location.
Cole's — Downtown
Cole's has a similar history to Golden Gopher. Established in 1908, it got through Prohibition serving near-beer. Also like Golden Gopher, it was remodeled by Cedd Moses, but retains several original elements of the original establishment, including the mahogany bar and Tiffany lamps. Cole’s was built on the ground floor of what was the Pacific Electric Railway and claims to be the oldest restaurant and public house in LA. Vestiges of the old railway are still a part of the bar today. The tables, for instance, are made from refurbished wood from the iconic red cars of the rail system. Cole's also lays claim to being the first to serve French dip sandwiches. There's an anecdote about a patron who requested a sandwich with French bread but had sensitive teeth so, in order to soften it, he asked for jus. Other customers requested it and it supposedly caught on from there. This is contested by Phillipe's as they claim to have been serving them within the same year. Regardless of who was actually first, both are favorites among locals and tourists.
The Frolic Room — Hollywood
This bar has a bit of a muddied past as it is not entirely clear when it was established (although it’s speculated to be around 1930). But what is known is that it opened its doors in the midst of Prohibition and in all likelihood was a speakeasy. Situated next to the Pantages Theatre, it's seen its fair share of golden-era Hollywood celebs -- especially since Howard Hughes hosted a decade of Academy Award ceremonies right next door. Known to have been frequented by the likes of Charles Bukowski and Frank Sinatra, it is also said to be the last place Elizabeth Short was seen alive (you probably know her by her nickname, the Black Dahlia). Although it has been around for a number of years, this bar was last remodeled in 1963, which allowed it to be updated while maintaining its old-school class.
Rainbow Bar and Grill — West Hollywood
Although this place is much younger than the previous bars, it arguably has a more robust history. Located on the Sunset Strip, Rainbow Bar and Grill has been the destination for all kinds of celebrities. It opened in 1972 and hosted a party for Elton John the night of its grand opening. Since then, it was a frequent bar stop for musicians like John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, and many, many more. It is featured in several songs and even a few Guns N' Roses music videos. The restaurant is also known as the last place John Belushi was seen alive and -- believe it or not -- it's common for tourists to request the very table he was at (#16) and order the lentil soup, which was Belushi’s last meal. On a brighter note, the site is also the location where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe met on a blind date back when it was called the Villa Nova. The list of celebrities and social influence goes on and on.
King Eddy Saloon — Downtown
Originally a bar for the King Edward Hotel, King Eddy Saloon has undergone quite the evolution. Established in 1906, it has seen the rise and fall of the electric red car railway and the coming and going of Prohibition, all the while standing on the precipice of Skid Row. Another alleged haunt of Charles Bukowski, King Eddy Saloon hosted countless patrons. And while it was originally host to classier clientele, the 60s and 80s led to a rougher crowd that has now meshed into an eclectic clientele. Despite change of ownership in 2012, the new proprietors are keeping with tradition and maintaining the historical integrity of the establishment. Drink prices are also consistent and reasonable, especially given the seniority of the place and the fact that it's in LA. King Eddy Saloon carries on the tradition of broody drinking hole and is worth checking out if you're ever in the area.
Tonga Hut — North Hollywood
The longest-operating Tiki bar in North Hollywood, the Tonga Hut is a hopping place that has been open since 1958. Tonga Hut was a big part of the Tiki craze that swept through the country in the 50s and 60s. The Tiki scene today is as strong as ever, as nearly each bygone decade of the last century is being commodified for younger generations, nostalgic for times they've never experienced themselves. Tonga Hut also has what is known as "The Drooling Bastard" drink challenge. Patrons are welcome, if they dare, to try and finish every cocktail in the Tiki cocktail book before one year elapses and, if successful, they are commemorated on their wall, "Loyal Order of DB". Tonga Hut is also host to Tiki art shows and Hawaiian bands regularly, so if you're looking for a tropical escape, Tonga Hut is your place.
The Whiskey a Go Go — Hollywood
One the most notable bars in L.A. is The Whiskey a Go Go. The first location opened in Chicago, Illinois in 1958 but not long after LA got its own. Operating since 1964, The Whiskey a Go Go was known as a tastemaker in the rock scene as it helped kickstart bands like The Doors, Van Halen, Möâ€‹tley Crüâ€‹e, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, The Byrds, and Steppenwolf. Because of its track record of featuring burgeoning bands that ultimately became big names, The Whiskey a Go Go was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The bar was one of the first discothèques and started a wave of DJing despite the fact that they, more famously, had a live band on most nights. Go-go dancing was also born at The Whiskey a Go Go and it spread like wildfire. It remains a beacon for Rock and Rollers and still regularly hosts major acts.
The Mint — Mid-City
The Mint is a laid back, no-frills bar that has it all. Starting in 1937, The Mint has been the go-to place for drinks, music, and a very diverse menu. This place has a modest low stage that has held many notable artists. It’s where Stevie Wonder, Macy Gray, The Wallflowers, and many others made their start. True to its name, The Mint has a swank yet reserved interior. Velvet drapes and ornate lamps line the space, while vinyl 45s cover the ceiling throughout. It's a great place to grab a booth and a drink and enjoy intimate live music.