By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
The most successful of the all-ages venues in the county, Chain Reaction hosts shows nearly every night. The bands are always either punk, hardcore, indie or emo, and it's not uncommon for a big name to stop by for a secret (or not-so-secret) show. There's a decent-sized area in front of the stage for dancing, swaying, moshing, whatever. For a full band schedule, visit the website. 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com.
The Doll Hut
Rocking the OC music scene for damn near a generation, the Doll Hut (once famously known as Linda's Doll Hut) gave acts such as Social Distortion and Blink-182 a home when no one else would. The epitome of a punk rock dive bar, the ceiling is painted black (from what you can see through the millions of band stickers), and the stage is covered in leopard print. Wine and beer only (yes, they have Pabst tallboys), the drinks are cheap, and the bands will remind you why OC music kicks so much ass. 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim, (714) 533-1286.
This place is awesome if you wear clear-heeled stilettos and those pleated skirts that measure about 10 inches in length. Held every Thursday at JC Fandango, Glam doesn't open until at least 10 p.m., so if you get there early, you'll have to wait in line. Two dance floors complete with poles and go-go boxes give ladies a chance to show off the moves they learned in aerobics class, while the DJ spins fun and energetic hip-hop and Top 40 from years past. In the corner of the club, hungry patrons can buy little carne asada soft tacos to soak up the booze. At JC Fandango, 1086 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 758-1057.
The Avalon Bar
The Avalon Bar is one of the coolest little places in Costa Mesa. Your first clue? It's owned by Mike Conley of the '80s punk band M.I.A. Careful when trying to find it, though: The only distinguishing characteristic from outside is the wooden half-wall that separates the smoking patio. Unless you go on a weekend, then you can find it by the swarm of cool kids overflowing onto the sidewalk. The space is small (really small), but it packs in the hipsters, thanks to DJs spinning '60s garage and electronica rarities. Get there early and score one of the coveted black-vinyl benches. 820 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 515-4650.
Club Vegas offers all the glitz and attitude of the real Sin City, just without the gambling and hookers. The layout is stunning. An outdoor patio leads into two flowing rooms: an absolutely huge hip-hop/Top 40 one, plus a smaller techno room for whichever mood you're in. The bartenders are sweet as sugar, and upon handing over your credit card, you get a numbered disc that allows your tab to be accessed at any of the bars. However, if you're going VIP, be forewarned: The staff can get pretty uppity. 1901 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa.
Goat Hill is one of those places that's crowded at any given time, even at 3 on a Tuesday afternoon. There's a certain casual appeal about this bar; maybe it's the little cardboard boxes of peanuts for sale, the shells of which you're encouraged to throw on the floor. Or maybe it's the impressive number of beers on tap (we tried counting once, but lost track). Three separate rooms with pool tables and tabletop shuffleboard keep things amusing in the most easygoing way possible. 1830 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-8428.
If you don't know where to look, you won't find it. Kitsch Bar is so posh, they don't even have a sign (though they used to). Located in a Costa Mesa strip mall, an unassuming front door leads into a swank lounge with red lighting, black Mod chairs and benches, and '70s Playboys lining the walls. DJs spin nightly—everything from disco punk to downtempo and chill. The dress code is reasonable (no shorts or sandals), so dress cute, or you won't be let in. 891 Baker St., Ste. A10, Costa Mesa, (714) 546-8580; www.kitschbar.com.
One of the top spots in ever-crowded downtown Fullerton, Plush hosts everything from acoustic live shows to hip-hop DJ nights. In a long, narrow space, the atmosphere is clean and minimal with bright pops of neon orange. Closed Sundays and Mondays, weekend nights belong to the college crowd. Packed with twentysomethings, Plush can get so crowded that a line will form around the back door, but if you get there before 10 p.m., it shouldn't be an issue. Check their website for a complete music calendar. 207 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 738-5100; www.plushcafe.com.
Club Xile is a Goth/industrial crowd for those night crawlers who don't want to wait until the weekend to show off their tragic loveliness. There is a spacious dance floor, and the DJs have names like Asphyxiation, Thermal Detonator and Toxic to provide hardcore-industrial bliss and a weekly dosage of darkwave. Everything is black and blood-red to set the melancholy mood, but the drinks are too good for things to stay that way. At Belluno, 12361 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove; www.clubxile.com.
Punk rock is alive and well in this Huntington Beach bar. Clientele consists of anyone and everyone tattooed, pierced and spiked with more than a dash of rockabilly. Johnny's famous rock & roll jukebox makes for some awesome nights such as Sinatra Sundays and White Trash Wednesdays. Inside, it's super-dark, making the small space seem even smaller (or larger, if you've had a few). Outside is the smoking area, which is just the corner of a strip-mall parking lot. Lethally strong, the drinks will put hair on your chest (Jack Daniels is half-off every Tuesday). Don't be a pansy: Have a shot or three. 17428 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach; www.myspace.com/johnnyssaloon.
