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Some of the Best Bars in Los Angeles Are In People's Living Rooms

"Going out" is for chumps.

Rachel Mae Furman in her home bar, Smoke & Honey. All photos by the author

There's no shortage of places to drink in Los Angeles: slick nightclubs filled with the Hollywood elite, dive bars populated by old men, Korean hostess lounges and karaoke bars. But there's a certain category of bar that's more special than the others. A type of bar so special, so elusive, that you have to be in-the-know to even find it: the kind of bar that's in someone's house.

The underground supper club rose to popularity years ago, with pop-up restaurants like Bistro LQ and Starry Kitchen operating out of peoples' homes. These intimate, exclusive places garnered lots of hype, and now the trend seems to have extended to a spattering of home bars, operating like ultra-secret speakeasies. There have been moving pop-ups, like London's Underground Drinking Club or New York's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which served drinks at various apartments, rooftops, and homes in the Hamptons (before eventually opening a brick and mortar bar). More permanent fixtures, like San Francisco's Worthybar, are run out of a private home.


In Los Angeles, there's Smoke & Honey, one of the city's finest whiskey bars, which just happens to operate in Rachel Mae Furman's Los Feliz apartment. Smoke & Honey looks more like an exclusive speakeasy than a Los Angeles living room. The space is surrounded in padded leather and dark wood, and there's a real bar and a spattering of vintage items, like long candlesticks in silver holders and a wooden ship's wheel. Behind the bar, there's a shelving unit holding an impressive collection of limited-edition scotches and other spirits.

The professional bar set-up in Smoke & Honey

To say Furman is knowledgeable about liquor would be an understatement. She worked for years as a brand consultant for a major alcohol company, and she now runs her own lifestyle blog and consulting service. She also keeps pre-mixed Negronis in her purse—solid credentials.

Furman built the bar about two and half years ago, viewing it as the ultimate fusion of her love of entertaining at home and drinking great booze. The night I visited, she expertly led guests in a tasting of several delicious and rare scotches, regaling us with stories of her visits to distilleries and giving tasting notes of each dram. Because she doesn't charge anything for the drinks she serves, Smoke & Honey is mostly reserved for people Furman knows personally, and the tastings tend to focus on whatever she feels like pouring that day.

Guests sipping drinks in Smoke & Honey

Other home bars actively solicit newcomers—like El Tigre Magnifico, which regularly and exuberantly invites perfect strangers over to drink. Based out of a modest apartment in Glendale, El Tigre's two proprietors—roommates Cary Daniels and Matt Blackburn—use social media and word of mouth to entice and entertain people they've never met before. The night I attended, they had sent out a message on their Instagram account, telling prospective patrons to send them a poem. They received about 50 poems, varying wildly in both style and cogency, and from these selections, they chose seven lucky people to attend the evening's festivities.


Despite the fact that there is no actual "bar" at El Tigre, it felt like a professional operation. Daniels and Blackburn had printed a beautiful menu, and the several cocktails on offer were of the level of quality you would expect from a pricey craft establishment, despite being served inside someone's apartment. The kitchen counter and a small bar cart near it acted as the bar itself, and both were crammed with countless bottles, fresh herbs, fruits and juices, and tinctures and shrubs, making it abundantly clear that El Tigre wasn't messing around.

A professional-grade cocktail… and the kitchen sink

In everyday life, Blackburn is an actual bartender, but he works at an establishment that doesn't allow him to experiment and innovate as much as he would like. Daniels is an audio-engineer by day, but he clearly has a passion for cocktails and the craft thereof, and he can hold his own when it comes to mixing a tasty beverage. Opening a home bar gave them an opportunity to experiment with drinks and pursue a cocktail-making passion that they couldn't in their professional lives.

What started over a year ago as two guys messing around and creating drinks for their pals—in return for a pizza or a bottle of something—quickly turned into a massive event, where friends of friends packed into their place to get in on the party. They made a text list to communicate with people who wanted to come over, and at some points, they told me they were getting more than 1,000 texts a day. It eventually ballooned to the point where someone, unbeknownst to them, made the bar a Yelp page and strangers started turning up in the afternoon, yelling, "Is this that bar?"


After that, they ditched the text list and started solely operating through Instagram. They also limited El Tigre's hours to a few nights a month.

The informal bar set-up in Cary Daniels and Matt Blackburn's apartment

The duo are consummate hosts, Blackburn mixing drinks and Daniels taking orders from the guests. Both have a gift for entertaining and engaging the increasingly-drunk guests who gather around their dining room table to talk, laugh, and marvel at their well-made creations. When I visited, I found that the group in El Tigre had come together as strangers, but the vibe was very different than a bunch of people who don't know one another hanging out at an apartment party—soon, everyone was mingling and conversing like friends.

Like Smoke & Honey, El Tigre doesn't charge guests any money to drink, but there was a tip jar that we all lavished with increasing gratuity as the hour grew later.

Joseph Brooke's garage bar

If a night at El Tigre is like a party at your coolest friend's apartment, then the Barage, a home bar in Mid City, is more like visiting a man cave. Proprietor Joseph Brooke runs the Barage out of his garage (it's a garage bar—get it?), where he's created an enviable oasis of alcoholic diversion. His erstwhile carport combines the aesthetics of bar tools and power tools: There's a well-polished wood bar that he built by hand; bottles and bar hardware share wall space with axes, hammers, blades, a butterfly knife, brass knuckles, even a champagne saber, while a bandana-clad deer head serenely yet sagaciously gazes over the sets of vintage glassware.


Brooke, an affable, bearded new father, is quick with a joke and laugh. He's also a veteran barman, having spent 15 years in the industry "behind the stick," as it's called, having only recently left to take a brand ambassador position with a spirits company so he can spend more time with the family. His years of experience and honed expertise shine through in his creation, which he started building as soon as he purchased the house, around six years ago.

The bar itself is orderly, but the Barage as a whole still retains some of that dirt-under-the-fingernails, wrenching-on-the-Camaro-in-an-undershirt ruggedness, which only adds to its appeal. While Brooke and I shared beers, I admired his arcade game, dartboard, artfully hung string lights, and general up-by-the-bootstraps can-do attitude. I was the only guest at the Barage that night, but when Brooke does an event he goes big, packing the space and the generous lawn around it with dozens of guests.

Joseph Brooke's toolshed slash bar set-up

For many, "going out" is where all the fun happens, whereas "staying in" has anti-social, sometimes even depressive connotations. Nothing subverts that tired and inaccurate paradigm quite like a gloriously stocked home bar. A great domestic drinking den elevates the experience of boozing at home—you're not just cracking a beer on the porch or mixing a gin and tonic in the kitchen, but creating an experience.

So I raise a glass to all those enterprising souls who have built and bellied-up to their own little corners of paradise, and I say loudly, clearly, and without jest: Please invite me over.

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