Elaborate themed restaurants and bars date back to at least the 19th century, when chic Parisians could sip cocktails at venues meant to resemble heaven, hell and the void of death. Cabaret du Néant, which translates to "Cabaret of Nothingness," served drinks named after various diseases. (Love that Consumption-tini!) In Los Angeles, land of programmatic architecture, the theme bar is alive and well, whether it mimics a specific TV show or pays homage to an era. Our favorites include a Star Wars-themed pub, a throwback 1980s nightclub, an homage to Titanic (the movie not the ship) and a steampunk speakeasy.
SPOILER ALERT: For those of you already typing, "You forgot...," please note we have an entirely separate list of L.A.'s many incredible tiki bars, so they aren't included in this one.
Theme: Every Tim Burton film ever made
Named after an undead bio-exorcist, the bar is a tribute to all things Tim Burton. Artwork, decor and photo-friendly tableaus reference Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman Returns. Danny Elfman scores and dark wave tracks from the '80s set a playful, spooky vibe that reflects Burton's aesthetic. Drinks at BeetleHouse LA are themed and mostly sweet, like the tropical Big Fish Bowl, meant for two. If you want to eat there, make a reservation for the adjacent dining room. Dinner is prix fixe and includes an appetizer (like the Corprese Bride salad), a main course (maybe the Linguini Todd or Edward Burger Hands) and a dessert.
1714 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. 929-291-0337.
Scum & Villainy
Theme: A Star Wars-inspired bar for geeks
Obi-Wan Kenobi promised a young Luke Skywalker that he would "never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy" than the Mos Eisley Spaceport. This Hollywood Boulevard bar does its best to top the cantina where Han shot first, complete with war room-style maps and customers milling about in their best First Order cosplay. It wouldn't be accurate to say Scum & Villainy is only a Star Wars bar. All fandoms are welcome at weekly game nights, karaoke, trivia contests and occasional cosplay evenings. Leading up to the final season of Game of Thrones, it transformed into Fire & Ice Tavern, with a sad-faced Weirwood tree, an Iron Throne and Stark and Targaryen sigils. As for the menu, expect beer, themed cocktails and bar bites such as quesadillas, tots and chicken fingers, which were one of Greedo's favorite snacks, as any real Star Wars fan knows.
6377 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 424-501-4229.
Black Rabbit Rose & Madame Siam
Theme: A little magic, a little sideshow
One of the Houston Brothers' many nightclubs, Black Rabbit Rose is a magic-themed lounge and theater, decked out with apothecary bottles, portraits of famous magicians and an operational fortune telling machine. The theater offers a variety of ticketed magic and vaudeville shows as well as the occasional jazz night. Guests can order cocktails made with spectacle or Thai-Chinese cuisine from takeout window Crying Tiger. Connected to Black Rabbit Rose is Madame Siam, a carnival-themed cocktail bar complete with a midway where you can shoot cans and play ring toss.
1719 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood.
Theme: It's Prohibition but that ain't stopping anyone
Just down the street from Black Rabbit Rose you'll find No Vacancy, another Houston Brothers property. The Prohibition-era speakeasy is set in an old Victorian home and has a clever secret entrance. Once you've made it in (sometimes a challenge on a busy night), you can explore the many spaces including the lovely back patio or the candlelit parlor. Live entertainment might be music, burlesque or vaudeville. They do serve food although most people come for the ambiance and the ever-changing cocktail menu.
1727 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood.
Theme: The spy who shagged the late '90s
You might wonder why a bar that looks like a '60s discotheque is blasting late '90s/early aughts music. It's because Electric Pussycat is actually a love letter to Austin Powers, teetering between the neon hedonism of the Swinging Sixties and the era that inexplicably gave us not one, not two, but three movies about the horny British spy. Dine on gooey grilled cheese sandwiches and sip saccharine cocktails while you experience the occasional character interaction. You might meet a roving Powers or perhaps a Mini-Me and you'll definitely hear other customers say, "Yeah, baby, yeah," far too often. It's a wonder this place exists in 2019.
103 E. Broadway, Glendale.
The Green Room
Theme: Elaborate movie-themed cocktails with a view
At first blush, the Green Room doesn't seem like much of a themed bar but stay with us. It's tucked inside Burbank's Castaway, a hilltop restaurant that opened in 1962 with a Polynesian theme. The 2018 renovation ditched the island vibes for a clean, modern design but if you look closely, you'll spot nods to the movie industry. The menus look like screenplays and a Wilson volleyball with a bloody handprint on it rests on an otherwise chic shelf. What was once a reference to a deserted isle is now a sly reference to the 2000 Tom Hanks drama Castaway. Make your way into The Green Room and you'll find a film-themed cocktail menu designed with Instagram in mind. One of the most extravagant drinks is The Short Round, named for Indiana Jones's buddy in The Temple of Doom. It's made with Macallan 12, Dolin Blanc and Suze, and it comes in a chest that billows with fog when opened, courtesy of a dry ice skull.
