Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
What neighborhood could be more pub-friendly than that of a college campus? Somehow, UC Irvine's bar comes with nearly zero "puke-stained frat house" vibes, even while you might spot an occasional a capella squad or streaker in the quad outside. Instead, you get a laid-back, slightly snooty European-beer-lounge vibe, perfect for kicking back and talking about puke-stained frat houses while sipping on a diverse, wonky brew selection that tends to attract connoisseurs who are a few years past exam age. Between the pumpkin-toned walls, under the chalkboard menu and swathed in the neon glow of beer logos, the only thing that matters is the conversation you're having—the topic of which is probably the deliciousness of the house-made potato chips in front of you.
Tin Lizzie considers itself "a gay oasis in conservative OC's urban sprawl"—and it's not just being presumptuous. Decorated in red-velvet drapes and wallpaper, gold sconces, brass footrails, and patent-leather seats, the suburban-fabulous, open-daily saloon definitely feels like a haven for the gay community, as it's packed no matter what time of day you visit. The drinks are also hella cheap (signature martinis run $4 to $7). And the music selection? Let's just say there's enough "untz untz untz" to satisfy the hardiest clubgoer.
It's Thursday night; where all the ladies at? Since Long Beach is definitely the hot spot for gay nightlife in the Orange County area, chances are they're at Doll House, the weekly lesbian night at Hamburger Mary's—an ample-sized club complete with a spacious dance floor and smoking patio. Presented by Club Lucky (of LGBT nights Lucky Sundays and the notorious Boy Bar), Doll House has everything a girl who likes girls could want: drink specials (did someone say $1 Jell-O shots?!), deals on cover charges, awesome DJs and go-go dolls! Plus, the whole thing is 18-and-over, so the little lezzies can go out, too.
Despite what The Simpsons may lead you to believe, it takes a hell of a lot more than a curly wig and a boom box to impersonate Cher. The ladies of the Dreamgirls Revue know this, and after nearly 20 years in the business of lipstick and lip-syncing, they strive to not only imitate, but also emulate all our favorite divas. From ABBA to Renée Zellweger, this versatile group can conjure up just about any act and execute their performances with a unique flair that will keep you signing, "Halleluja"—even after the 100th time you've heard "It's Raining Men." The longest-running drag show in Southern California, the Dreamgirls sprinkle their sweet loving all over the area, but they settle every Thursday night at the LGBT-friendly Club Ripples on the Long Beach coast. Featuring a talented ensemble, each show ignites with a dazzling tribute to the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, then progresses into a veritable grab bag of song-and-dance routines. In a single night, you can catch performances by anyone from Diana Ross to Marilyn Manson, and if you're lucky enough to catch a themed show, you might even get to meet Cruella DeVil and a few Disney princesses, to boot.
Toeing the line between upscale dance hall and bubbling cauldron of underground talent, Commonwealth Lounge is one of the few bars that bends the parameters of rock & roll in as many ways as the law allows. A fervent harvest of psychedelic '60s revivals, guitar-tapping prog artists and Latin-flavored jam bands is a blessed, regular occurrence. Not to mention that such talent balances well with the club's cavalcade of notable funk and hip-hop acts. Commonwealth's loud, eclectic palette is especially pleasing considering the bar's recent evolution. In the past year, it has gone from a well-decorated Top 40 zone to a respected cove of indie culture. (It's still well-decorated, too.) Tucked into a red-brick plaza at the southern tip of downtown Fullerton, its sleek, neon-lit lounge vibes collide with old-fashioned East Coast swagger and flowering chandeliers. Add a couple of stiff drinks and a dance floor packed with Fullerton's most attractive clientele, and you won't find a classier, more adventurous place to bang your head.
With the skull and crossbones hanging precariously above the bar to hosting Swingin' Utters shows to the vintage Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz décor, Alex's Bar is clearly above every other joint for general punk-rockery. It is, after all, a way cooler, more-dangerous version of your neighborhood dive bar (an edge that only comes with being located in a seedy part of town)—and that's totally punk. As with your friendly neighborhood dive, Alex's always serves cheap drinks. There's a handy ATM in the bar, a great selection in the juke box, velvet paintings, graffiti on the walls, pool tables and plenty of locals in all their just-rolled-out-of-bed glory. But there's also a photo booth; the could-be-great, could-be-foul bands playing regularly; a cast of punk/rockabilly/hipster misfits; Beatles karaoke nights; and a leave-your-upper-lip-at-home-or-don't-come-in-at-all ambiance that makes Alex's Bar an instant win. Oh, and lest we forget: Alex's Bar is also popularly known as Fangtasia from HBO's True Blood. Remember: Don't park at the Autozone next door–you will get towed!
