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L.A. Noir

a bar with a sign saying "relax" hanging above.

Chris Erskine’s Favorite Watering Holes in Town

Guest author Chris Erskine - you might know him as a former columnist at the L.A. Times - lists ten interesting bars in the L.A. area that you might want to visit.

By Doug Stokes & Guest Author: Chris Erskine

Tue, Jul 6, 2021 05:39 PM PST

This article is an LA-lifestyle piece. We do not encourage drinking to any sort of excess - and definitely not driving with even the tiniest amount of alcohol in your body. It just as well could have been about the best hamburger joints in LA (without endorsing overeating, of course).

After having a drink at any of the listed bars (or anywhere else for that matter), please use Uber - or one of their competitors - to get home.

List by Chris Erskine

Photos by Chris Erskine if not noted otherwise.

Intro By Doug Stokes

If you’re not familiar with the name, you soon will be, and mainly because this witty spinner of tales both tall and true (and oh so applicable), this bard of the backyard beer bust and this gin and tonic fellow traveler (who answers to the name of Chris Erskine) can make you laugh, cry, fart, and do a spit take all in the same paragraph.  

Erskine wrote a weekly column and did numerous sports reports in his over 30 years at the LATimes and has continued to break people up (and occasionally break hearts) online and in a number of very funny books that are as instructive as they are entertaining. He is his own worst enemy and everyone’s best friend. His “insider” stories about family life, extended happy hours, and unwieldy pets are unique tales about the life, loves, and potential liver damage of one very, very self-aware everyman. At times his perseverance is astonishing, and even in the very deepest depths of the loss of a son and his wife, he is somehow able to comfort his readers … if not himself. His joy and wonder at life is (almost) always an easy read of a complicated subject.

Here’s the deal: this guy has a knack for making the mundane seem like a noble quest. A few weeks ago Chris wrote a column about some of his favorite Los Angeles area watering holes and their varying degrees of Noirness (if that’s word). I asked him if we could reel it off here on LACar and he said he’d be flattered by this posting...but I’m sure that as wise a philosopher as he is, he’d rather see a couple bucks slipped under his door in a plain envelope (I believe that’s the way that they used to pay him at the Times before skipping town and moving to [of all poorly-named LA-area towns] El Segundo). Regardless of the facts and all that bother, below please find his well-curated list of ten of the dank little rum-shops that he frequents. I don’t think that they’re in any particular order of preference here, as I’m pretty sure that, for Chris, the best bar being the next closest one.

image of a rustic bar with wooden panels and chalkboard menus
Classy, yet rustic... A good combo.

Chris Erskine's List Of Ten Gin-Joints In The L.A. Area

As your self-appointed summer concierge, thought I’d re-heat my list of great warm weather dives, which I dub “noir bars.” They are dark refuges on bright summer days. Be sure to check ahead to confirm they’ve re-opened. I hope to hit several of them soon myself.

1. Ercole’s (rhymes with Hercules) in Manhattan Beach

1101 Manhattan Blvd., Manhattan Beach (website)

Erc’s feels like a college bar crossed with a sailor bar, crossed with a great burger joint, which it also is. “Places like this are so rare,” says TV writer Kristin Long, who is working on a book about the bar. “They’re what make this town.”

2. Boardner’s in Hollywood

1652 N. Cherokee Ave., Hollywood (website)

“This is the locals’ Hollywood bar,” says barkeep Eli Mahar. Boardner’s is cheap, lively, with parking right across the street. Don’t forget the Bohemian patio.

3. The Tonga Hut in North Hollywood

12808 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood (website)

Great tiki bars like this are a subset of noir bars: dark, busy, magnificent. Extra points for the Psychedelic Furs on the terrific jukebox.

4. Chez Jay in Santa Monica

1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica (website)

It has banter, it has peanuts on the floor, it has chatty barkeeps dating to the Ice Age. Ask for the Marilyn booth, where Monroe awaited her study sessions with JFK.

5. The Galley in Santa Monica

2442 Main St., Santa Monica (website)

It’s got Christmas lights all year, a cozy patio and porthole windows. On a poster: “Octopuses have three hearts and blue blood.” So do most sportswriters, by the way.

6. The Blue Room in Burbank

916 S. San Fernando Road, Burbank

Used in the movies “Heat” and “Memento,” this place has a Rat Pack, old Hollywood vibe. But a classy local joint. Blue Heaven.

7. The Harbor Room in Playa del Rey

195 Culver Blvd., Playa Del Rey

Cozy, worn, with tons of wry resignation. “Open but don’t expect too much!” says the sign on the door.

8. Class of ’47 in Newport Beach

209 Palm St., Newport Beach (website)

Former John Wayne hangout fills all the seedy requirements of a respectable noir bar. Please have my mail forwarded here for the summer.

9. Taylor’s Steakhouse in Koreatown

3361 W. 8th St., Koreatown (website)

First-rate steaks in a room that’s darker than a hit man’s soul. The kind of place Marlowe would’ve staked out, hunting for rich and lusty new clients.

10. The Shortstop near Dodger Stadium

1455 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park

Bullet hole still in the door from a shooting decades ago. The lesson? Don’t hold up a cop bar in broad daylight. These days, the go-to spot for Dodgers fans.

the author, Chris Erskine, at a favorite watering hole.
The author... out among 'em.

Closing Notes By Doug Stokes

Okay, there you have a complete crawl of ten of the funkiest bars in shakeytown as curated by one of the best of the very best at rooting places like that out. Imbibe at will, tip generously, leave your phone in purse or pocket and turned off, Uber from one joint to the next at will, and - while you’re at it - make a toast or two to your unseen host … Mister Erskine.

My assumption in asking my friend Chris to allow us to run this piece about bars in Los Angeles was that it was 1) LA-centric, 2) Fun/informative, and 3) Not in any way a call to drink and drive irresponsibly. So, good readers: Please DO NOT Drink and Drive (after reading this article or any other time). I'm almost embarrassed to feel the need to put this at the end of this article, but we are - after all - an automotive media outlet. I fully expect that you already know and practice the above in your own situation, but current norms, etc. seem to inveigh against some being able to do that without constant reminders ... so there you have it.

About The Authors

Doug Stokes's profile picture

Doug Stokes

Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.

Together with

Chris Erskine

Guest Contributor

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