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How to find the best dive bars in L.A.

August 13, 2010 |  5:35 pm

LabestdivebarsWhen Jonathan Gold began telling us where to eat, he didn't start at the top with AOC and Providence. OK, neither was open back then, but if they had been, he wouldn't have been eating there. Writing his Counter Intelligence column for LA Weekly, Gold dined in restaurants with cheap prices and humble storefronts, in mini-malls, with unglamorous waitstaff and clientele.

Now, Lina Lecaro delivers the drinker's correlative with "Los Angeles's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Angels." This is not a guide to the latest Hollywood hot spots, and you won't find valet parking stands anywhere near. 

But Lecaro has a clear sense of the gentrification cycle of dive bars: What makes them interesting is the balance between rheumy morning-drinkers and hipsters looking for an empty booth. Eventually, many L.A. dive bars get popular -- friends bring other friends who bring other friends, and next thing you know there's a line outside for the crappy karaoke (The Smog Cutter, The Brass Monkey). This forces he gentrifiers to an exasperated hunt for the next place with free popcorn and an empty booth (The Roost), which also goes through the cycle. With any luck, a dive bar might become so hip as to become yesterday's news, in which case, it's headed down toward genuine diviness again.

There are about eighty bars listed in the book, organized by neighborhood, and I've been to more than half of them. Included in the list are some new-ownership places that took over dive bars and spiffed them up (Footsie's) as well as a few that likely will never get that treatment (downtown's King Eddy Saloon). Lecaro's cobbled together an admirably comprehensive list; if she missed a few, all the better for those of us who like our dive bars pre-trendy.

When Lecaro sent me a copy of her book, the pages were puffed and wrinkled, as though someone had accidentally spilled a beer on it. Was it because the book had been soaked at her recent reading? Or just a clever marketing ploy?

Lecaro reads and signs "Los Angeles's Best Dive Bars" Sunday night at Book Soup at 7 p.m. Where to go after she's finished? Ask her.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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