On the first chilly night of fall, fifty-something twenty-somethings line up on the sidewalk on Santa Monica Boulevard. Revelers shudder in ‘90s-era mini skirts and chunky boots, alongside people clad in 2000s graphic tees and sunglasses at night. One woman has fashioned a top out of a plastic grocery bag. Some have face tattoos, others look like soon-to-be stars on the CW.
As black Suburbans drop off more people who head to the back of the line, some are lucky enough to be pulled straight inside. All of them want one thing: to be inside Barney’s Beanery at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. They’re not queueing up for Soho House’s latest Los Angeles outpost, Holloway House, situated less than 250 feet down the road. Instead, they’re clamoring to get inside the century-old, chili-slinging bar where TVs with football games on mute are always in eyeline.
The line outside Barney’s Beanery may be new, but unlike other West Hollywood hot spots, it isn’t manufactured to drive hype. It’s just as busy inside. Part dive bar and part diner, the warmly-lit dining room is packed with friends sharing onion rings on tables covered in pints of beer and melting tequila sodas. Groups mingle around pool tables, shuffleboard and old-school arcade games while a Red Hot Chili Peppers song plays overhead.
Birthday candles are blown out amid the clutter of a full table. (Mark the Cobrasnake / For The Times)
Patrons enjoy a game of pool at Barney’s. The bar also offers shuffleboard and arcade games. (Mark the Cobrasnake / For The Times)
While Barney’s Beanery may be new to Gen Z, it’s a Los Angeles institution. It was founded by L.A. native and World War I veteran John “Barney” Anthony in Berkeley in 1920, but moved to West Hollywood by 1927. Over the last hundred years, it’s resonated with budding stars and celebrities alike. One wall displays a framed, canceled check that Marilyn Monroe wrote for an order of chili. Modern artist Edward Kienholz created a life-size replica of the bar titled “The Beanery” in 1965 — still on display at a museum in Amsterdam. It’s said Jim Morrison peed on the bar. It was the last place Janis Joplin was seen before she died. “Bar Rescue” host Jon Taffer, once manager of Barney’s, served regulars Sylvester Stallone and Francis Ford Coppola beers in the early 1980s. Quentin Tarantino had a favorite booth to write scripts in.
The establishment also has a complicated homophobic history. After it was raided by the police for what was then-illegal homosexual activity among customers, founder John Anthony hung a sign featuring a slur to ward off queer patrons. It didn’t come down permanently until 1984 and not without a fight from the citizens of West Hollywood.
None of the young crowd inside knows that, though. I asked. They aren’t packing Barney’s because of a nostalgia for old Hollywood, its adjacency to L.A. history, or even the famous chili. They’re drawn to the bar for an intangible feeling that nearly everyone struggled to explain.
“I think the long-term success of Barney’s is because we have this sort of magic to us,” offers manager AJ Sacher. “Barney’s feels like a place from where you’re from, wherever that is. It’s hard to put your finger on why, and it’s kind of uncanny.”
Barney’s is a neighborhood joint that’s long been carried by its regulars. It was only recently that David Houston, co-owner since 1999, asked himself: “When did we get hip again?” He calls it the “Barney’s Wave,” a term coined by his late former employee Dominique Kadison. “When I bought the place, she said, ‘There’s a big Barney’s wave out there and it comes and goes and you don’t know when it’s going to come in again. You’re suddenly going to get hot and then it’s gonna recede and you’re gonna be dead for a while, but it just keeps coming back,’” says Houston.
It wasn’t until Houston brought in his 17-year-old daughter that he identified the demographic of his new crowd. Some may consider them 2023’s version of former Barney’s patrons of years past, a la Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Some might not. “My daughter said, ‘Wow, Dad, it’s full of celebrities in there.’ I’m like, ‘Really, who?’ She starts rattling off these names and I don’t know any of these people,” says Houston. YouTubers, TikTokers and influencers with millions of followers and faces undetectable to the middle-age eye.
Houston’s first instinct was to give credit to Selena Gomez, whose drop-ins in April and August of this year made national news. It’s a good guess, but TikTok users were already uploading videos pretending to be dodging paparazzi in front of the restaurant as early as February.
