Find a stool, one of maybe a dozen in the whole place.
Few experiences match the feeling of a dive bar beer a few feet away from a California beach without the insufferable crowds that can sometimes accompany that kind of experience. Harbor Room in tiny Playa Del Rey offers an ideal beach drinking experience comprised of beach proximity, affordable pricing and just enough square footage to pack in a group of friends and not much else. The ethos of Harbor Room can be summed up by its most notable exterior sign that reads, “Open, but don’t expect too much.”
Routinely described as the smallest bar in Los Angeles County (and perhaps one of the smallest bars in the country), that kind of claim is difficult to verify but it is certainly a believable assertion. Harbor Room sits in a wedge-sized building formed by a pair of converging streets that left just enough space for a bar and a few stools. Italian restaurant Cantalinis Salerno Beach shares the sliver of Playa Del Rey real estate, patios for each business occupying the same strip of land between sidewalk and street.
Everything about Harbor Room’s exterior appearance matches a beach dive bar vibe, down to the white paint and blue trim. A large mural covers the bar’s front wall, a large, black depiction of a ship bisecting the words “Harbor” and “Room.” Patio seating here takes great advantage of the small amount of available space, tiny high top tables pushed up against the structure under a sun shade. A small blue awning juts out over the front door, inscribed with the name of the bar.
Having played up the small structure of the space, the Harbor Room interior thankfully lives up to the hype, packing a big dive bar punch into a limited amount of square footage. The space inside comes at such a premium that no tables can be found, all seating found atop bar stools that surround the tiny bar in the corner of the space and a series of drinking ledges that line each of Harbor Room’s interior walls. In keeping with the small space, an equally small bar is nestled under a drop in the ceiling’s elevation, making for a kind of dive bar beer cave feel.
While the most prominent piece of dive bar decoration within harbor Room is likely the autographed Showtime Lakers vintage poster, most of the framed pieces throughout the space are devoted to regulars who have called Harbor Room home over the years. A few caricatures of those regulars can be found along the wooden beam above the bar and dotted across the Harbor Room surfaces. Handmade photo collages similarly pay tribute to regulars and bartenders throughout Harbor Room’s history.
As one might expect in such informal surroundings, Harbor Room is cash only, though an ATM is available on site. Some of that cash deserves to be plugged directly into the CD-based, wall-mounted jukebox stocked with vintage disks from numerous musical genres. At a rate of three songs per $1, digital jukeboxes simply can’t hold a candle to an affordable vintage piece like the Harbor Room jukebox. Also expected given the small footprint is an equally small bathroom, in this case one with a window that looks out onto the patio of the restaurant next door.
Additional visual elements are packed into Harbor Room’s space, including a vintage register behind the bar. That so much character can be packed into such a small space is a testament to Harbor Room’s organic authenticity, the Los Angeles dive bar a perfect example of a charm-packed, neighborhood hub that jus so happens to sit across the street from a Southern California beach.