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
Best Hookah Bar
1948 N. Tustin Ave., Orange
So you really like some tea and lamb tongue with your flavored smoke, eh? Then ChaiKhooneh is the place for you. It isn't your typical hookah lounge. That's mostly because of owner AliReza Mirzai's passion for Persian culture. Stepping inside ChaiKhooneh means immersing yourself in traditional Persian foods and teas, a family-owned spirit, and a haze of fine hookah smoke packed tightly inside of its cluttered walls. The atmosphere is made all the more enticing thanks to the sounds of Persian music swirling through the rugs and trinkets proudly on display inside this local gem.
Rick from O'Malley's
140 Main St., Seal Beach
Finally. A bartender you don't have to flag down when your glass is empty. In fact, you probably won't even see the bottom of your glass by the time you've got another cocktail waiting. Thank you, Rick; with you, the thirsty find solace. Charming and attentive, Rick has been working the bar scene since long before he was of legal drinking age (relax, he started out as an O'Malley's busboy), and serving parched customers has become second nature, not to mention a finely honed skill. Perhaps it's his sharp, sarcastic wit or that curiously styled mustache, but Rick shakes that mixer like nobody else.
Reader's Choice: Stephen at Avalon, Costa Mesa
Best Happy Hour
Mai Tai Bar
97 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
Most happy hours are enjoyed only by those who have the option to sit in a bar on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. By the time we working folks schlep into our favorite saloons after a long day, happy hour is long over and done with. Why should this time of mirth not be available to the rest of us? Why should those working late hours be deprived of the happiest hour of the day? This is America, fer chrissakes! The Mai Tai Bar knows our pain. With its tropical-resort feel, this second-floor bar is far from a skeezy dive. Not only does it have an absolutely breathtaking open-air patio overlooking Rainbow Harbor, but it also hosts the Late Night Happy Hour, which goes from 8 p.m. to 11p.m.—you know, when people are actually out. The best deals are their $4 specialty drinks, the list of which includes their famous Mai Tai—go figure, it's also the best in town. If you're not up for such a sweet treat, there are also $3 well drinks and pints of beer for $2.50 (domestic) or $3 (imported). The best part? Mai Tai's Late Night Happy Hour happens every day. Yes, every day. And that should make you pretty damn happy.
Reader's Choice: Slidebar Cafe
Best Dive Bar
207 W. Chapman Ave., Orange
Paul's can be many things, depending on when you go. It stays chill during the day, with just the locals and regulars watching sports and shooting pool, shooting the shit with some of the best bartenders around, drinking cocktails and Pabsts in cans. Nights are laid-back, too, but only during winter break. If you like your bars sleepy and casual, then go at these times. If you like things more lively, then keep reading. You see, Paul's is right near Chapman University, which means every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night belongs to the twentysomething crowd, and it gets absolutely packed starting around 11 p.m. This can be fun—as long as you order two drinks at a time (it can take a while to work your way back up to the bar). Plus, it has the best smoking patio in Orange County, a huge open space with ventilation fans and several places to sit. How rare to enjoy a cigarette with a cold beer these days.
Best Venue for Live Music
2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach
Long Beach doesn't have as many live-band hotspots as one would expect from a city its size. Alex's Bar has some good shows, primarily of the punk variety, and Que Sera has hosted some interesting acts. But in the past couple of years, the Prospector has become one of the most unexpectedly successful venues in town. Why unexpected? Well, frankly, the design of the bar makes it almost impossible to maneuver when it gets crowded (as it usually is during a show), the sound is no great shakes, and unless you're one of the maybe 25 people who can reasonably fit onto the main floor, you won't be seeing much of the band you came to see. But thanks to the diligence of its bookers and staff, the Prospector has managed to attract a hip roster of LA, OC and out-of-town up-and-comers to its stage, shortcomings be damned.
Reader's Choice: House of Blues, Anaheim
Best Dance Club
1901 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa
With its sweeping layout and immense dance floors, Club Vegas is the place to go to break it down on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Just don't take it too seriously: This place isn't exactly known for its tactful patrons. Think of all the over-the-top elements of the real Vegas, and you've got Club Vegas. The guys have gelled, spiky hair, and the girls wear teeny-tiny skirts and shoes that hurt—but hey, everyone's there for a good time and to hook up, if they can. Depending on your musical tastes, choose between a massive Top 40 room and a smaller-but-still-substantial house/techno room. Once you've opened a tab, a numbered disc allows you to access your account from any of the bars throughout the club, so you don't have to keep fighting the crowd at the same spot to get a cocktail. Go-go dancers do their thing once the floor gets crowded, which is generally around 11 p.m. The vibe is upscale, but not in an intimidating way, since club-goers are generally of the frat/sorority type. The dress code is strictly enforced, and the VIP lounge is awesome if you can afford to shell out the bucks— yet another way Club Vegas brings the spectacle of Sin City's glitzy outrageousness to Costa Mesa.