At first glance, Sip Boba Lounge in Little Tokyo looks like any other club. The 3,500-square-foot space has an intimate bar, dance floor, and patio section with views of Downtown Los Angeles and City Hall. The VIP tables with $2,000 minimums, DJs spinning ‘90s pop music, and bottle servers with sparklers wouldn’t seem out of place at many clubs across the city. But unlike other Los Angeles hotspots, Sip is the first nightclub in the world to serve exclusively alcoholic boba drinks.
“This space is very unique,” says Sienna Tsan, the club’s head of promotions. “It used to be the iconic Blue Whale Jazz Club. We really wanted to put the first-ever boba nightclub in Little Tokyo, somewhere that has such a rich history, and do something no one else was doing.”
From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sip serves as a quiet neighborhood eatery. Alongside discounted boba cocktails, the afternoon menu includes Japanese-inspired snacks like katsu sandwiches, deep-fried pork and leek gyoza, and garlic-furikake fries. Those who live nearby drop in during happy hour, sometimes with their dogs in tow, to grab a bite before the switchover to a full-on nightclub at 10 p.m.
Sip co-founder David Ho also co-owns the popular Arena Night Club Group, which includes Arena SF, Commissary 2.0, and Pal Social Club. Arena also operated a nightclub in Koreatown, which closed last year. Ho says the idea for an alcoholic boba club came about thanks partly to coronavirus restrictions on his other properties. “The pandemic really pushed us against the wall on what we could sell,” says Ho. “We couldn’t bring in any people so we decided to do to-go cocktails since we were allowed to sell sealed alcohol containers.”
The drinks were so successful at his other businesses that Ho and his partners decided to create Sip, which opened in August 2022. Ho handled the food and drink menu himself and spent months making friends and family try his different renditions of gyoza and katsu sandwiches, the latter of which is deep-fried until golden brown and topped with a tangy tonkatsu sauce. The shokupan milk bread is pillowy soft and subtly sweet, and compliments the boba nicely.
The teas themselves are imported from Japan and cold brewed for at least 24 hours. The best-selling drinks, according to bartender Jake Long, are the Bootea Me Down, made with a mango green-tea-infused tequila; the Twisted milk tea, which mixes Baileys and black tea-infused rum; and the Peach Diddy, a peach black tea with peach vodka.
“It’s about two shots of alcohol in each drink. It’s mixed very well. You can’t taste it, and it’s not too sweet,” says Long.
DTLA resident Izzy Rose, who was partying with friends at a private table on a recent Friday night, confirms the potency and craftsmanship of Sip’s drinks. Rose and her friends had a iced boba bucket filled with a round of the most popular boba cocktails as well as a private sparkler walk-in from the bottle servers who held light-up signs while they danced for her table. “They would be good boba drinks even if they didn’t have alcohol in them,” says Rose. “You can taste the tea. I barely taste any alcohol, which is a little dangerous. The crowd is also pretty wholesome and fun. I love coming here often since it’s so close by.”
But stiff drinks alone won’t make a bar successful, and Ho credits Sip’s ambiance as much as its boba with the club’s popularity. “I think alcoholic boba is not enough. Anyone can make a boba they got from a boba shop and throw some tequila in it and it may taste good, but we put an experience with it. Nightclubs are our bread and butter, and we’re really good at that.”
Sip is located at 123 Astronaut Ellison S Onizuka Street #301, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Sip Boba Lounge is open Thursday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Sip Night Club is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.