1250 E. Harvard Road, Burbank. 818-848-6691.
A player in the Hologate at Two Bit Circus. (Courtesy of Two Bit Circus)
Two Bit Circus
Theme: A steampunk circus arcade
Two Bit Circus is a micro-amusement park with dozens of arcade and midway games, escape rooms, virtual reality experiences and a high-tech theater equipped for trivia, wine tasting and puzzle games. The main bar is located beneath a red-and-yellow striped circus tent while a robot tends a second, smaller bar. The menu consists of "elevated" carnival food, which includes corn dogs, sliders, flatbreads and tots. Check the website for details on their beta nights (when they test new games) or the numerous immersive theater and VR experiences they regularly program.
634 Mateo St., downtown L.A. 213-599-3188.
Theme: Someone really, really, really loved the movie Titanic
If you've ever wondered what the giant boat near Western and 5th in Koreatown is, it's Cafe Jack, a restaurant, bar and karaoke lounge built in homage to Titanic — not the boat, the 1997 film that shot Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to stardom. This is one of the most confusing themed bars in town. Rather than replicating the White Star ocean liner menu, they serve sushi, boba, Korean food, coffee and adult beverages. You can enjoy them while sitting in various cabins or gazing at a mural of Jack and Rose, the ocean breeze whipping through their hair. You can also take the mic for karaoke, perhaps to "My Heart Will Go On," or would that be too obvious?
508 S. Western Ave., Koreatown.
Theme: A mariner's watering hole
Los Angeles has multiple pirate bars. The old school, dimly lit HMS Bounty is the one to visit when you want to relax over some room temperature Cutty Sark and a cold session ale as you reminisce about the seafaring days of yore. Ser Davos would hang out here, probably during happy hour when the already cheap drinks are even cheaper. The Bounty serves reasonably priced American fare and it's open daily for lunch.
3357 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. 213-385-7275.
Theme: A punk-rock pirate joint
Set on a sunken ship, the Redwood is a grungier, punkier pirate bar that offers live music several nights a week. It's dark, divey and fun with plenty of skulls and nautical ephemera. It's the kind of bar where Euron Greyjoy would try to hang out before getting 86'd for incessant bragging and all-purpose idiocy. The menu consists of bar food (sandwiches, salads, fried starters) while the cocktail menu lists a variety of maritimey drinks, including Mai Tais and Dark and Stormies. Happy hour, Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., is the best time to stop by if you're a grumpy pirate who's not into loud, live music.
316 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A. 213-680-2600.
Theme: A low-key, neighborhood haunt for sirens
Rounding out L.A.'s oceanic choices is Little Tokyo's Mermaid, a lightly themed and friendly neighborhood bar. Follow the neon sign to enter a relaxing, blue-hued space where a video installation makes it look like a mermaid is beckoning you from the other side of a porthole. The menu consists of shareable bites like braised brisket sliders, nori guacamole, shrimp rolls and craft cocktails. Weekly events include trivia, karaoke and DJ nights, all of which have themes of their own. Important: Selena karaoke is a thing that has happened here.
428 E. 2nd St., Little Tokyo.
View of Clifton's Cafeteria during Airbnb Open LA - Day 2 on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Airbnb)
Theme: An L.A. institution of many themes
Clifton's contains multitudes. It was once part of a chain of themed restaurants and this outpost is the last survivor. Artfully and meticulously renovated by owner Andrew Meieran (who also owns The Edison), the space is filled with charming installations and detailed touches that demand thorough exploration. The woodsy bottom floors are dominated by a towering, fake Redwood tree and taxidermy galore. Seek out a secret cave for contemplation located near the bar on the second floor. Then meander up to the gorgeous Gothic Bar, which looks like a broody cathedral located deep in the forest. Clifton's does have a tiki bar on a higher floor, but as we said, that's for a different list. Although Clifton's reopened with its American-style cafeteria intact, that portion has since closed. As such, it's currently only open Thursday through Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., as more of a cocktail bar. However, Meieran has plans to launch a modern food hall in the future.
