Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
You might never get a loud, "NORM!!" greeting when you enter a bar, but at the Japanese pub Shin-Sen-Gumi, the entire staff welcomes you with the rousing sing-song "eera-shai-MASE!" the second you enter. Pubs in the Japanese sense are called izakaya—a house of sake—and like those of Britain, they're a place where you meet good friends to share good food, beer, sake and the other rice wine, shochu. Like beer, sake and shochu are brewed, not distilled. Though it's made from but three ingredients, the styles of sake vary a great deal in sweetness or dryness, aroma, mouth feel, and sting of the alcohol. Shin-Sen-Gumi is one of the places where Orange County's Japanese expats gather to sample a good selection of that country's major sake producers. It's the sort of lively, loud place that makes you wonder how the Japanese ever got tagged as quiet, earnest people. The music can range from J-pop to punk, depending on the mood of the place, and though this space is technically open at lunch as an overflow room to hold customers from the adjoining ramen shop, the izakaya menu is served only at dinner. And what about the food? Izakaya chefs prepare a special grill fueled with imported Japanese binchotan charcoal and cook up everything from jidori chicken and pork-belly-wrapped vegetables to diver scallops. But an izakaya does more than just grill food—the menu is organized into stewed, simmered, fried and raw dishes to represent the four fundamental techniques of the Japanese kitchen. Whatever you do, order some of the yuzu kosho, the green citrus-pepper paste that adds a powerfully fragrant, slightly bitter and salty counterpoint to the rich protein you're about to eat. Expect to pay the same as you would at a good sushi bar: about $30 per person before alcohol. If you like to tour Japan's breweries while you're there, the tab can easily reach up to $50 or $60 per Norm.
So you're looking to pick up some fine young thing for a little action—nothing serious, just a good time. Head over to Sutra, the glitzy club at Triangle Square where you'll find a bevy of pretty party people to choose from. The scene is very image-conscious—there's more silicone at Sutra than a Mattel production plant—and if you're serious about getting laid, prepare to throw around some cash: Money speaks very loudly to this very loud crowd. You and your new friend may not spend the evening discussing Flaubert or Kierkegaard—but you'll probably wake up with a big, fat smile.
Where do people of a refined age, well-established career and certain means go to find love (or a hot hook-up)? Javier's in Newport Beach's Crystal Cove. The coastal restaurant is decadently decorated, appealing to those of finer tastes, and boasts a giant, jungle-esque cantina complete with a fire pit, indoor greenery, and very expensive-looking seating and tables. The food is irrelevant for this group—it's difficult for most people to look sexy while shoveling carne asada in their faces. But what this Javier's offers is ambiance and location: Newport Beach is the mother ship for both rich dudes and artfully augmented women. For the gentlemen, who tend to travel alone or in groups of no more than three, it offers a fine selection of tequilas, Scotch and beer. And for the ladies, who usually venture out in small packs, there is a wide menu of margaritas and champagne. Enjoy the hunt!
We've all done it: Before going out on a date, we've chanted that one request—"Please, God, don't let me run into anyone I know." The Riviera is dark—really dark—and the menu is way too fancy for any of your friends. In operation for more than 30 years, this classic restaurant and bar has all the romantic standards: steaks, seafood, champagne, escargot and frog legs. You stand a good chance of getting through this one unscathed—and unseen. If you're too ashamed to take your date to your favorite bar, at least treat them to fine food and drink. It'll cost you a pretty penny, but hey, this is your shallow insecurity, not theirs.
While we can't comment on friends who may or may not have made brief eye contact with a pretty college-aged lass before the two adjourned to the sidewalk outside Back Alley's large smoking patio for a brief romp, we can say the informal, booze-fueled environment of the venerable watering hole is conducive to bringing strangers together. With Cal State Fullerton and Fullerton College close by, it's an attractive option for stressed-out matriculates looking to blow off a little steam. There's just something about that smoking patio on a hot night. The music from the jukebox is loud, and a large hole in the building's front wall grants access to the bar from outside. Suddenly, people who don't normally smoke are congregating under the stars and rubbing elbows (among other things) in a confined area. Those who lack game might be tempted to throw their hands up and grumble bitterly about Back Alley being just another Fullerton bar, but hey, most folks don't head there on a Friday night for stimulating conversation.
Neighborhood bar? Transplanted community is more like it! The place where Xalos Bar makes its home was once "The Shack"—ground zero of one too many neo-Nazi shows, as the Weekly exposed 10 years ago. The times, demographics and venue have changed, however, and "Un Poco de Jalisco en el Corazon de Anaheim" is now the prevailing banner for the establishment off the interchange for the 91 and 57 freeways. For all the young people with roots planted in the municipality of Jalostotitlán in the Mexican state of Jalisco and currently populating this northern OC city, Xalos Bar is a space to anchor their social lives. But enough sociological shit; let's talk puro pinche pari. Xalos' bar is fully stocked and offers drink and bottle specials, but it's not really designed for people to get liquored-up and lounge. The inebriation is aimed at loosening up patrons enough that they'll hit the dance floor, which tends to get more than crowded, so remember to put extra deodorant on, lest you become the cabrón with the cebolla-smelling armpits drenching your dress shirt. Live banda and norteño music, along with super-estrella club, pop and rock en español DJ mix nights keep the beat going. Muster up some courage and drop a line to any one of the "AnaHynas" sure to be there on any given night.