Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Jazz clubs—a dying breed—come and go faster than political smears. Live jazz demands intimacy, a reach-out-and-touch-the-performer proximity that complements the personal aspects of the music. And it goes down great with booze. Since 1994, Steamers has provided the up-close experience and great audio to boot. Owner Terence Love books the best musicians he can afford—and, on occasion, a few he can't. Such greats as saxophonists Lew Tabackin, Bud Shank and Miles Davis sideman Dave Liebman; vocalists Kurt Elling and Diana Krall; drummer Billy Higgins; and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra have made a few nights here very special. Love likes to mix it up, booking big bands on Mondays, often singers on weekdays (no cover!) and a host of name acts. Lately, the club has seen the Estrada Brothers Latin band, ultra-hip drummer Gerry Gibbs (son of legendary bop vibraphonist Terry Gibbs) with scintillating pianist/composer Billy Childs, the world-renowned master of Cuban rhythms Francesco Aguabella, swing drummer Jeff Hamilton's trio and the great that Poncho Sanchez. There's a cluster of tables around the bandstand for the serious, and a group of them in the back for those who just want to hang. But the best seats are at the end of the bar near the sound board, where you can flirt with the servers, listen to Terence boss his staff around, sip your martini and peer over the crowd into the heart of the music. Hit it!
The slummiest of slums, Fern's is a dive bar for the punk-rock crowd. The tatted—yet gorgeous—bartenders in this dark, dreary spot won't take any shit, but they will pour you a massive Pabst on tap. Keeping with the scuzzy awesomeness of this place, the bands who play are all of the same genre: loud, terrible and no one you've ever heard of before. Fern's décor is standard: Aside from the pool tables and sticky high-top tables, the most visually interesting elements are painted on the walls. Our favorite is the nude satyr woman with the phrase "I Fuckin' Did It!" scrawled above her lashing tongue and frosty pint of beer. Warning: The flavored-condom machine in the women's restroom (which is painted highlighter pink) will totally eat your money.
Located steps from the sand in beautiful Newport Beach, Mutt Lynchs is a local bar and restaurant known both for its bomb breakfast and extensive beer selection, the latter of which is served in 32-ounce schooners (remember your wrist brace—they're heavy). Sit down at one of the old wooden tables carved with the initials of past patrons and stare out the windows at the blue waters of the Pacific while being served by the cute waitstaff. It's a Southern California bar with classic beach style. It's the perfect location for a drunken Sunday, Sunday brunch, or both (if you get down like that).
This joint has all of the elements that make a great neighborhood bar. Heavy pours, reasonable prices, pool tables, a smoking patio, a jukebox and some TVs. It's dim enough that you don't have to worry about that nasty forehead zit. It's large enough to handle a decent-sized crowd of your friends for when your significant other dumps you and you just can't be alone that night. It has plenty of parking, and it's close to some fast-food restaurants. It's also near the freeway, so your designated driver doesn't have to spend any more time in the car with your drunk ass than necessary. Sure, there's no burly doorman to assess your wardrobe. There's no bathroom attendant to dry your hands. And we can almost guarantee that Paris Hilton won't show up when you're there. Oh, wait, these aren't drawbacks at all.
While bright-green shamrocks on the walls and traditional Irish appetizers may not scream "ideal place to hang out," Patsy's Irish Pub in Laguna Niguel is just that. Not to be confused with its more rustic counterpart in Mission Viejo, this cozy little public house really is a great place to kick back with some friends on a Friday night. The Irish theme is there (shamrocks, brightly lit green-neon signs, Emerald Isle faves on the menu), but this bar does it so tastefully that the clichés fade into the background—especially once you've had a drink or two. For $5, you get a great selection of beer, a welcoming atmosphere and the warm feeling of comfort that only comes when alcohol is mixed with Irish hospitality.
Though this venue opened just last year, the place has already earned quite a reputation as one of most happening bars in the county. Located in the Artists Village of up-and-coming Santa Ana, Proof caters not only to the county's hipsters, but also to the plain ol' cats as well. Depending on the night, you can hear any of a variety of musical flavors being spun by featured DJs. While getting your groove on to those rockin' tunes and sipping your vodka tonic, you might as well ogle the bare-breasted artwork that adorns the otherwise-spare, industrial-looking walls. Don't fret, gals, there's something for you there, too—the ladies' room proudly displays pictures of male packages tightly wrapped in denim. Whew! Is it getting hot in here, or is it just us? Good thing you can head out to the brickwork back patio to chill out.