How to Buy a Bar in LA

So You Want to Buy a Bar in LA…


In true circle-of-life fashion, the idea to buy and run a bar in LA often strikes people while they’re in a bar in LA. But though there’s a glamour and charm unique to LA nightlife, behind the high-gloss veneer of every successful bar in LA is some stone-cold business sense. If you’ve decided to buy a bar in LA, there are some crucial first steps before you begin. Here’s how to start turning the dream into reality.



Consider Bar Trends


The “build it and they will come” business model will not fly with LA’s more sophisticated drinkers. Local bar trends for the last few years have consistently been about novel ways to stand out from the crowd. The current placeholders for the “best bars in LA” include smaller, more intimate speakeasy style venues.


These bars, such as the Lock & Key or La Descarga are tucked away secretly behind doors requiring a password or a special invitation to enter. Some elusive backrooms that only open after hours. The name of the game is exclusivity, so consider a property that offers a structural sense of being hidden or fashionably off-limits.

Another obvious trend is for high-end, gourmand type cocktails. Picture a good looking team of mixologists manning a long bar filled with botanicals and booze in apothecary bottles. Cocktails are the perfect avenue to distinguish your brand, but also have the highest possible markup. Keep this in mind when hunting for that perfect space for your bar.



Lastly, seek out a space that naturally lends itself to creating intimacy – repurposed buildings, for example, often have the most interesting nooks and crannies that are perfect for that cocktail lounge vibe.



Consider Popular Locations


Thankfully, the early 2014 stability of the LA housing market looks set to continue for the the rest for 2015, too, with office and residential properties shifting only slightly in price. Koreatown remains a strong contender for trendiest place in LA, but demands a business model that’s quite ruthless about distinguishing itself from all the other bars already flourishing there.


Hollywood is still the quintessential LA bar location, but the higher prices represents naturally greater risk. Glendale has been steadily picking up steam with investors, and Frogtown has seen massive growth in the past two years.


Consider how established you want your bar to be


Bartender magazine’s Ray Foley estimates that 75% of bars fail within their first year. A good way to get around this? Buy a bar that’s been going for more than a year. Already established bars can be a good start for those lacking experience or capital to burn. Securing a liquor license, organizing insurance, hiring and managing staff, sourcing funds …all of this will be far more manageable if you’re merely taking over the reigns from another successful bar. The onus is then on you, though, to avoid buying another person’s rapidly failing business.


Buying a bar in LA can be massively rewarding in all the right ways, but it pays to think about local market trends and industry forecasts well before you take the leap. Successful restaurant, club and bar owners often begin their journey with a love for the scene – but it takes a perspective switch from consumer to entrepreneur to successfully run a bar. Understanding popular trends will go some way to creating a space with the requisite Los Angeles glitz, but a bar is a business just like any other.


Prepare wisely, and good luck.

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