Part of the HB Main Street cluster, this bar gets crammed with beach bunnies and surfers during the weekend. It's a must-stop if you go bar hopping in Huntington (there's another location in Newport Beach). The best time to go is Sunday morning, when you can hit up their astonishing bloody mary bar, if you're not too hung over from the night before. (A little hair of the dog, anyone?) 211 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-5282; www.sharkeez.net.
Bacchus' Secret Cellar
The most notable trait of this cheerful little spot is the wine-tasting bar, which, thanks to a vino-preservation system, offers more than 60 unique varieties at any given time. Tastings are available in three sizes: taste, half-glass and full glass. Wine newbies can choose from 18 preselected flights, or connoisseurs can pick their own. Bacchus' calendar of events is lively, and they regularly host special happenings such as Girls Night Out and Wine & Chocolate Night, not to mention live music ranging from gypsy jazz to flamenco. 6735 Quail Hill Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 502-4600; www.bacchussecretcellar.com.
Marketing itself as an all-ages venue, this relatively new South County spot has attracted quite a number of local bands. Tucked inside a corporate office plaza, the Vault's stage room is one big square, and the kids either sit on the ground or stand awkwardly between sets. The whole operation is reminiscent of a high-school dance—probably why the average concert-goer's age is 15. But hey, the cover is less than 10 bucks. 26051 Merit Circle, Ste. 102, Laguna Hills; www.myspace.com/thevaultvenue.
The Basement Ultralounge
The only indicator that a club even exists on the corner of Linden and Broadway are the burly bouncers standing on the sidewalk. There's no sign—hell, there's not even a door, only a very steep staircase leading underground, which proves to be intimidating if you're in heels. It's just small enough to pack everyone in, but still leaves room for a decent-sized dance floor. The décor is beautiful, and everything's black and red and luxurious. Saturdays are the best night to go; the crowd is glamorous, and the DJ really knows his shit. 149 Linden Ave., Ste. B-100, Long Beach; www.basementlounge.com.
Call Sick On Friday
The first and third Thursday of the month gets venue Que Sera bumpin' and shakin'. All the pretty Long Beach artsy hipster types can be found here, dancing to special guest DJs such as the Mashed Potatos, who spin indie and electro-dance. The cover is cheap, and so are the drinks. Que Sera is dark and small, but it's a perfect setting for such a stylish night. At Que Sera, 1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach.
Gay club Executive Suite truly offers something for everyone, no matter which way you swing. Originally overrun by lesbians, the boys eventually took over Friday nights, which is now named Boy's Room. Thursdays are Latin Night, which attracts both guys and girls, but Saturdays still belong to the ladies. Downstairs is more relaxed, with darts and pool tables, but upstairs is where the party's at, with DJs spinning hip-hop and Top 40. Eager to get everyone drunk and frisky, Executive Suite is famous for its super-strong, super-cheap cocktails. 3428 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-3884.
One of the diviest of dive bars, Ferns is a must-stop during your Fourth Street pub crawl. Local bands play occasionally (the majority are old-skool punk), forcing the front door to shut, so you might have to go around back to get in. Hot, tattooed bartenders serve deliciously strong cocktails—be sure to get there for Happy Hour ($2 well drinks!) every day from 4 to 7 p.m. If there are no bands that night, the jukebox plays a wide variety of gems, everything from Johnny Cash to the Damned. 1253 Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 436-6694.
Friday and Saturday nights, this restaurant turns into a swarming mix of singles ready to mingle. No cover charge helps if you're light in the wallet. Music can be either an '80s cover band or a hip-hop/Top 40-spinning DJ, depending on when you go. Large bars on either side ensure you won't go thirsty. The dance floor takes a while to fill up, and it's usually a circle of drunk college girls who get it started, followed by some sleazy guys trying freak them from behind. 6251 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 596-4718.
By day, it's a family-friendly steak joint, but when the sun goes down, the Prospector turns into one of the hippest nightspots in Long Beach. Actually, when the sun goes way, waaay down; most bands don't take the stage until 10:30 p.m. or so. The setup isn't the best if you want to see any bands (the stage is in the back corner), but there's a great sound system and the drinks are cheap—so's the cover! The Prospector gets super-packed, so you'll have to squeeze your way to the bar, but it's a great way to meet new friends. Saturdays get amazingly crazy, but Tuesdays are best for Pull Your Pants Up. 2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 438-3839.
You know that big pink monstrosity of a hotel on the corner of PCH and Second? Well, on the inside, there's actually a pretty decent nightspot called Sachi. They have '80s cover band the Spazmatics on Saturdays, and Fridays are saved for hip-hop DJs. The crowd is college-cute-casual, so it's a great last-minute destination if you're in the area. Last time we went, there was ice cream on the patio. There's usually a line to get in, so arrive early. At the Seaport Marina Hotel, 6400 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 252-8434; www.myspace.com/sachibar.