DJ Velvet Touch is the kind of guy who likes to have his hands all over the place. Especially when it comes to the local club scene. If you've been to an OC Music Awards showcase in the past year, then you've heard his thumping remixes, world beats and house mash-ups searing between sets from our most-prized homegrown bands. But for this Irvine-based artist (born Eric Goldberg), the Music Awards gigs only scratch the surface of his résumé. As the owner of traveling-DJ company Automatic Midnight Productions (founded in 1998), he and his crew of local crate diggers flex their vinyl lexicon nightly throughout OC, Long Beach and LA. And if you've got a wedding or bar mitzvah planned, he's available for those, too. Be it hipster art show, festival, raging dive bar or highbrow lounge night, Velvet Touch consistently delivers sets with style and finesse.
If you're into Top 40, juiceheads, outrageous covers or shimmying your way through a gyrating sea of pants tents, chances are Focus OC is not your bag. However, if the sound of deep house, techno or good vibes and savory $1 tacos (served with salsa that actually passes as picante) floats your fancy, then welcome home. The fellas behind this electronic dance night have been supplying quality house music to the Orange County scene for more than seven years. Each night features live performances by skilled, internationally known DJs, including the likes of Mark Farina (OM), J.T. Donaldson (Gallery Music Group), Derrick Carter (Classic Recordings) and resident selector Josh Billings. A site for innumerable quinceañeras by day, the venue includes such amenities as a spacious dance floor, large outdoor patio, courteous bartenders and a crowd that remains refreshingly douchebag-free.
Born from the ashes of what used to be the old Majestic, a venue that once hosted Vietnamese pop concerts, Avec retains few characteristics of its former incarnation save for its address and general layout. The club's interior is intimately sized and dimly lit with soft purples and blues. The centerpiece is an installation mimicking a giant tree that sprouts from the central bar and stretches to the ceiling. Crystal prisms drip from its boughs like luminescent leaves, creating a striking fixture that makes you feel as though you've just stepped through the proverbial looking glass. Arrive before 10:30 p.m. for half off the usual $20 cover, and opt for VIP bottle service so you don't have to regret paying $12 for a Long Island iced tea. This also secures you a comfy roost in one of the Victorian-inspired seating areas, from which you can watch the action going down on both dance floors. Seasoned DJs host weekend events, spinning the best in hip-hop, dance, house, electronic and magnificent mash-ups that keep the energy up and the bodies bumping.
If you're young, broke and fabulous, there's no better place to be than in the cozy depths of the Basement Lounge on a Wednesday night. With its dramatic lighting, sleek interior and strong encouragement of cocktail attire (2 bucks off if you come lookin' sharp), it's one of the few places on Earth where you can sip from a $5 can (yes, can) of certified champagne through a bendy straw and still manage to feel chic. When the clock strikes 8 on this particular night, producer/host of the Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour Derrick Brown emerges onstage to kick the show off with its very own theme song. Perpetuating the classic format of the live-radio variety show, the Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour begins with an open-mic poetry slam, and then welcomes one author, musician and informationist to the stage to imbue the minds of an enthusiastic audience with new ideas and brilliant sounds. With an ever-evolving roster of nationally best-selling authors, university professors, media personalities and the average Joe, every show possesses its own unique chemistry, ensuring that, on any given night, you can expect nothing and learn anything from "how to kiss" to "how to be a successful war correspondent."
In the corner of a strip mall containing a 7-Eleven and a doughnut shop, O'Connell's Sports Bar & Grille doesn't look like much from the parking lot. But upon entering, one is faced with literally dozens of TVs, all tuned to every possible sporting event happening on the planet, an ultra-casual and relaxed atmosphere, and the most unbelievably friendly bartenders—ones who remember that when you ask for your "usual," you mean a Heineken Light and a shot of Jack. A lengthy bar surrounded by some wooden tables and chairs—it's not fancy; it's just comfortable. O'Connell's is the perfect place for when you want to meet up with your buds for an hour of power and simply chill out.
Orange County's most Stepford city needs a place like Rocks: Nestled in an industrial office park next to a bakery that supplies cookie dough for local elementary-school fund-raisers, Rocks draws a fuck-it-all crowd looking for a night it'll hardly remember. It's a dimly lit, black-walled, many-mirrored adult playground: There's shuffleboard, darts, a wide dance floor, raging karaoke and, most crucially, $2 drink deals on Thursdays. We've heard whispers from neighbors about meth deals taking place not too far away; surely that's just myth, but it's the kind of myth Laguna Niguel needs.