If you’re studying to be a musician of any kind yourself — whether you’re an aspiring professional or a talented and enthusiastic amateur — nights out that involve live music are probably high on your wish-list. And if you like to combine your musical socializing with food and drink, venues with smaller instrumental ensembles, such as piano bars, are likely to be exactly what you’re looking for in a great night out. When looking for entertainment venues, running a Google search for a term such as “piano bars Los Angeles” will give you several pages of results. However, these five suggestions give you a flavor of what’s out there in terms of variety of music and venue feel:
6429 Selma Avenue, Hollywood, California 90028
The Piano Bar is probably the most famous piano bar of its type. Close to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Piano Bar has come a long way since its slightly seedy reputation of five or so years ago. Proud to have no guest list and no dress code, the music is described as offering a “party” feel, so expect the playlist to be mostly uptempo. Customer reviews are extremely favorable, but many lament that they don’t serve food, so this bar is a good choice if you and your friends have already been out to dinner elsewhere.
2) The Varnish
118 East 6th Street, LA 90014
The Varnish is unique among piano bars in Los Angeles — despite only being around since 2009, the venue takes customers right back to the 1920s with the feel of a speakeasy. Unsurprisingly, the music offered is jazz, performed live every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday after 9pm. Although they don’t offer food directly, the bar is attached to Cole’s restaurant (in fact, in true speakeasy fashion, it is accessible through a discreet door at the back!). Be aware, however, that The Varnish is tiny — you may have to wait to get in, and even though they don’t admit parties larger than six, you may find that it’s rather cramped and intimate. Drinks can take a while to arrive, but only because each cocktail is expertly hand-crafted.
3) The Dresden
1760 No. Vermont Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90027
The Dresden proudly claims to have been “a Hollywood landmark for over 50 years,” and judging from the number of films it has appeared in, including “Swingers” and “That Thing You Do”, the have decent grounds to make that claim! The music style you should expect here is jazz, with live music performed every night of the week. For the budding piano bar star, there’s an open mic night every Tuesday. The Dresden is also famed for its Blood and Sand cocktail and good food. Customers either praise or deride the 1970s styling, but all agree that The Dresden is a must-visit among piano bars in Los Angeles.
2460 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, CA 90403
With a gastropub menu and an eclectic variety of live music styles offered, we recommend checking the calendar of events for The Charleston before you go. The famed jazz brunch on Sundays is a good start for your first visit, where Bobby Alto Music generally play, also slipping pop and rock into their playlist. Although there is no cover charge, there is a two-drink minimum requirement for these events.
1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Listed amongst America’s Top 40 Music Venues, this piano bar in Los Angeles is a bit of a one-off. With a quirky website, the FAQs alone are guaranteed to make you smile. Not purely a piano bar in Los Angeles, several artists have residencies at any one time, so you are likely to experience a wide variety of different music. Reviewers have declared it “a must” if you love live music.
As bars and restaurants open (and sadly close) all the time, it’s worth keeping your eye open both for piano bars in Los Angeles and in other areas. If you’re a budding musician, open mic nights can be a good way to get a foot in the door, ensuring that the live music experience continues for people seeking a good night out for years to come.
Photo by Michael Saechang