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Watering Holes

L.A.’s 13 Best Bars With Games and Activities

L.A. TACO is teaming up with Bud Light Chelada to bring you the TACO MADNESS Festival at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes on May 6. We can’t wait to see you there! In the meantime, we’re celebrating everything we love about L.A. bars and nightlife culture, beginning with this epic look into our favorite local spots to meet, toast, and celebrate each other in the city we call home.

We love bars.

For the drinks. The camaraderie. The good times.

And if they happen to teach us ninja-like marksmanship with a throwing ax into a target or turn us into pinball wizards in the process, all the better.

Today, we pay tribute to the L.A. drinking dens that come with a bit of extra entertainment on the side. Bars with action and cool games and the racing of diminutive reptiles for you to share with your fellow humans.

Come grab a beer with L.A. TACO as we lead you to various diversions and amusements at 13 of L.A.’s favorite bars, from turtle racing in Venice and hitting things with your fist in West Hollywood to kicking back as a world-famous DJ offers a soundtrack to your afternoon Highball in Highland Park.

Bottoms up and playing-thumbs out!

For Video Games (and Cutting-Edge L.A. Food)

Photo via Button Mash.
Photo via Button Mash.

Button Mash & Poltergeist

L.A. has a healthy scattering of bars that allow you to drink while playing video games. You can bounce between Burgertime and a peanut butter stout at Downtown’s EightyTwo and do Double Dragon with DJs and a $9 Bud-and-a-shot at Blispy’s in Koreatown. Echo Park’s Button Mash gets our personal high score with its variety of mano-a-mano games like Skeeball and hoops and nostalgic stand-up consoles with games like Tapper and NBA Jam. There's also truly innovative food to explore here. Chef Diego Argoti’s Poltergeist finds the former street chef blowing minds with dishes like octopus al pastor with burrata on squid ink fry bread, and coconut curry chochoyotes. There's also a lengthy beer and cider list to back all the fun and (literal) games.

1391 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 4 - “Sunset/Douglas.”

Photo via Hamburger Mary's.
Photo via Hamburger Mary's.

For Melodically Yelling “Bingo!” Beside Drag Divas

Hamburger Mary’s

Think bingo’s only for retirement homes? Then you haven’t been to the long-running "Legendary Bingo" at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood. A guaranteed rowdy good time, the Sunday and Wednesday evening spectacles typically involve a lot of booze and a lot of laughs as a bewigged lady plays your hilarious host. The repartee involves numerous inside jokes that recall a slightly more sophisticated Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, all while raising money for over 200 non-profits. “Quack quack!” You’d get it if you go. Just watch your head for the flying ballots that may be thrown at your head if you dare try to win.

8288 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90046. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 4 - “Santa Monica/Sweetzer.”

For Honing Your Inner Paul Bunyan

Mo’s House of Axe

Technically, no one’s ever told us not to drink and juggle sharp instruments. As far as we remember. And considering that’s the entire conceit of Mo’s House of Axe, we’re all in on hurling hatchets at a big wooden target in between sips of Bloody Caesars and bites of a breakfast burger. It’s a little like bowling, only with more ducking and group puns along the lines of “hey, back dat ax up.” Last but not least, we get the feeling we’ll use the extremely specific skills we’ve obtained here someday. You’ll understand once you see us nursing mimosas amid a full-on zombie outbreak, hatchet in hand.

611 S. Western Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90005. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro D Line and Bus Lines 18, 20, 66, 207, 210 or 720 - “Wilshire/Western Station.”

For Practicing Your Handstyles

Dwit Gol Mok

In the warrens of this late-night Koreatown pub, between the golden pitchers of lager and plates of gilded panjeon, lies an opportunity. The chance to become a person-of-letters, so to speak. As the walls of this multistory tangle of drinking nooks are completely graffitied in an assortment of languages and characters. Meaning... no one really cares if you want to get up yourself and add a tag or two to the place with your own fat permanent marker. In fact, no one really seems to care what you do here, so focused are they on efficiently serving DWG's great drinking food. And if they do, just don’t tell them we sent you.

3275 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro B and D Lines or Bus Lines 18, 20, 204, 720 or 754 - "Wilshire/Vermont Station."

For Striking Out, In the Good Way

Shatto 39 Lanes

As L.A.’s favorite neighborhood bowling alleys get snatched up by bigger corporate names or shuttered by mixed-use developers, we point you to a classic. Koreatown’s Shatto 39 Lanes, which looms as iconically large in many Angeleno memories as the Santa Monica Pier or Hollywood Sign, with more than 60 years at this nostalgic address. The vintage lanes are many, the beer list is long, and there are additional assets like racing and zombie-mowing video games, plus foosball, pool, and onion rings and mozzarella sticks of an usually bright orange shade. It’s like the Big Lebowski met Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island in here.

3255 W 4th St. Los Angeles, CA 90020. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 204 - “Vermont/4th” or Bus Lines 16 and 754 - "Vermont/3rd."

For Seven Seconds of Mechanical Heaven

Saddle Ranch Chop House

Everyone winds up here eventually, whether dining with sightseeing family members who came to town and stayed on the Strip despite your best advice, or finding yourself in a weekend meat market as wing to a desperate friend. It looks like a Knotts Berry Farm set, with its pronounced western fetishes, but does allow you a virtual reality session of sorts with a mechanical bull. Ever-present at the front of the restaurant and bar, it bucks and swivels as you attempt to show off your sick cumbia-honed hip-isolations or simply try not to look stupid. And should you find yourself with any pent-up anger, as a trip to Saddle Ranch can provoke odd emotions,  there’s a coin-operated boxing game in a small outer back chamber, where you punch a speed bag with everything you’ve got to get points. Cow-person up!