Theme: Bogart, with a margarita
Casablanca is a longstanding Mexican restaurant known for its housemade tortillas, roaming mariachis and giant margaritas, which can be ordered from a cart. The decor, however, is entirely devoted to the 1942 film Casablanca. That includes colorful murals and a lifesize statue of Humphrey Bogart. For a comprehensive history of the restaurant, check out this piece by Danny Jensen.
220 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. 310-392-5751.
Theme: A steampunk speakeasy
The Edison shares an owner, and a penchant for meticulous design, with Clifton's. Housed in a former power plant, it's a cavernous space with an aesthetic that feels like the Paris World's Fair of 1900 in an alternate universe's industrial revolution. Regular events include live jazz and burlesque, although you'd be wise to check the calendar to ensure the venue isn't closed for a private event or a shoot. They serve fancy snacks and craft cocktails and the bouncers enforce a strict dress code, so make sure everyone in your party is dressed to impress.
108 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A. 213-613-0000.
Good Times at Davey Wayne's
Theme: A '70s bachelor pad
Good Times at Davey Wayne's is a '70s-themed bar mostly frequented by people conceived in the '80s and '90s. Guests enter through a fridge door off El Centro and emerge in a lounge that looks like your uncle's basement pad. There's not a bar to slide up to, per se, but you can relax on one of the comfy couches or try to snag a seat on the patio swing out back. Order cocktails and beer from the main bar inside or boozy snow cones and beers from the camper trailer on the patio. A limited bar food menu is available outside and regular entertainment includes DJs spinning vinyl, dancers on roller skates and bands. (Please note your best '70s attire may be subject to the bar's dress code: no athletic wear, shorts or sandals are allowed after dark.)
1611 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. 323-962-3804.
Break Room 86
Theme: All '80s, all the time.
Jump ahead a decade at Davey Wayne's sister bar, Break Room 86, hidden inside the Line Hotel in Koreatown. This is a great bar to take your out-of-town friends if you're nearby on a slow night or your pals don't mind waiting in line. Inside, it's a Reagan-era spectacle with bartenders doing their best Cocktail impressions and a back bar on hydraulics that lowers to reveal breakdancers and moonwalkers. You can play a round or two of Pac-Man then see about renting one of the secret karaoke rooms in the back. If you'd rather sing to impress a crowd, stop by for live band karaoke on Tuesdays. Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is always a crowd pleaser.
630 S. Ardmore, Koreatown. 213-368-3056.
Theme: A pleasant cabin in the woods
There are two Bigfoot Lodges, one in Atwater Village and another in Palms. Both will make you feel like you're a sasquatch-obsessed cryptozoologist or maybe just a ranger in a National Park. Expect lots of wood, antler lamps, signs about preventing forest fires and the vague sensation that you're a character in Twin Peaks. The Atwater location has a Lynchian, woodland-themed animatronic display at the entrance in which a bear and a squirrel are perpetually in motion. Both have a daily happy hour from 5 to 9 p.m. with cocktails for as cheap as $5.
3172 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village, 323-662-9227.
10939 Venice Blvd., Palms. 310)-287-2200.
Theme: Midnight in the garden of good and tipsy
The 1933 Group — the folks behind Idle Hour, Bigfoot Lodge and the revamped Formosa Cafe— turned a former townhouse into the Sassafras, an antebellum Southern-themed joint with cocktails, burlesque and New Orleans-style food. The most interesting thing about the bar may be the fact that the house wasn't originally built in Hollywood. It was built in Georgia, taken apart, moved to L.A. and put back together so we could drink sazeracs and eat po'boys with Zacc chips. The street scene facades and plethora of antique knick-knacks should give you plenty to look at while you practice your best Southern charms.
1233 N. Vine St., Hollywood. 323-467-2800.
Theme: A steamy Havana night circa 1930s
Yet another Houston Brothers spot, La Descarga is a Cuban-themed nightclub and cigar lounge best suited for upscale parties or intimate dates. You'll enter, once again, through a clandestine door where a spiral staircase takes you from a mezzanine to a dimly lit rum bar. (They do have cocktails with other spirits, if that's your poison.) Explore further and you'll find a spacious, covered lounge with a brightly tiled floor where you're free to toke on cigars. La Descarga is not a neighborhood bar you can just stumble into for a casual drink. The upbeat music is a touch too loud for contemplation, reservations are required and the dress code demands upscale attire. But if you want to make a night of it, you can enjoy live bands, dancers and a sultry vibe. Considering the limited seating, you might feel inclined to dance.
1159 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. 323-466-1324.