By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Reader's Choice: Shark Club
Best Sports Bar
11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove
If you haven't heard of the Goat, then you don't know shit about beer. But don't worry. Just close your eyes and point, then order confidently. This place has more than 140 of the most obscure beers you could imagine on tap, and it's doubtful that most of its patrons could tell a Rogue Brutal Bitter from a Deschutes Black Butte Porter. You can take your taste buds down a wet-and-wild ride by ordering up something different every time, and you'll never run the gamut of what's available. The place, decorated in a crazy junkyard-chic motif, is a spellbinding, visually cluttered Willy Wonka's drunk factory for locals. So you'd better be serious about your suds: Within one second of entering, you'll be gut-checked by a musty funk of urine, vomit and stale beer. You'll soon forget it under the cloud of cigarette smoke as the bar's back "porch" is integrated so well with the bar it feels just like . . . well, people smoking in a bar. Most pints go for $4.50 apiece, and pitchers usually hover near the $16 mark.
Best Signature Cocktail
The Flirtini at the Clubhouse
3333 Bristol St., Ste. 2802, Costa Mesa
All right, fellas, the ladies and metros already know about this one. Let's see if you're man enough to handle a pink martini. Yeah? What about a pink martini with a gummy fish? We're talking about the Flirtini, a secret concoction found at the Clubhouse that's quite possibly the tastiest little drink on the planet. Just try to re-create it sometime; you may get good and plastered, but trust us, you won't succeed. Stoli Raspberry, champagne and some juices are involved. The result is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet little darling that's so smooth it's dangerous. So here's your winner, in all its pink and foofy glory—how appropriate for the land of frilly decadence.
Best Bloody Mary
The Bloody Mary Bar at Sharkeez
211 Main St., Huntington Beach
This one is for all you people who like to think you're cocktail connoisseurs, spirits savants and masters of the mixed drink. No matter which Bloody Mary is listed here, you won't agree because you could make a better one. So, all right, hotshots, here's your chance to shine. Your blank canvas is a mini-pitcher filled with ice and a straw. The bartender provides the vodka (regular or Absolut Peppar) then you're on your own to make some art. Get ready for this: three kinds of Bloody Mary mix or regular tomato juice; about a dozen different hot sauces (including every imaginable iteration of Tabasco); the same number of such spices as garlic salt, cayenne pepper and Cajun seasoning; four kinds of stuffed olives; Worcestershire and A1 sauces; horseradish; celery stalks on ice; hot pickled green beans; baby corn; jalapeños; and lemons and limes. Overwhelmed? Don't panic, every table comes with a flier providing amateurs with step-by-step recipes for such concoctions as the Mexican Mary and the Bayou Bloody. Sharkeez hosts this spectacular on Saturdays and Sundays only, so don't try to get your Bloody boogie on on a Thursday.
The El Patron at Yucatan Grill
550 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 111, Seal Beach
This libation is nothing fancy, just a few classic, high-quality ingredients, but that's why it gets the nod. Yucatan Grill, a tiny Caribbean restaurant tucked out of sight in Seal Beach, knows not to mess with a drink that is messed with far too often. There's no premade margarita mix, no mysterious plastic bottle filled with high-fructose corn syrup and Yellow Dye No. 7, and every El Patron is made to order. It starts with a glass full of ice, add a few shots of Patron Silver, then a healthy dose of Cointreau for sweetness. Next comes the juice—hand-squeezed from half an orange, half a lemon and a couple of lime slices. Salt, if you want it. Pure and simple. It's $10.50 a pop—a small price to pay for such unadulterated perfection.
Best Wine Bar
Bacchus' Secret Cellar
6735 Quail Hill Pkwy., Irvine
Named after the greatest wine expert of all time, Bacchus' Secret Cellar brings the vino-sampling experience to remarkable heights. Most notable is the wine-tasting bar that, thanks to their wine-preservation system, offers more than 60 vintages at any given time. Tastings are available in four sizes: taste, half-glass, full glass and "flight." Single "tastes" range from $1 to $19, welcoming any budget. Newbies can choose from 18 preselected flights, and connoisseurs are welcome to pick their own. Decorated in an Ancient Greece theme (naturally), the space that isn't devoted to the bar holds an impressive array of bottles.
Best Place to Smoke Indoors
3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach
Normally relegated to the windy tundra known as the patio—or, in some cases, the sidewalk—smokers in California are not the highest on the totem pole. Farters, nose-pickers and clubbers of baby seals are treated better than smokers. Face it: If you smoke cigarettes, you are kind of a scumbag. But wait, you say you smoke cigars? Well, then, come on inside, good citizen! Don't stand out there in the cold with those animals! Christy's is a haven for such high-culture tobacco-smokers, offering a quiet little haven to puff and still be treated like an adult. The good/expensive wine (the cheapest glass of red wine is $11), the great/really expensive food, the white tablecloths and fine stemware are all just footnotes compared to the cigar bar and classy smoking lounge. Relax in a soft leather chair, rub elbows with others who are usually asked to step outside, and bask in flavor country. Yes, it's California, and yes, you're smoking inside.