8371 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 2 - “Sunset/Kings.”

For Cigar Aficionados

La Descarga

We could see our spectral afterlife playing out quite beautifully in the backroom of L.A.’s best Cuban bar. It has a stirring selection of coveted aged rums, a connoisseur-curated list of really good cigars, and constant Cuban rhythms in the air. You can even bring your own cigars if you want to show-off what you're smoking. We don’t even smoke, either. This just feels like a perfect place for kicking back in from here-to-eternity. Especially if it didn't include all these other people talking about cigars in here.

1159 N. Western Ave. Hollywood, CA 90029. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 4 or 207 - “Western/Santa Monica.”

For Practicing Your Darts Marksmanship

Pickwick's Pub

We don't necessarily need our darts destinations to feel this British, but it sure helps. There's something about the scent of bangers-and-mash in the air and spilled lager on the floor that sets the right tone for hurling steel tips at foam targets after a pint. Not only does the 48-year-old Pickwick have all the right spirit (and great fish n' chips), but the separate backroom here has four dart boards, along with a cast of characters who can give you a challenge if you seek it. At the very least, they can offer you a cute accent.

21010 Ventura Blvd. Woodland Hills, CA 91364. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 150 or 244 - “Ventura/De Soto.”

For Demanding Notoriously Slow Animals Act Like High Performance Racers

Brennan’s Irish Pub

One of Venice’s oldest/weirdest existing bar phenomena, turtle races overtake this 51-year-old Irish pub every first and third Thursday night of the month. Donatello and his bros get placed in the center of the patio, then set loose to scramble while a whole bunch of wasted post-collegiate types scream at them to move unnaturally faster. It is fun and rowdy,  despite the oppressive crowd rules (“don’t point”) that can get you taxed for actual money should you break them. And you probably will, because (duh) you're buzzed. But nothing another pint can’t solve.

4089 Lincoln Blvd. Marina Del Rey, CA 90292. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 108 - “Admiralty/Bali” or Bus Line 33 - "Venice/Lincoln."

For Hitting Your High Notes

Cafe Brass Monkey

There are plenty of karaoke dive legends in L.A., from Santa Monica's dark, dank Gaslite to Bellflower's totally 80's New Wave, and an abundance of private karaoke rooms to be booked in KTown. But none of them will be as raucous as the Brass Monkey, where you probably just ended up after hitting a few other bars in the area. And simply wound up with a mic in your hand (or if it was Sunday, being backed by a live band). And just so happened to bring down the house with your incomparable rendition of Bang a Gong/Love Is a Battlefield/White Lines. It’s that kind of a place. Eclectic. Fairly anarchic. Dependably overcrowded. A little insistent when it comes to the 2-drink minimum. Pure KTown energy at its nocturnal finest. Watch out for musical theater students, who lurk among you, waiting to let their golden pipes be recognized.

659 S. Mariposa Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90005. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro D Line or Bus Lines 20, 206 or 720 - "Wilshire/Normandie Station."

For Flexing Your Big Brains 

The Den On Sunset

A lot of bars have robust trivia nights, including Santa Monica’s Ye Olde King’s Head on Wednesdays and Barney’s Beanery on Tuesdays. We like The Den On Sunset’s combination of its infamous 5-8pm happy hour followed immediately by the recently revived Monday night King Trivia with King Trivia in West Hollywood, which allows teams of returning eggheads to shine in all their Jeopardy-like glory as host Jason keeps things moving with humor, ease, and music sets between each themed round. A free round of drinks goes to the winner of the lightning round, in which one member of every team has to stand up and answers rapid-fire questions until only one is still standing. Gift cards go to the evening's top three winning teams. But everyone is a winner when coming here. Not literally, of course. But in their own way.

8226 W. Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90046. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 2 and 218 - “Sunset/Crescent Heights.”

For Pinball Wizards

Walt’s Bar

Walt’s Bar in Eagle Rock feels effortlessly retro, from its circus-like neon signage to its interior, making you wonder if you’ve been zapped magically back to 1983, where the big kids with mohawks are circling to steal your quarters. Such past traumas aside, you’re here for a few things: Hot dogs, German pretzels, a solid beer list, and pinball. The bar has several old-school machines, preserved in excellent condition, most of them from an era before notable licensing agreements and IP were a thing. Meaning you'll be playing anomalies you may have never seen before, with gleffully generic names like Eight Ball Deluxe, Taxi, and Skateball, instead of those graced by Kiss or Harry Potter’s faces. In general, this is peak Valley, with locals playing vintage games in a throwback space while getting good-naturedly buzzed. As nature intends.

4680 Eagle Rock Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90041. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 251 - “Eagle Rock/Westdale.”

For Nodding Your Head to a Headliner

Gold Line Bar

This all-vinyl, Japanese-inspired bar with killer highballs feels like a perpetual listening party held in heaven, with beautiful sets expected to emenate from the turntables. One of the owners is, after all, Stone’s Throw Records’ founder and acclaimed D.J. Peanut Butter Wolf, who keeps over 8,000 LPs inside. That means you shouldn’t be surprised if you come by and find someone like Prince Paul, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, or Beat Junkies/Madlib DJ J Rocc behind the wheels. Or an all-De La Soul-themed listening party. Or a record release from a beloved up-and-comer. Not too surprised, anyway. That’s what the highballs are for.

5607 N. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90042. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A Line - "Highland Park Station" or Bus Lines 81, 182 or 256 - “Figueroa/Avenue 57.”

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