History: Though not an original from that time period, the Varnish has earned its street cred through its shared landmark establishment—the century-old Cole’s restaurant. Supposedly the originator of the French Dip Sandwich, the old-fashioned eatery first opened in 1908, in the Pacific Electric building (once the city’s tallest skyscraper) at 118 East 6th Street. Fast forward to 2009: Under its new owners, 213 Hospitality, Cole’s expanded to include this speakeasy in the back, further embracing its Americana-heavy past.
How to get in: Grab a French Dip sandwich at Cole’s before heading to the door in the back. Seating, which is tight (max capacity is 70), is first-come, first-served. Stop by any time after 7 p.m.; you can catch live jazz on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays after 9 p.m.
What to order: The Havana Fix is a masterpiece, claims the Los Angeles Times. The Varnish’s take on the classic cocktail consists of gin with homemade grenadine and pomegranate syrup. Its cousin, the Brazilian Fix, is made with cachaca, honey, and chartreuse.
Also try: The Federal Bar on Pine Avenue in Long Beach was home to the Security Pacific National Bank in 1924. About 90 years later, it was converted into a restaurant, basement bar, and obscure parlor, complete with a VIP area built right inside the old vault. Access to the lower level is in the back of the restaurant, but first ask a bartender for the passcode, which you’ll need to enter.