Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Given all the businesses that have closed in 2009, it feels good to single out one that actually reopened. The Galaxy Theatre closed, seemingly for good, back in February 2008, only to rise from its metaphorical ashes a little more than a year later. Not only are they back in business, but owner Gary Folgner also spruced up a good deal of the long-dormant live-music venue, attracting top-flight acts such as indie-rock legends Built to Spill and OC punk-rock vets TSOL. There've been some hiccups, like having to cancel announced shows from Ray J and Sleepy Brown, but having another place for live music in Orange County should ultimately be nothing but a positive.
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.
So it's not officially a dance club, but it wins this year for the best place to grab a beer, check out some art, and dance your ass off to off-the-cuff underground DJs. The Crosby fought its way into the city, and we love that it demanded to go straight to the heart of OC (downtown Santa Ana), instead of plopping on the fringe of some strip mall. So even though the Crosby also serves as a restaurant, art space and all-around community funk center, it has also brought some much-needed edge to the predictable nose-snubbing, fake-booby-bobbing and tired DJ sets at those other dance clubs in the county.
Pool tables, black-vinyl booths, great jukebox, friendly bartenders, dangerously strong drinks: Reno Room is the quintessential dive. But what sets it apart is the adjoining Mexican restaurant, Coco Renos, which serves great drunk food into the wee hours. That, and the endless parade of taxis filing by to make sure your inebriated ass makes it home in one piece.
The drag scene in Orange County is a little under-the-radar. But make no mistake, the drag queen is here to stay, and she's bold, beautiful and Latina. That's right: The same county that gave birth to raving anti-Mexican Minutemen also gave birth to one of the longest-running Latino drag shows around. Every Thursday through Sunday, the small, unassuming Frat Bar transforms into a diva in heels, renaming itself Fiesta Latina. The vibe is flirty and the shows saucy, sumptuous, bilingual and divine—everything a good gay bar and great drag show should be. The divas in platforms perform old romanticas, dress as famous stars or belt out a modern tune for the boys in the crowd.
This is where you go when you want a no-fuss gay beer. (You know, pink, foamy, comes with an umbrella, condoms and free hot lube. Kidding.) But the little bar on the corner of Broadway and Falcon along the quaint Alamitos Beach Corridor is indeed the spot where you go when you want gay, spirited and cozy with your beer. The crowd at the Falcon is always sweet, just flirty enough and Long Beach sexy (tattoos, drag, boots, cigarettes). It's also mixed: boy, girl, trans, straight, whatever. No one cares, and all dance to the wild VJs just the same. We like this. It's what makes the Falcon not just a great gay bar, but also a great neighborhood bar.
It's located within walking distance of a whole lot of office buildings (including OC Weekly's), so a good happy hour is non-negotiable. After all, worker drones need to properly drown their sorrows and/or celebrate their continued employment in this sad excuse for an economy. While the drink specials at Durty Nelly's are solid (available Monday through Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m.), the real value is in their many tasty appetizers available for $3.95 (Monday through Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m.)—classics such as potato skins, slightly more off-kilter choices such as tacos and some wackier options, including deep-fried-macaroni-and-cheese bites. Because any hour when you're eating fried mac and cheese is a happy one.
There's no shortage of water-close watering holes on Newport Peninsula, but only one is as crusty, uninviting and awesome as Blackie's. After a few hours in the sun, shade your eyes in this dive bar's dankness, shoot some 50-cent pool and marvel at the relatively low bimbo count in the booths. The owners don't mind you bringing your own food in, so grab a corn dog, order a beer or four, and then re-emerge for a nap on the sand. Don't forget to reapply.