The Secret Affair
Alex's Bar travels back in time the first Friday of the month with this swingin' '60s party. DJs spin northern soul, boogaloo, garage and Mod. The dress code is hip, hip, hip (boys: wear your tightest pants; girls: the more leg, the better), and people on the dance floor are actually doing the Twist, so brush up on the moves from your parents' era. Fun bonus: Alex's has a photo booth to capture the drunken good time you're sure to have in an old-skool black-and-white strip. At Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com.
All those post-raver kids can find their monthly dose of techno and electro at Que Sera every first Friday. The cover is cheap, but it's free for those bearing a bra donation. Donation to whom? Couldn't tell you, but it's a gimmick and a name that's not easily forgotten. The crowd is stylish, but feel free to break out those huge pants and Power Puff Girl backpacks, if you really want to. At Que Sera, 1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach.
Every Thursday night, Fury turns into a knockout of a destination. The huge, beautifully decorated lounge area and equally impressive bar make this nightspot a visual delight, bathed in red and blue lighting. Most unusual is the high class of patrons (dress code strictly enforced; suits are not uncommon), yet snobbery is nowhere to be found. The DJs spin magic with Top 40, dance and old-school remixes and mash-ups. The dance floor could be bigger, but Eclipse is a great place to see and be seen. At Fury, 4221 Dolphin Striker Way, Newport Beach; www.myspace.com/furylounge.
Held on the second floor at Kantina, essenChill is a Thursday-night lounge with a spectacular view. It caters to the thin, good-looking and rich Newport crowd. Resident DJ Danny Love spins sultry groove, but unfortunately there's no dance floor. Drinks are tasty but overpriced. The muscle-bound bartender won't bother with you until you've ordered several shots of Patron, and yes, keep the tab open. Only then will you get the flirty smile and the pecs flex. At Kantina, 2406 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-1400.
The District is one long room that gets packed to the brim on weekends, mostly with Chapman college kids. The bar is located near the entrance, but the DJ or band (depending on the night) is toward the back, which can be tricky. On the plus side, you get to check out the crowd as you wade through the masses. The vibe is chill and casual, we don't think there's a dress code, and there's no cover. If it gets too crowded, there are some great dive bars next door. 223 W. Chapman Ave., Orange; www.thedistrictlounge.com.
Paul's is one of the best dives around. It's chill during the day, with the locals watching sports and shooting pool, drinking cocktails and Pabst in cans. Nights are laid-back, too, but only during winter break. You see, Paul's is right by 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. By far, Paul's has the best smoking patio in Orange County, with a huge open space, ventilation fans and several places to sit. It's so rare that people can enjoy a cigarette with a cold beer these days. 207 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-2480.
The ultimate in skeezy awesomeness, this is the place to go if you feel like slummin' it. The best nights are Fridays and Saturdays, where you can catch Eddie Day, the Fling's one-man cover band. If there's no room at the bar, have a seat at any of the brown-vinyl booths along the walls, which are covered in '70s red wallpaper. The bartenders and waitresses are super-sweet, and smoking cigarettes is warmly welcomed. Open at 6 a.m., the Fling is totally charming (in a toothless-white-trash kind of way), and not a single person is going to pass judgement on what you're wearing—or drinking. 2370 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. D, Santa Ana, (714) 547-8972.
A weekly Friday-night happening, Mute crams as many artists, musicians and scenesters into Proof as it possibly can. First of all, the space is exquisite, and it couldn't be set up or decorated any more seductively, with its risqué artwork and well-planned lighting. Plush black couches and lots of seating give clubgoers a fighting chance to grab someplace to chill and people-watch. A rotating set of DJs inside and out on the patio keep the music as fresh as can be. The bar gets progressively crowded as the night goes on, so order drinks two at a time. At Proof, 215 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; www.proofbar.com.
For more than 23 years, Hennessey's has been the watering hole of choice for Seal Beach locals. Keeping in Irish tradition, Hennessey's has a love for all things Guinness and getting its patrons absolutely schnockered. Weekends get bumpin' with beach folk and college kids, but the weekdays belong to a calmer crowd. 143 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-6456.
Smack-dab in the middle of Main Street in Seal Beach, O'Malley's is one of the finest Irish bars in OC. The atmosphere is warm and friendly; you can either choose a seat at the well-sized bar or a cozy table by the fireplace. The service is exceptional whether you get your drinks from a waitress or directly from a bartender. If you go on a weekend night, get there early; it's no secret how dynamite this place is. 140 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 430-0631.
If you can shell out the cash to become a member, Club Wednesdayz is the classiest thing to do midweek. Held at a different upscale venue every first and third Wednesday, this club focuses on providing members with social and professional networking opportunities, as well as a great time with music, dancing, cocktails and the tastiest little hors d'oeuvres we've ever had. For membership information, check the website. www.clubwednesdayz.com.