The hottest bar in L.A. for the terminally online? Barney’s Beanery, which routinely has lines out the door on weekends. (Mark the Cobrasnake / For The Times)
Barney’s Beanery is neither clubby nor trendy (as evidenced by the well-worn decor and games). But that’s partly why Gen Z loves it. (Mark the Cobrasnake / For The Times)
Briar Butler, a 21-year-old model, came to Barney’s Beanery as a child with her dad on family trips to L.A. Now, she tries to arrive by 9 p.m. to avoid the line. “I found out about it being cool on TikTok, I don’t remember who’s page, but I saw that the ‘it girls’ were coming to Barney’s and we started coming here,” she says.
In the few months she’s been of age to go out, she hasn’t been to many bars. Before Barney’s, she frequented the usual Hollywood nightclubs that attract young models. She found herself gravitating toward the roadhouse instead. “There’s nowhere like Barney’s; it’s more chill,” she says.
Turner Anderson, 23, moved to Los Angeles from Texas six weeks ago. Her group of girlfriends are in a corner by the pinball machines, loudly hyping up Emma Pillemer, a 22-year-old jewelry designer visiting from Australia as they snap photos of her with a vintage digital camera. “This bar has more of a Texas vibe than anywhere I’ve been in L.A.,” says Anderson, who learned about the bar from her new friends. “You can come here and be able to talk to your friends and not have to scream at them.”
Avery Morgan and Nathalie Eid, both 21-year-old students, are at Barney’s for the first time. They learned about it from a self-proclaimed “Barney’s VIP” they met at Laurel Hardware, a lively farm-to-table restaurant and bar in Hollywood. “It’s a lot different from what I expected. The crowd [at Barney’s] is really diverse. A lot of places in L.A. are very niche. The crowd here isn’t your typical stuck up L.A. club people,” says Morgan. When asked if this is unique to Barney’s, or just the difference between a bar and a club, Morgan ponders. “Well, this is my first dive bar!” she says.
The “Barney’s VIP” that introduced the two friends to the bar is Marco DelVecchio. A natural schmoozer, DelVecchio has modeled for romance novel covers and will appear on Season 3 of “Fboy Island.” Multiple Barney’s patrons refer to him as “the promoter,” a role the owner and manager neglected to mention to me. But the 28-year-old stand-up comedian quickly assures me he doesn’t work for Barney’s. Rather, he just knows the staff because he records his podcast on the patio.
“I don’t know if this current wave was a TikTok trend. I think it’s word of mouth. It’s like Olive Garden, when you’re here, you’re family,” he says.
He notes that for famous patrons like Justin Bieber and the influencers he invites on his podcast, Barney’s is a place you can put your guard down and avoid the bottle-popping expectations of the club. “No one ever gets 86ed. People don’t ask celebs for photos. It’s like Soho House but you don’t have to pay your membership and the food is actually good.”
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time I hear Soho House and Barney’s in the same sentence. A week prior, Amanda McCants, a 26-year-old comedy content creator with over a million followers, asked her fans to send stereotypes of “the girl that’s always at Barney’s Beanery” for her next satire video. “The whole allure of Barney’s Beanery is you can go and feel welcome. It doesn’t have the exclusive thing that Soho House or San Vicente Bungalows has,” she says.
This comparison feels obvious: One is a beer hall and the others are pricey, members-only clubs. Yet it also drives home my prevailing theory about Barney’s renaissance among the TikTok-erati. It’s rare for any establishment to last even a decade in a place like Los Angeles. Gimmick-free bars are disappearing, especially those situated in prime real estate zones. That may be why the only bars young Hollywood is hitting are restaurant and hotel bars or the next faux-dive-bar concept a la Good Times at Davey Wayne’s. It might be the opposite in another city, but here, Barney’s might be the only casual bar these young people have ever been to.
In 2016, developers wanted to build a hotel on the land and rebuild Barney’s on the ground floor. Owner Houston was open to it, but the project ultimately fell through. Hospitality groups are constantly reinventing the wheel in attempts to draw the right crowd and experience a blip of virality.
For Barney’s, where the owner doesn’t lease the building but rather owns the land, the strategy is simply to change nothing and wait. There might be something special in the air, but with enough time, what’s old becomes new to someone else. As Turner Anderson puts it, “Barney’s doesn’t feel like it’s 100 years old at all. It feels new to me.”