If you’re from out-of-town, L.A. can be a difficult city to drive in. The traffic is legendary and the freeways can be confusing. If you’re drinking, you shouldn’t be driving at all, even if you know your way around. But L.A. is a city of culture, not a city of sights. Sure, we have our Venice Beach, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign and the La Brea Tar Pits, but you really won’t get a feel for L.A. without experiencing the nightlife. The best way for an out-of-towner without a car to experience the city’s diverse neighborhoods is to devote one night to a subway bar crawl.
The L.A. subway doesn’t go everywhere but for a night out of the town it will take you from Universal City to Hollywood to Silverlake/Los Feliz to the newly rejuvenated Downtown. To get a real feel for L.A., buy a $5 day pass for the Metro and get going. You can start the crawl in different places, depending on where you’re staying. But there are a few things you need to know before you start.
1. The subway does not run very frequently, especially at night. You might want to print out a schedule and back-pocket it.
2. It’s illegal to drink on the L.A. subway. You’re better off going to two or three bars at each subway stop on the crawl, then trying to sneak an extra drink on the subway.
3. The subway doesn’t run very late. Check the schedule. But plan on starting your bar crawl early and catching your train back home around midnight. Or write down a cab number in case you want to stay out later. But don’t plan on waving down a cab—that just doesn’t happen in L.A. (I even heard that for many years it wasn’t even legal to flag a cab. You had to call for one.)
4. The L.A. subway is the safest and cleanest subway in the world. It’s new. It’s got cameras. And it’s patrolled by a fair number of cops. So you don’t need to worry about anything.
LOS ANGELES SUBWAY STOPS (of interest):
Universal City – Tourists love Universal City. I do not. It’s worth a mention because it’s famous and easy to access via the subway. If you want to see dueling pianos or go to a Hard Rock Café, start or end your night at Universal City. Personally, I’d skip it.
Hollywood and Highland – Check out Mann’s Chinese and the Walk of Fame while you’re here, but for bars go to one of L.A.s most beloved dive bars: the Powerhouse. It’s dark and dingy, with cheap drinks and a dartboard in the back. At the same stop, pop into another historic L.A. spot, the Pig N’ Whistle. Don’t bother taking the subway to the next stop, Hollywood and Vine. It’s a quick walk, with plenty of bars in between. For something typically L.A., have a drink at the Beauty Bar and enjoy the salon theme.
Vermont and Sunset – Skip the Hollywood and Western stop. There’s nothing there, unless you need something from Ross Dress for Less. But a few blocks from Vermont and Sunset is the legendary Tiki-Ti. It’s a small, family-run watering hole and the only bar in the city where you can smoke. All the employees are relatives of the owner, so through some legal loophole you can light up a cigar, cigarette or pipe. They make amazing and expensive (though rather strong) Tiki drinks, but there’s often a line. If the line is too long or you get hungry, go next door to El Chavo. There are two parts to El Chavo—the restaurant and the bar. Both are great.
Vermont and Santa Monica – If you’re really adventurous, stop at the Locus Lounge and tell me how it is. It’s supposedly one of the best dives in the city. I can’t say I’ve been there, but I feel you should have at least one place on your itinerary that hasn’t been vouched for so you can feel you really experienced something different.
7th and Metro – All sorts of new bars have been popping up in downtown L.A. in the last few years. The city has gone through a major renovation project to bring back downtown. No matter where you start your pub crawl, by the time you get to downtown you can plan on spending the rest of your night there. There are numerous places around the 7th and Metro stop. Some notables (and have alternates planned because of potential lines) are Seven Grand, a great whiskey bar; the Standard, a glamorous place for celebrity sightings; the Library Bar, a good spot for premium draft beers; Dublin’s Irish Pub, a sports bar with a lot of beer on tap; and Casey’s Bar and Grill, an underground bar with typical pub atmosphere.
Don’t plan on going to all these places. Just pick and choose the ones that sound the best to you. If you’re adventurous, you can even take the Gold Line up to Pasadena. It’s a long ride, but once you get there you can access dozens of bars in Old Town Pasadena via the Memorial Park station. If you’re going to catch a show at the Wiltern, you can catch the Purple Line to Wilshire and Western. But the Red Line trip through Hollywood, Los Feliz/Silverlake and Downtown should be enough for one night. And don’t forget to look into using the subway if you’re going to a concert at Pershing Square, the Disney Concert Hall, or the Hollywood Bowl. You can also use the Red Line to access the airport. You can take the subway to Union Square and then hop on the LAX FlyAway bus that takes you directly to your terminal … just don’t plan on doing that on the same day as the pub crawl!