Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Family came into OC from Iowa, and after seeing the sights, everyone ended up at the Village Inn. The annual walk with friends around Balboa Island to check out the Christmas lights ended with a nip or seven at the Village Inn. And after walking off that romantic dinner at Amelia's, you end up snuggling up to your sweetie in a dark corner booth at . . . the Village Inn. Now, technically, it's a restaurant, serving American grill classics that aren't half-bad. But many know it more for the daily happy hour, the casual atmosphere and the storied reign of longtime Orange County keyboardist/singer/general mirth-maker Greg Topper. Spring, summer, winter or fall, Topper and his bandmates get locals and visitors up on their feet and grooving to music that ranges from golden oldies to rock classics and pop standards. Topper will point out visiting "celebrities," gently tease hoochie mamas out on the cougar prowl and even invite guest vocalists, including the chick who just poured your drink. The party never stops, and you'll never want to leave.
The SanTana outpost of the Memphis chain might not have the dive-bar cachet of its Costa Mesa mami, what with its expansive booths, bright lights and prime real-estate spot in the Artists' Village. But it gets the job done and then some: affable bartenders with their own county cults (Johnny Sampson, Dave Mau) who prepare drinks that veer from genteel (for the ladies) to stiffer-than-plywood; late-night menus that forsake the traditional leftovers for the gourmet standards of Memphis executive chef Diego Velasco; and the proper mix of hipsters, out-of-towners, politicos, locals and the occasional cholos, punks, rockabillies and wabs who make life in the county seat so damned enjoyable.
With its velvet curtains, plush booths, dim lighting, long bar and "founded in 1925" mystique, the Continental Room always seems like the perfect place for both the classy and the corny. That dichotomy is made incarnate every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., when veteran Elvis impersonator Kirk Wall takes the stage, hound-dogs around the room and croons about blue-suede shoes. A little while later, a burlesque dancer materializes to straddle railings and crawl seductively all over the bar. The entire time, you sit mesmerized and chowing down on $2 shrimp cocktails. Order a dry gin martini or a Jägerbomb: At the Elvis Show, you can reinvent yourself as either Rat Pack or white trash.
With his handlebar mustache and polite smile, the man standing behind the brass bar at Captain Jack's restaurant for the past 15 years is anything but average. Serving top-shelf booze to the tune of the lounge-pianist du jour, Brad Bogle has been serving wealthy Orange Countians their dry martinis for so long he's become a staple of the ritzy restaurant that serves all those overpriced crab legs. Always quick to shoot the shit with stories about his daughter or whatever sports team he's rooting for this season, Bogle might as well start calling himself the captain because he steers us into the dimly lit bar every time.
Nominally, Hollingshead's is a sandwich shop, but a stroll toward its windows, with their glut of exotic logos, makes its true purpose clear: to sell lots of beer. While it's not a bar—they're only open Monday through Friday and close no later than 9 p.m.—the place sells hundreds of varieties of bottled beers from different parts of the world, a veritable United Nations of fermented starches. Hollingshead's always has more than a dozen microbrews on tap. Gotta wash those sandwiches down with something.
Though technical chops and eclectic musical taste are key survival tools for any DJ, the Huntington Beach duo Colossal KNXN have proven that getting your name out there is the only way to take your crate-digging to the next step. On any given night, you can find DJs Tea Long and BB Guns tag-teaming the turntables at such reputable clubs as Detroit Bar, Proof and Sutra. Trading primarily in a tasty blend of hip-hop and electro, Colossal KNXN are able to read a crowd and resuscitate a dance floor like nobody else. Their weekly Wednesday event Dirty Money has become an institution for beat enthusiasts, wreaking havoc on the dance floor. And as their skills persist, so does their reputation as one of OC's most visible DJ crews.